By Ruchika Gupta
CBSE Class 10 English Lesson 8 Explanation Notes
Mijbil the Otter Class 10 English First Flight Lesson Detailed explanation of the lesson along with meanings of difficult words. Also, the explanation is followed by a Summary of the lesson. All the exercises and Question and Answers given at the back of the lesson has been covered.
Class 10 English (Footprints without Feet) Lesson 8 Mijbil the Otter
by Gavin Maxwell
Gavin Maxwell lives in a cottage in Camusfearna, in the West Highlands in Scotland. When his dog Jonnie died, Maxwell was too sad to think of keeping a dog again. But life without a pet was lonely…
Mijbil the Otter Introduction
In this lesson, the author tells us how his life changed after he decided to domesticate an otter after he lost his pet dog. He takes us through his journey of adjusting, playing and travelling with Mijbil (or Mij) the otter, from Iraq to London and how during this journey, he developed an inseparable bond with him.
Mijbil the Otter Summary
The story begins with the author travelling to Basra along with his friend. During their journey, the author expresses his desire to domesticate an otter because after he had lost his pet dog, life had become lonely for him. His friend suggested that he should get one from the Marshes along river Tigris in Iraq. When they reached the destination, they found that only the friend’s mail had arrived. After a few days, the friend left while the narrator was still waiting to receive his mail. Upon receiving it, he went to his room only to find an otter (brought to him in a sack), accompanied by two Arabs with a note. It was a gift from his friend. He named the otter Mijbil or shortly, Mij. It took some time for Mij to open up and get acquainted with his surroundings. He was covered in mud to an extent that it took almost a month of cleaning and washing to reveal his actual colour. Mij loved playing with water so much so that he even learned to open the tap on his own. He believed that each drop of water should be squished and splashed till the bowl had been emptied. Everything was going smoothly in Basra, but now it was time to fly back to London. British airlines did not allow animals, so he had to book another flight that allowed Mij with a condition that he had to be carried in a box. The narrator put him in a box an hour before the flight so that Mij could get accustomed to it and then left for a quick meal. When he returned, he found that the box was still and Mij had created a mess by destroying the inner lining. As a result, blood was dripping out of the holes. Scared as he was, he hurried. They were far away from the airport and there were only ten minutes left for the flight to take off. He cleaned it all, hurried in a cab and managed to reach just in time. He explained the series of events to a very kind and generous air hostess who advised him to keep the box on his lap. Gavin developed extreme admiration for the air hostess for she was very kind to him. As soon as he opened the box, the otter leaped out and disappeared thereby creating a chaos. Passengers were frightened. A lady climbed up her chair and in an attempt to get a hold of Mij, the author got himself covered in curry. The air hostess offered help and brought him back to Gavin and finally, they reached London. Mij was fond of playing with ping-pong balls and marbles. He even developed a game with the author’s damaged suitcase. It could keep him engrossed for a long period of time. Narrator took him for walks while taking the lead and played with him. People of London, being unfamiliar with otters, had wild guesses about what Mij was. Some thought it to be a baby seal, squirrel or even a hippo. The most shocking reaction came when a labourer digging the hole asked the author, “what is that supposed to be?”
See Video for Explanation and Summary of the Lesson
Mijbil the Otter Lesson & Explanation
EARLY in the New Year of 1956 I travelled to Southern Iraq. By then it had crossed my mind that I should like to keep an otter instead of a dog, and that Camusfearna, ringed by water a stone’s throw from its door, would be an eminently suitable spot for this experiment.
Crossed my mind- (a thought) came into my mind
A stone’s throw- a very short distance
Otter- a semi aquatic fish-eating mammal of the weasel family, with an elongated body, dense fur, and webbed feet
Eminently- highly; very
In the beginning of 1956, soon after the author’s dog passed away, he travelled to Southern Iraq. He was too lonely without a pet but wanted to keep an otter instead of a dog this time. He thought that keeping an otter at Camusfearna was a good idea because the otter’s loved water. As Camusfearna was surrounded by water which was close by, it was the perfect place to try this new idea of domesticating an otter.
When I casually mentioned this to a friend, he as casually replied that I had better get one in the Tigris marshes, for there they were as common as mosquitoes, and were often tamed by the Arabs. We were going to Basra to the Consulate-General to collect and answer our mail from Europe. At the Consulate-General we found that my friend’s mail had arrived but that mine had not.
As common as mosquitoes- easily found
Tamed- domesticate (an animal)
On sharing his intention of domesticating an otter with a friend, the latter suggested that the author should get one from the marshes along the river Tigris as otters were very commonly found there and were generally tamed by the Arabs. They had this conversation when the narrator and his friend were going to Basra. Upon reaching, they discovered that only the friend’s mail had arrived.
I cabled to England, and when, three days later, nothing had happened, I tried to telephone. The call had to be booked twenty-four hours in advance. On the first day the line was out of order; on the second the exchange was closed for a religious holiday. On the third day there was another breakdown. My friend left, and I arranged to meet him in a week’s time. Five days later, my mail arrived.
Cabled- sent a message by telegraph (an old method of communication)
Breakdown- a mechanical failure
Author tried connecting to England via telegraph and when there was no response, tried connecting through a call which demanded to be booked a day in advance. He could not connect with them because of a holiday and technical glitches for another 3 days. Finally, his friend left and they both decided to meet after a week. His mail arrived after waiting for 5 more days.
I carried it to my bedroom to read, and there, squatting on the floor, were two Arabs; beside them lay a sack that squirmed from time to time. They handed me a note from my friend: “Here is your otter…”
Squatting- crouch or sit with one’s knees bent and one’s heels close to or touching one’s buttocks or the back of one’s thighs
Squirmed- twisted about
As soon as the narrator received the mail, he went to the bedroom to read it, only to find two Arab men with a sack which twisted itself again and again. They handed him a note sent by his friend which stated that the otter was a gift from him. The otter was packed in the sack.
