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Rikki Tikki Tavi – the greatest of them all?

Rikki Tikki Tavi – the greatest of them all?

A Rikki Tikki Tavi book cover
A Rikki Tikki Tavi book cover


By Lawrence Alroy


Set in rural India during the time of the British Raj in the 1800s, Rudyard Kipling’s stirring battle-tale of mongoose versus snake is a classic.


Today’s parents should take some time away from their TVs and, armed with Kipling’s Jungle Book, read the chapter on Rikki Tikki Tavi to their children at bedtime.  The young ones will never forget this tale of courage in the face of evil, and will carry its message with them into adulthood, while the parent might learn a point or two about old-fashioned values as well.


As Dr Kathy Alexander explains (in her writings on banded mongoose research featured in this newspaper), one of her primary aims is to emphasise the positive side of these animals within the complexities of human-wildlife co-existence in Botswana. Rikki Tikki Tavi’s efforts, as he confronts several death-defying situations in the cause of both human and animal safety, underpins Dr Alexander’s mantra, and does so in style.


Rescued by a schoolboy after being found half-drowned during a monsoonal rainstorm, the mongoose pup soon endears himself to the youngster’s parents as he makes himself comfortable in the bungalow of a typical British expatriate household. He does have rent to pay for his privileged position however, and this comes in the shape of a fearsome black cobra – Nag by name – who, along with his mate, Nagaina, fears for the comfortable existence they have enjoyed in the bungalow’s overgrown garden. It is not long before the immature but instinctively aggressive mongoose pup is challenged by Nag, and wins his first visual sabre-rattling encounter against the serpent.


A duel to the death must follow. Kipling’s telling of this bout captivates the reader, who is given a ringside seat and finds himself involuntarily bobbing and weaving, boxer-style, in support of the  mongoose’s red-eyed, tail-bristling, neck-bite slaying of his terrifying  opponent… all accompanied by the shrill war cry of ‘RIKK-TIKK-TIKKI-TIKKI-TCHK! that gave the hero his name.


There is more to come – but I will leave the reader to follow Rikki Tikki Tavi’s crusade through the unkempt garden as he rids the family of Nag’s vengeful mate before settling comfortably into the self-appointed role of household guardian for life.