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Book Review: Moti by Christine Townend

March 11th, 2015 No comments
Moti--An Indian Elephant by Christine Townend

Moti–An Indian Elephant by Christine Townend

Generally elephants fascinate me but one particular elephant has a special place in my heart. She is Topsy who was an Asian elephant killed by electrocution at New York’s Coney Island in 1903. She was murdered because she killed people through no fault of her own. She was a wild animal who people misjudged they could tame by dominating her. But, as I say in my presentations about Topsy: Yes, you can take wild animals out of the wild and believe they can be tamed. But you cannot take the wild out of a wild animal and make them tame. Topsy preoccupies my mind as I write her biography.

I gave my Topsy presentation at the third Minding Animals International (MAC3) conference in India in January and was discussing it with my MAI colleague, Rod Bennison, when he said that I must read a book called Moti by Christine Townend.

I first came into contact with Christine when I edited the Coordinating Animal Welfare bulletin in the 1970s and 1980s. Since then she was synonymous in my mind with Australia and animal activism but we had never met. Until the MAC3 conference when we did meet and I learnt about her book Moti: An Indian Elephant. Christine graciously made generous remarks about my presentation on Topsy.

Christine’s book is a novel about an elephant called Moti. She is the protagonist. Books, films, art and other creative expressions through the experiences of others other than humans are not always successful. They can be ridiculous, absurd, sentimental, incredulous, silly, etc. To succeed there must be, of course, a unique creativity that makes it special but also knowledge, insight and wisdom to make it believable. This helps to explain why, for example, such books as Watership Down by Richard Adams were so popular. The author knew what he was writing about because he had studied rabbits in the place where the novel was set. It helped greatly that he was a genius in telling a story. Further, I recall chairing a meeting at which Richard Adams was a guest speaker. In person, he was as entertaining as he was intimidating!

Anyway, I approached Moti with some caution because I was unsure as to whether it would be any good or not. I soon realised, however, that Christine had written a very special novel.

I read it slowly because it was a difficult book to read. Not difficult because it isn’t well written because it is. Not difficult because it is sentimental because it isn’t. It’s a difficult book because it’s a surprisingly damn fine book. Christine puts you into the lives of elephants. You know that because it’s a human-dominated world in which the elephants live and that’s why it’s going to be a difficult novel to read.

The elephants we saw--like Moti--at Amer Fort near Jaipur in Rajasthan.

The elephants we saw–like Moti–at Amer Fort near Jaipur in Rajasthan.

I don’t want to give the narrative away. Except to say that at one point Moti is an elephant who works with others carrying tourists up to the Amer Palace near Jaipur in Rajasthan. I visited Amer Palace after MAC3 and saw the elephants carrying the tourists up the mountain to the palace. (Me and my tour group from MAC3 went by jeep.) Even though I hated what the elephants were doing it was thrilling nonetheless to see them and be so close. How I wish I had read Moti by then and could have imagined her to be one of the elephants I saw.

Christine’s decades of work for animals in Australia and India and in particular her personal knowledge of elephants inform Moti to make it a compelling read. There’s much I could quote but there’s one aspect I’d like to focus on because I found it to be so intriguing.

At the beginning of Chapter Two, we’re introduced to the Elephant Mind.

Each elephant in our herd had her own gifts, her own skills, her own beauty. And over and above all the individual expressions of elephants, there was this template, this blueprint of the past of all elephants, our God, our Elephant Mind, the chitta and, although we could not see it, within that blueprint was also our future, the future of our kind, our elephant nature, our elephant being. (p. 21)

Later, in Chapter Six, Moti is in conversation with the Matriarch of her elephant tribe, who explains to Moti

‘You see dear,’ she answered, ‘we can’t judge things in a human way. You’re trying to ask the future for something to happen. This is how humans do things. They develop a desire and then do evil to make it happen. But elephants are not humans. Let’s be free of aims. Let the sensations of this phenomenal world wash over you — appreciate the touch of wind, the scent of the grasshoppers, the resonances of trees. Don’t live in the human dimension, the smudged dimension of wants and desires, where the mind is the driving force which makes things to happen, things which may not be good, which may not be natural. Let the movement of Life itself resolve events.’ (p. 60)

My fascination with elephants deepened after reading Moti. We know elephants communicate in ways which we’re unable to hear and ways in which we’re unable to know and at great distances that beg our disbelief. But what if the Elephant Mind, along with what Christine calls the Great Elephant Soul, are real? What if elephants communicate with each other in ways that make ours seem parochial and pedestrian?

