Vinatha Viswanathan
THE GREAT POOP WAR by By Ranjit Lal. Illustrations by Ambika Karandikar Red Panda, An imprint of Westland Books, 2023, 130 pp., INR 275.00
November 2023, volume 47, No 11

Set in the ubiquitous apartment complex peppering our cities, The Great Poop War story revolves around a mystery pooper in Skyline Apartments. Skyline Apartments is populated with several dogs and cats, and the pets automatically become the suspects in this stinking crime. As suspicions mount and accusations fly, the adults, owners and others, dogs and cats are all clueless as to who this audacious repeat offender could be. Meanwhile, the head of the research facility next door, resident Shiri Ghoos, covets the now unpopular dogs and cats for some secretive experiments. Finally, the teen duo of Parvati and Bharat are the ones who manage to sniff out the culprit and save the lives of the apartment pets and the residents from much misery.
Ranjit Lal has unerringly picked a topic that bothers many of those who step out each morning for a brisk walk and breath of fresh air—the errant four-legged pooper in buildings, housing colonies and neighbourhoods. As the number of dog and cat lovers increases in urban areas, the story accurately portrays polarized groups in these dwellings—that of animal lovers and pet haters. The mystery here is the identity of the pooper who manages to strike unseen, baffling all residents, two- and four-legged. Lal tells this story in his imitable style. A relentless pace, a plot that keeps you guessing, colourful characters with hilarious even outlandish names and a mystery that remains one till almost the end. The story has pompous adults, nosy children, dogs and cats that talk to each other, much plotting and investigating, and even a whiff of a romance… And crucial to the plot is science. Lal’s fondness for natural history can be seen in his protagonists’ interest in David Attenborough and their use of techniques in the study of wild animals to bring The Great Poop War to an end. However, in vilifying some other techniques of science that are integral to the story smacks of a populist’s indulgence.
Ranjit Lal is a prolific popular-science writer and author of children’s books. He skilfully weaves a story yet again for children in this light-hearted yet engrossing story published earlier this year. Ambika Karandikar’s illustrations provide adequate relief to the reader without drawing them away from the narrative. A book for 10–12-year-olds, Lal’s latest offering is a good read.