Mijbil, the Otter by Gavin Maxwell

Mijbil , the Otter by Gavin Maxwell

A note to explain this story .. This lesson has been taken from Gavin Maxwell’s best-seller ‘The Ring of Bright Water’. Gavin Maxwell lived in Sandaig Bay in the west coast of Scotland. The place, with vast swathes of tranquil water all around  is also known as Camusfearna.

Wilfred Thesiger and Gavin Maxwell were friends. Wilfred Thesiger had arranged an otter for Maxwell, but it died within days. He arranged for a second otter, with whom Maxwell developed an enduring relationship. It belonged to rare species that had not been catalogued before. Maxwell took it to the Royal Zoological Society in London, where the experts were excited to see it. They named it ‘Lutrogale perspicillata maxwelli’ recognizing Maxwell’s efforts in bringing the sub-species to limelight. From then on, the otter came to be known as Maxwell’s Otter. Maxwell lovingly gave it the name Mijibil.

The otter was procured from Basra through the efforts of Wilfred Thesiger. Bringing it to Scotland wasn’t easy. British Airways refused to transport it. Maxwell had to bring it to Paris first through Air France, and then bring it to Scotland through train. Even Air France wanted Maxwell to keep the otter in 18” x 18”x18”box, and keep it near his feet during the flight.

Part 1 …

The author acquires his pet otter from Basra’s marsh lands.

The preferred an otter to a dog for keeping as a pet. He was in Southern Iraq which has vast swamps. Others thrive in swamps. Heeding his friend’s advice, he proceeded to Basra, a city in the South. Otters are ubiquitous here. The author had some official work in the British Consulate in Basra.

When he entered his room there in Basra, he found two Arabs squatting on the floor. They had brought an otter, sent by the author’s friend. It was kept inside a bag. The poor otter was screaming from time to time from inside the sac.

Part 2..

The otter proves to be friendly, and somewhat unafraid of the new master.

 Great excitement started as soon as the otter sprang out of the sac. The otter’s antics captivated the author. Since then, the author’s attachment to his pet has grown stronger and stronger. Otters endear themselves to their masters, and the bond never weakens. Most otter-keepers find their pets irresistible, so did the author.

The otter was covered by mud, possibly from its earlier habitat. It took nearly a month for the mud to be completely removed. The otter then emerged unraveling its most intriguingly beautiful appearance.

The otter gets a name and aggressively befriends the author.

The otter was christened ‘Mijbil’. It belonged to a species that had eluded the zoologists till a century and half ago. Mijbil didn’t quite cozy up to its master in the first 24 hours, but thereafter, it became quite proactive in its interaction with the latter. It managed to sneak in on to bed of the author at night to enjoy its sleep on the bed.

Mijbil is overjoyed to be led into the bath tub by its master.

The next day was a day of adventure for Mijbil. It went around the room seeing and sniffing everything. The author put a body belt to be able to control it better. He took him to the bath room where Mijbil jumped around with great excitement in the bath tub. The feel of the water seemed to have electrified him. The author could see why otters love the water in the marshes. They like to splash and throw water all around. The author was greatly delighted to see Mijbil happy and playful.

Mijbil ventures into the bath tub on its own, and manages to open the tap.

Two days later, Mijbil evaded the author to rush to the bath room. The bath tub was empty, and Mijbil fiddled with the taps long enough to open it to get the full discharge of water. The author was amazed to see Mijbil’s ingenuity. Luckily for Mijbil, it had turned the tap in the right direction. At times, it would err and turn the tap in the opposite way to jam it tight. The failure would leave him frustrated and angry.

Oral comprehension check (Answers)..

  1. What experiment ……..? Maxwell assumed that it would be more fun to keep an otter as pet, instead of a dog. Camusfearna had a large water mass, and otters would easily thrive in the place.
  2. Why does he go to Basra …………………..? Basra was the otters’ most suitable habitat. They proliferated there. This is the reason the author went there. Telephone lines between Basra and his home was too bad. He had to wait for five days because of this.
  3. How does he get the ………………………….? The author’s friend arranged the otter, and had it delivered to him by two Arabs. The author instantly developed an intense liking for the otter. This fascination, he felt, would remain till he was alive. The word ‘thraldom’, and ‘fixation’ are the words that convey the author’s love for the otter.
  4. Why was the otter…..? the zoologists found that the otter belonged to a species that had not been found. They gave the species the name ‘Lutrogale perspicillata maxwelli’. This is how the otter became known as Maxwell’s otter.
  5. Aloof and indifferent
  6. What happened …………? On seeing the bath tub full of water, the otter was overjoyed. It swam in it with great energy and excitement splashing water all around. After two days, he made the foray into the water tub on its own, and managed to open the tap after a few attempts.


Part 3 .

Time to leave Basra for London…

The author enjoyed his stay in Basra in the company of Mijbil. The day for return to Britain was drawing near. The task of transporting Mijbil to London posed a challenge. Due to their internal policy, British airline refused to caay an animal. So, the author decide to make a detour through Paris. The French airline agreed to take the otter, if it was encaged in a 18” box, and kept on the floor right near the author’s feet.

The box was made. To acclimatize Mijbil to confinement, it was caged inside it for a few hours.

Mijbil rebels inside his box..

Having put Mijbil in the box, the author left to have his meal. When he returned he was flummoxed to find that the box was eerily calm, as if there was no life inside it. He hurriedly opened the box, but was horrified to see that Mijbil had struggled to break fre, and in the process had shredded the packing and the covers to pieces. From blood stains inside the box, the author concluded that Mijbil had hurt itself in its effort to come out.

Inside the plane, a kind flight attendant ..

