It was on May 31st that a Senior Indian Judge, on the last day of his office, made an unscientific and ridiculous comment about peacocks being ‘celibate’ birds and peahens getting pregnant by drinking peacock tears. There was a lot of media outcry on this issue criticising and ridiculing the Judge, which I did not believe to be a constructive approach. Other than giving unwanted publicity to such outrageous and foolish remarks, that ruckus did not serve any purpose. Amidst all the hues and cries, some sane and sensible person wrote a post on Facebook suggesting that it was the right time to ‘re read’ the book, ‘Dr Tatiana’s Sex advice to all creation: Definitive guide to the evolutionary biology of sex’ by Olivia Judson. Even as a Medical Genetics professional, I was not aware of this marvellous book written by a trained evolutionary biologist and this created an ‘insecurity’ in me, prompting to order the book and start reading it without any further delay.
For those who do not know Olivia Judson, she is an evolutionary biologist and a science writer ( Someone whom I aspire to be!) with a Phd from the University of Oxford, currently working as a research scholar in Imperial college, London. In her early career as a science writer in The Economist, she wrote an award winning article ‘Sex is war’ which served as the kickoff for what ended up as her first book, ‘Dr Tatiana’s Sex advice to all creation’, published in 2002, winning the praise of critics for being ‘witty without losing scientific temper’.
Olivia Judson deserves special appreciation for the choice of her topic for study, evolution of sex, which I think is intriguing to researchers and lay persons alike. The book is written in the form of letters by different animals to a sex expert and agony aunt, Dr Tatiana, who takes times to understand their issues and gives witty answers and solutions in the light of evolutionary biology.
The book has three main sections with multiple sub headings, which are themselves amusing and thought provoking. The first section is, ‘Let slip the whores of the war’ and deals with various strategies used by the animal world in the war of sex. Dr Tatiana counsels, “No matter, how good your survival skills are—you can be the champion at evading predators, or have the best nose for finding food, or be immune to every disease—it will all be for naught if you cannot find, impress, and seduce a mate.” So the eternal war and amazing strategies continue to tantalise us ! In reply to a question posed by a golden potto as to why the penis of her boy friend has enormous spines, Dr Tatiana starts her reply by , “All the better to tickle you with, my dear’ and then goes on to describe the science behind evolution of penis in animals. Her mischievous remark, “By comparison, human penis is dull, notable only for its girth”, makes it hard to suppress a giggle.
In response to a letter by a peacock worrying about not being able to impress peahens, Dr Tatiana talks about the benefits of joining a ‘lek’, which means, ‘a group of males displaying together to get the attraction of females’. So peacocks are not celibate as our Judge believed but instead join a lek and unashamedly do everything to gain the attention of a peahen.
Dr Tatiana believes that females are body fascists. This is the reason why males in all species have ‘ridiculously long tails’ or ‘fancy headdresses’, countering the argument posed by men in general that males in all species are more beautiful than females. It is essential and mandatory for males to be attractive and beautiful to gain the attention of naturally promiscuous females; or else their genes will go waste.
The second section titled, ‘The evolution of depravity’ , deals with issues related to sexual mating faced by animals ranging from cannibals to animals and birds championing fidelity. Dr Tatiana openly discusses issues of same sex relationship and incest in animal world.
The concluding section titled “Are men necessary” is the one I loved most. The book ends with a chapter , ‘Wholly virgin’, where Dr Tatiana invites Miss Philodina roseola ( bdelloid rotifer) to her TV show , ‘Under the microscope: the deviant life style show!’. What follows is an uproarious interview of the world’s ancient asexual eukaryotic organism, bdelloid rotifer, which has survived for millions of years without sex and males!
In the last chapter which was informative, riotous and captivating, Dr Tatiana examines the evolution of sex and the advantages and disadvantages a species can have with or without sex. She goes on, “So, men, you’re safe for now. But if you don’t want to be abolished, let me give you some advice. Asexuality is particularly attractive to girls in species where males are lazy and never give a hand with the child care. The benefits of asexuality are greatly reduced if males help out.” I hope more individuals ruminate on the above statement and reflect on what Dr Tatiana really intends to convey. I would recommend this book to anyone who is amazed by the diversity of the world we live in and I dream of a day when this book is taught in schools and media takes effort in popularising such books instead of lamenting on somebody’s stupidity, so that our future generation would not have the misfortune of listening to unscientific and perverted theories about sex and sexuality.