Great fiction takes us to places in which we can only imagine. Christine Townend’s Moti took me to where I could imagine elephants in touch with each other in ways unimaginable to me. In doing so, Moti further strengthened my commitment to Topsy and the injustice she endured and in telling her life story so that it’s never forgotten.

How to Order Moti

Moti, An Indian Elephant is available from Help in Suffering at a cost of $US20 which includes postage and handling. All proceeds from the sale of the book go to Help in Suffering. After depositing the payment, please inform Mr. Nirmal Jain at nirmal@his-india.in that you have transferred money for purchase of the book.
Account Name: Help in Suffering
Account Number: 20085900605
Bank: Bank of Maharashtra
Bank Address: Park Street, MI Road, Jaipur, 302001

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Year in Review for 2014

December 30th, 2014 No comments
Here I am in my office among the more than 2,000 books in my archive. Photo credit: Paul Knight

Here I am in my office among the more than 2,000 books in my archive. Photo: Paul Knight

This has been an extremely busy year for me and my work for animal rights as an advocate for animals who is an author and independent scholar.

The year’s highlight was the publication of Growl by Lantern Books. Part memoir and part manifesto, Growl is the book I wish I could’ve read when I first became a vegetarian, animal rights activist in 1974.

Many of my activities this year were centred around Growl and its publication and promotion, including a three-week, six-city trip to the USA.

To learn more about my year in animal rights please visit this special page. I also reveal my plans for 2015.

It’s important for me to recognise here the many friends and colleagues as well as a significant number of like-minded organisations who I have had the honour to work with throughout 2014 toward our shared mission of ending animal exploitation. In particular, I wish to thank the kind contributors to my Indiegogo campaign whose generosity helped to make possible my animal rights work this year. Thank you!

To keep up to date with me and work for animal rights, please follow me on my social media:

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My Travels in the USA

November 12th, 2014 No comments
Ecofeminism: Feminist Intersections with Other Animals and the Earth edited by Carol Adams and Lori Gruen (Bloomsbury)

Ecofeminism: Feminist Intersections with Other Animals and the Earth edited by Carol Adams and Lori Gruen (Bloomsbury)

Now that I’m at the end of the second week of my three week trip to the USA, it’s time for a further update on my activities. For example, in New York City I:

  • Spoke about animal rights to some 60 students at Pace University in two Ethics in the Work Place classes and one Animal Law class with Professors Len Mitchell and David Cassuto respectively
  • Met with and called ASI supporters and colleagues from the animal rights movement
  • Got together again with Mariann Sullivan and met for the first time Jasmin Singer from Our Hen House, who took me to a fundraising event in support of Mercy for Animals called Art of Compassion
  • Recorded a radio interview with Caryn Hartglass for her radio show, Real Radio
  • Filmed an interview with Nancy Kogel of Reaching Out for Animal Rights for a documentary she is making
  • Met with attorneys David Wolfson and Sarah Griffin from Milbank about Minding Animals International
  • Spoke to a packed room of some 100 people at Bluestockings radical bookstore to launch the new anthology, Ecofeminism: Feminist Intersections with Other Animals and the Earth edited by Carol Adams and Lori Gruen (Bloomsbury) along with Carol and fellow contributors pattrice jones and Sunny Taylor

I left New York City Friday afternoon for Baltimore for the second stage of my six-city, three week itinerary. My next update will focus on my activities in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington DC during this week. On Saturday, I leave Baltimore for the final stage in my itinerary in Portland, ME and Boston, which I will also share with you later.

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Growling to America!