The time to depart was fast approaching. The author felt exasperated. He hurriedly put the lid of the box with Mijbil forced inside, and left for the airport in a car. Mijbil was beside its master, but firmly restrained in its 18” box. The car sped to the airport. He was already late, and the plane had been waiting for him. He rushed in and took his seat. Fortunately, his seat Was in the front. He spread some newspapers on the floor and kept the box down on it. He had brought a packet of fish with him for Mijbil’s in-flight meal. The flight attendant was too kind to agree to keep the fish packet in a freezer on the author’s request.

Mijbil escapes from the box, and all hell is let loose ..

On her suggestion, the author kept the 18” box on his lap, but in a flash, Mijbil sprang out of it and began to run helter-skelter on the aircraft’s floor. The sight of the otter created panic and commotion  among the passengers. Some of them shrieked and bawled shouting ‘Rat, Rat’. A lady passenger was so frightened that she stood up on her seat. A white-turbaned Sikh nearly fell off his seat. The author was as embarrassed as he was alarmed. He made desperate attempts to catch hold of Mijbil, but the latter was too elusive to be caught. The kind airhostess came to the author’s rescue. She asked him to go back to his seat, and offered to atch Mihlis and return it to him.

Mijbil returns to the master’s lap, and the everything is quiet…

Moments after he came back to sit, the author felt something tickling his leg. It was Mijlis. After its errand around the plane, it had returned to his rightful place. The author was immensely relieved, and the passengers heaved a sigh of relief.

Oral comprehension check..

  1. How was Mij ………..? Since British airlines refused to take Mijlis on board, Maxwell had to take it via Paris. The journey had to be in two stages – Basra to Paris and Paris to London. It was possible, because the French airline acceded to Maxwell’s request to accommodate Mijlis, though with condition.
  2. What did Mij ………..? Mij was not used to confinement in a small space. It felt very uncomfortable and restless. It tore apart the enclosure with all its energy, although in the process, it injured itself. At the end, it lay listless.
  3. Why did Maxwell push ……………….? Maxwell wanted to acclimatize Mijbil to the conditions inside a s,all box. So, with no time in his hand, he pushed Mijbil inside, though he did it very reluctantly.
  4. Why did Maxwell say .. ……………….? The airhostess was extremely considerate and accommodative. She didn’t frown on seeing the otter, agreed to keep the fish packet in the freezer, and later, offered to get hold of the elusive otter, showing no sign of irritation. The author understood her kindness which was exemplary.
  5. What happened when the …….? Mijbil sprang out of the box, and disappeared behind the seats and the alley. Suddenly all hell let lose aboard the aircraft, as passenger screamed in fear and amazement. There was commotion, and cries from among the passengers. It stopped only after Mijbil returned to its owner’s lap.

    Part 4 ..

        Merry time in London …..

        Maxwell (the author) lived in London for a few days with Mijbil. To keep the pet in good humor, Maxwell had got quite an array of                toys. Mijbil played with them all day long. Its antics and acrobats were a treat to watch. Its hunting skill were in full display when it              grabbed a ball rolling down a slope on the top of a damaged suitcase. When Maxwell took it out for walks, it developed some very                  compulsive habits. Outdoor walks with the otter were immensely enjoyable for Maxwell, and the pedestrians and onlookers alike.                Some of them wondered what animal was it, making all sorts of wrong guesses. Maxwell felt quite amused to the way Mijbil was                    attracting attention from the public.  On another occasion, Mijbil walked on the whole length of a low boundary wall of a school. The            students and teacher, all gaped in wonder and curiosity. 

        In another instance, Mijbil triggered not amusement, but vexation in the mind of a labourer who was digging a pit on the sidewalks.            He thought the otter to scare him. He passed a rude remark when the duo came close to him.

Oral comprehension check … 

  1. What game had ………? Maxwell had a damaged suitcase whose one side remained in a slanted position when the box was closed. Mij would put a small ball on the high end and see it rolling down the slope. It would wait at that end to grab it as if it was the prey. Mijbil would repeat the same set of movements over and over again with great gusto. This simple game was discovered by Mijbil.
  2. What are some of the things ………………………….? Otters are very agile, adventurous, and fun-loving. They take to humans with little hesitation. So, it is quite easy to domesticate them. These characteristics emerge from the author’s account of Mijbil.
  3. What group of animals …………? Mijbil was just an otter.
  4. What guesses ……………………………..? The Londoners were clueless about what Mijbil was. They called it Walrus, baby squirrel, beaver, bear cub, and even a leopard.

     Think about the text…

 1. What things Mijbil do which tell you ………………..? Mijbil aroused Maxwell’s curiosity from the day one. On reaching the room, it stayed quite for few hours, but later surveyed the surroundings to get acquainted with the room. The next day, it entered the bath tub with great excitement and energy.  It felt no fear or inhibition to show off its prowess in water. At night, it snuggled into Maxwell’s bed to enjoy its sleep. On the next day, it ventured into the bathroom on its own, and managed to open the tap leaving its owner bewildered.  When given a set of toys, it created its makeshift slope on which it rolled a small ball down. It showed great ingenuity in devising this game.  On the whole, Mijbil gelled with its master with ease, displaying a good deal of intelligence and playfulness. 

2. What are some of the things ………………………………………. ? Otters thrive in marshy lands. Basra is awash with otters. They eat fishes, and love water. They are not hostile to humans. On the contrary, they love human care and touch. They are not listless, but highly agile and playful.

3. Why is Mij’s species ……… ………………………..? Its species was not catalogued before by zoologists. Maxwell brought it to the attention of expert zoologists, who gave the species the name Lutrogale perspicillata maxwelli. From then on, it came to be known as Maxwell’s otter.

—————————-To be continued————————————–


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