Asha Harikrishnan: On M. Krishnan

Duckbill is proud to have published M. Krishnan’s Book of Beasts: An A to Z Rhyming Bestiary Krishnan (30 June 1912 – 18 February 1996) was a pioneering Indian wildlife photographer, writer and naturalist.

Krishnan’s niece, Asha Harikrishnan, for whom he wrote these poems, writes about the genesis of the book.

My grandfather, M. Krishnan, gave me these animal verses as birthday presents in the early 1990s.

I was very close to Krishnan as a child and our relationship became even more special when I went to live with my grandparents as a fifteen-year old. My parents had transferable jobs and decided it was best I move to Madras for my education.

I spent the next eight years with Krishnan. We enjoyed each other’s company and put up with one another’s idiosyncrasies. He had a great sense of humour, often self-deprecating, and enjoyed playing harmless pranks. I shared his room-cum-office and he gave up his custom-built bed to me, choosing to sleep on his old bed in the adjacent verandah. He used to say that I was like the camel that eventually drove out the Arab!

When I finally left Madras to pursue my studies in Hyderabad, I missed Krishnan a lot and looked forward to his letters. He wrote to me frequently, and had the knack of making even the dullest moment come alive with his dry humour and illustrations.

Then, in 1990, during one of my visits to Madras, he surprised me with a birthday present. It was a thin ring binder with seven of his delightful verses, each one about an animal, accompanied by his illustrations. He promised to complete the entire alphabet with more animal verses in the next two years.


Krishnan had published some of these verses earlier and the rest he wrote anew. His sense of humour and manner of poking fun at human beings is obvious in some of his verses. What a treat it was to receive them each year!

Krishnan is best known as a naturalist and wildlife photographer but he also wrote both fictional and non-fictional articles on other topics. He was very creative, with a deep love for poetry and literature and thought of himself foremost as an artist. After working hard at his manual typewriter or printing photographs in his darkroom, he would relax in his easy chair, smoking cigarettes and sketching or writing in his diary. He had fun writing and illustrating some of these verses during those relaxed moments.

I am glad to finally be able to share them.


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