October 8th, 2014 No comments

Just three weeks to go before I leave the UK for the USA on Wednesday, October 29. This trip in support of my animal rights work and to promote my book, Growl, is made possible by the generous support of many people in my recent Indiegogo campaign.

I want to express my sincere thanks to everyone who generously contributed and made possible this three-week long working visit to the East Coast. Thank you!

Further, your support has kept me very busy here in the UK with several speaking engagements promoting Growl, including at the International Animal Rights Conference in Luxembourg, London Vegfest, 2nd Annual Humanities in Public Festival at Manchester Metropolitan University, and the forthcoming inaugural launch conference of the Centre for Human Animal Studies at Edge Hill University.

Here’s my US itinerary:

Thursday, October 30: Presenting my talk, ‘The Animal Rights Challenge,’ at a public meeting hosted by the Animal Studies Initiative at New York University
Friday, October 31: Lunch with sociologist James Jasper, which is followed by an interview with Caryn Hartglass of REAL Radio
Saturday, November 1: Meeting with my publisher Martin Rowe at Lantern Books
Tuesday, November 4: Presenting my talk, ‘Growl,’ at Professor David Cassuto’s Animal Law Class, which is followed by making the same presentation to Professor Len Mitchell’s Business Ethics Class at Pace University
Wednesday, November 5: Second ‘Growl’ presentation for Professor Len Mitchell’s Business Ethics Classes at Pace University, which is followed by a meeting with Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan of Our Hen House (we may be also, schedule permitting, recording an interview for the Our Hen House TV program)
Thursday, November 6: Speaking at the launch party for the anthology, Ecofeminism: Feminist Intersections with Other Animals & the Earth, at Bluestockings radical bookstore, NYC
Friday, November 7: Meeting with attorneys Sarah Griffin and David Wolfson about Minding Animals International
Monday, November 10: Presenting ‘Growl’ at the vegan cafe, Grindcore House, hosted by The Humane League in Philadelphia, PA
Wednesday, November 12: Presenting ‘Growl’ at Red Emma’s bookstore and vegetarian cafe in Baltimore, MD
Thursday, November 13: Lunchtime presentation of ‘Growl’ for the staff, volunteers and trustees of Alley Cat Allies, Bethesda, MD
Thursday, November 13: Presenting ‘Growl’ at a public meeting hosted by Alley Cat Allies at the Washington Humane Society’s Behavior and Learning Centre
Friday, November 14: Consultation with Dawn Moncrief, A Well-Fed World, which is followed by an afternoon presentation of ‘Growl’ for the staff of the ASPCA’s Washington DC office
Saturday, November 15: Evening presentation of ‘Growl’ hosted by Maine Animal Coalition at University of Southern Maine
Sunday, November 16: Eventing presentation of ‘Growl’ at the vegan Grasshopper Restaurant hosted by the Boston Vegetarian Society
Monday, November 17: Evening reception hosted by GREY2K USA Worldwide at their offices in Arlington, MA

Additional dates to my itinerary are being finalised. Please visit the Events section on this website to keep up to date with the latest news and information.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’re interested in me speaking in your area or working with you on your animal rights campaigns.

Thank you for doing all that you do for the animals!

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Growl Feedback

October 1st, 2014 No comments

A pleasure from Growl I didn’t anticipate is receiving feedback from readers. Well, that’s not entirely true. I did think about negative comments and how I should react to them. Of which, I’m pleased to say I haven’t received any ….. yet! So, the favourable comments come as a very pleasant surprise, which goes along with the kind reactions I’m receiving from the public readings and talks I’m currently making. One comment from someone who asks to be known as ‘Ireene V’ has given me her permission to share it with you here.

We met at the animal rights conference in Luxembourg. Me and my husband bought your book and you asked as to send you a feedback after reading it. I did read it and liked it very much. I liked that it was written on a personal level, not just theoretical. Although it is important to read theoretical works about animal rights, from time to time one just needs to hear about personal stories and struggles to know how to cope better, to know that someone else has had a similar experience, that someone else has felt the same. So thank you for that! After leaving the conference I woke up next morning and went straight to the Misanthropic Bunker. I haven’t really experienced that before but the contrast between the “real world” and the atmosphere of the conference was too much to handle. I started reading the “Growl” and it helped me address these feelings. I also appreciated the history and the background information of British animal rights movement. I am very interested in history of veganism and animal rights. I share your view on non-violence. I think it is extremely important that animal rights movement differs from animal abusers and violence should not be accepted. As I don’t have any companion animals I haven’t felt that magical connection with animals yet. I do hope to experience it someday. I am sorry there are too many thoughts to write down coherently. But all and all I do think it is an important book and I do hope people will read it. I am definitely going to recommend it to my friends.

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News from Growl!

September 19th, 2014 1 comment

In six weeks time on Thursday, October 30 I will be in New York City as the guest of the Animal Studies Initiative at New York University making a presentation about Growl and the issues that I raise in my book. This date marks the beginning of a three-week working visit to the East Coast of the USA.

My recent Indiegogo campaign helped to raise the funds needed to make possible the following itinerary. I want to express my sincere thanks to everyone who generously contributed. Thank you!

Additional dates to my itinerary are being finalised. Please visit the Events section on this website to keep up to date with the latest news and information.

Please know your generous support of my Indiegogo campaign also helped to make possible my presentations at the following:

And between now and leaving for the USA in six weeks, I will be also speaking at:

Please watch my presentation at the International Animal Rights Conference in Luxembourg here.

I will be back in touch soon with further updates, including announcements about book clubs reading Growl and more public events.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’re interested in me speaking in your area or working with you on your animal rights campaigns.

Thank you for doing all that you do for the animals!

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Watch My Growl Presentation

September 15th, 2014 No comments

The presentation that I made at the recent International Animal Rights Conference in Luxembourg is now available to watch. It was called ‘Animal Witness’ at the conference but is given the name ‘Why Animals and Their Well-Being Matter to Us’ on YouTube but more importantly it reflects the essence of what I have to say in Growl.

 

To watch my presentation from the IARC 2013, please click here.

To learn where I will be presenting in the future, please visit Events on this website.

For more information about the IARC, please click here.

 

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Spying on Animal Rights

September 3rd, 2014 1 comment
A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre

A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre

There’s something fascinating about the so-called Cambridge spies: Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, and Kim Philby. They all came from the upper middle class and met at Cambridge University in the 1930s. They went onto hold various powerful positions in society while acting as double agents for the U.K. and U.S.S.R. or worked in the Foreign Office or for the Windsors as the Surveyor of the King’s Pictures.

I’m not delusional about the severe damage the Cambridge spies caused to Britain and its security as well as the deaths of many hundreds of people that their espionage resulted in. Nonetheless, I cannot but help find appealing the heroic, romanticised view of the Cambridge spies as they’re presented in, for example, the plays of Alan Bennett (e.g., ‘An Englishman Abroad’ about Burgess and ‘A Question of Attribution’ about Blunt) and in the telly series ‘Cambridge Spies.’ Not quite the same thing but I keep promising myself to read John le Carre’s spy novels but have yet to get round to doing so.

A book I have just finished is A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre (Bloomsbury), a writer and editor on Murdoch’s The Times.

What makes this book different from the many others about Philby is that it’s about his friendships and particularly with Nicholas Elliott, who, like Philby, was a spy in MI6, Britain’s secret intelligence service. What’s fascinating is how Philby was able to hide his spying for the Russians from his wives and closest of colleagues and friends who all knew him intimately. There is, of course, a lot more to say about all of this but this briefest of descriptions will have to suffice.

There’s one aspect to the Philby story that stands out above all others, which made me very angry as I read the book. Philby was protected by his class because it couldn’t be possible that ‘one of them’ could be a traitor. This privileged status ensured that for years Philby, while in our employ, spied for the Soviets unchallenged. 

Read more…

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Growl Two Months On

August 9th, 2014 2 comments

Two months on from the publication of Growl by Lantern Books and I pause to list some of what’s happened and what’s forthcoming.

Reactions

  • Hastings Independent free newspaper says Growl is ‘fascinating and insightful book’
  • Historian Hilda Kean says Growl ‘carefully debunks the idea that real change in the position of non-human animals can occur simply by individuals altering their lifestyle’
  • Humane Research Council recommends Growl in its Summer Reading List
  • VegFund says ‘Any activist, new or seasoned, can learn from Stallwood’s experiences and apply them to his or her own advocacy’
  • Brian May’s Soapbox promotes Growl
  • Responsible Eating and Living radio interview with Caryn Hartglass
  • Growl Launch Party at vegan Moose’s Kitchen in St Leonards on Sea attracts more than 35 people
  • Mark Hawthorne online interview ‘Kim Stallwood: Helping People Help Animals’
  • Hastings Online Times says Growl is a ‘fascinating insight into the experiences of a man who has dedicated most of his life to animal advocacy and protection’
  • Speaking inquiries received from Finland, Poland, and Australia
  • Professor Marita Giménez-Candela, Director, Master in Animal Law and Society, adds Growl to the recommended reading list for the Graduate Course ‘Law and Animal Welfare’ and Master Program ‘Animal Law and Society’ at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona
  • Presented Growl at the VegFest in Bristol in May

Forthcoming

  • Presenting Growl at the London Vegan Festival, the International Animal Rights Conference in Luxembourg, and London VegFest
  • Launch party for Growl at the inaugural conference of the Centre for Human Animal Studies at Edge Hill University in October
  • Presenting Growl at the 2nd Annual Humanities in Public Festival at Manchester Metropolitan University in October
  • US East Coast book tour late October to mid November includes NYU Animals and Society Initiative, Business Ethics and Environmental Law classes at Pace University, and GWU Law School

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Growl Launch Party at Moose’s Kitchen

July 6th, 2014 No comments
Moose's Kitchen hosts Growl launch party.

Moose’s Kitchen hosts Growl launch party.

More than 35 guests celebrated the launch of Growl at Moose’s Kitchen on Friday, July 4.

The book launch party also took pride in the vibrant vegan community in St Leonards on Sea and Hastings.

Party goers included folks from the Hastings Vegan Dining Club, local creatives, and friends and neighbours. Zelly Restorick, who profiled me in Hastings Online Times, was among the guests.

Jane, Renee and Davina

Jane, Renee and Davina

Moose’s Kitchen ‘serves healthy, home-cooked meals, made with LOVE: Local, Organic, Vegan and Ethical ingredients.’ Moose and her colleague, Paul, kindly donated and served a variety of starters to the party.

Another local vegan business, Hastings Brewery, generously gave a keg of their Galaxy Pale Ale.

Me saying a few words about Growl standing next to a portrait of Moose in her vegan cafe.

Me saying a few words about Growl standing next to a portrait of Moose in her vegan cafe.

And yet another local vegan business, 1066 Cake Stand, baked a special ‘Growl’ cake! Trevor from the Bay Tree House–the family run vegan hotel in Hastings–also joined in the celebrations.

I welcomed everyone to the party and read part of the section from Growl called ‘Altruistic Love’ (p. 147-149).

My adoption by Boobaa and Honey transformed the anger I felt about animal exploitation through the Magical Connection. My altruistic love for Boobaa and Honey helped me to be a little more at peace with myself and with my presence in the world. These little dogs put flesh and blood on my understanding of what animal rights meant.

It was great to launch Growl with its first party with friends in the town where I now live. For many of us, Hastings and St Leonards on Sea is the vegan capital of the world.

Moose's Kitchen in St Leonards on Sea in East Sussex hosts the launch party for Growl. Photo: Paul Knight

Moose’s Kitchen in St Leonards on Sea in East Sussex hosts the launch party for Growl. Photo: Paul Knight

 

Packed house at Growl Launch Party at Moose's Kitchen. Photo: Paul Knight

Packed house at Growl Launch Party at Moose’s Kitchen. Photo: Paul Knight

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