With the opening of that sack began a phase of my life that has not yet ended, and may, for all I know, not end before I do. It is, in effect, a thraldom to otters, an otter fixation, that I have since found to be shared by most other people, who have ever owned one.
Thraldom- (old fashioned) being under the control of
Fixation- a very strong attachment or feeling
The author considered domesticating an otter as the beginning of a new phase of his life that is still continuing. He developed deep affection and a unique bond with the otter that could only be understood by others who have ever owned an otter.
The creature that emerged from this sack on to the spacious tiled floor of the Consulate bedroom resembled most of all a very small, medievally-conceived, dragon. From the head to the tip of the tail he was coated with symmetrical pointed scales of mud armour, between whose tips was visible a soft velvet fur like that of a chocolate-brown mole. He shook himself, and I half expected a cloud of dust, but in fact it was not for another month that I managed to remove the last of the mud and see the otter, as it were, in his true colours.
Medievally conceived- an imagination of the middle ages
As soon as the narrator opened the sack, the otter came out on the tiled floor. He looked like a small version of the ancient imaginary creature – the dragon. He was completely covered in mud and from beneath it, small patches of soft velvet fur could be seen. The fur resembled the skin of a chocolate brown coloured mole. He shook himself to get rid of most of it but it took another month of continuous cleaning and washing to bring out his actual colour.
Mijbil, as I called the otter, was, in fact, of a race previously unknown to science, and was at length christened by zoologists Lutrogale perspicillata maxwelli, or Maxwell’s otter. For the first twentyfour hours Mijbil was neither hostile nor friendly; he was simply aloof and indifferent, choosing to sleep on the floor as far from my bed as possible. The second night Mijbil came on to my bed in the small hours and remained asleep in the crook of my knees until the servant brought tea in the morning, and during the day he began to lose his apathy and take a keen, much too keen, interest in his surroundings.
Aloof and indifferent- keeping a distance
Apathy- absence of interest
Crook of my knees- soft inside part where you bend your knee
The author named his pet ‘Mijbil’ or in short, ‘Mij’. Mijbil belonged to a race of otters that had been recently discovered by a zoologis named Lutrogale Perspicillata Maxwelli and was thus known as Maxwell’s otter. It took the otter a little time to open up and get comfortable in his new surroundings. He was at a distance on the first day, slept with narrator in his bed lying on the crook of his knees on the second and began to know his surroundings better on the third day.
I made a body-belt for him and took him on a lead to the bathroom, where for half an hour he went wild with joy in the water, plunging and rolling in it, shooting up and down the length of the bathtub underwater, and making enough slosh and splash for a hippo. This, I was to learn, is a characteristic of otters; every drop of water must be, so to speak, extended and spread about the place; a bowl must at once be overturned, or, if it will not be overturned, be sat in and sploshed in until it overflows. Water must be kept on the move and made to do things; when static it is wasted and provoking.
So as to speak- as it were (one could say this)
Provoking- causing anger or some other reaction
Plunging- falling; sinking
Gavin made a belt for the otter just like dogs have, to take on the lead wherever they went. When he first took the otter into the bathroom, he discovered that Mij liked playing with water. He would jump and roll in water like a hippopotamus did. This was a characteristic of otters to get infuriated with still water, so they played with it and splashed it till the last drop in the bowl/bucket. Otters liked moving water and when Mijbil saw still water, it seemed that he got angry and would sit in it, splash it and try to overturn it from the bowl.
Two days later, Mijbil escaped from my bedroom as I entered it, and I turned to see his tail disappearing round the bend of the corridor that led to the bathroom. By the time I got there he was up on the end of the bathtub and fumbling at the chromium taps with his paws. I watched, amazed; in less than a minute he had turned the tap far enough to produce a trickle of water, and after a moment or two achieved the full flow. (He had been lucky to turn the tap the right way; on later occasions he would sometimes screw it up still tighter, chittering with irritation and disappointment at the tap’s failure to cooperate.)
Fumbling- trying to do something in a clumsy manner
Trickle- flow in a small stream
Chittering- make a twittering or chattering sound
chromium- a hard white metal used to make taps
Soon after, the otter became acquainted with the place, he escaped alone to the bathroom and tried opening the tap with his paws. Surprisingly enough, he managed to open the tap enough to get a trickle of water and then more to get the full flow since he started by turning it in the right direction. On other occasions, he would twist it tighter by moving it in the wrong direction and ended up being disappointed when water did not flow from it.
Very soon Mij would follow me without a lead and come to me when I called his name. He spent most of his time in play. He spent hours shuffling a rubber ball round the room like a four-footed soccer player using all four feet to dribble the ball, and he could also throw it, with a powerful flick of the neck, to a surprising height and distance. But the real play of an otter is when he lies on his back and juggles with small objects between his paws. Marbles were Mij’s favourite toys for this pastime: he would lie on his back rolling two or more of them up and down his wide, flat belly without ever dropping one to the floor.
Flick- a quick, light movement
Shuffling- dragging (here)
Dribble- repeated hits on a ball to make it go ahead
Pastime- distraction; entertainment
Soon the otter learned to follow the author without a lead. It used to come to him when he called its name. Mij was very fond of playing. He would spend most of his time playing with a ball, dragging and pushing it throughout the room and going after it. Otters are generally known to be fond of lying on their backs and juggle with objects between the paws. Similarly, Mij loved engaging himself with marbles and never dropped one on the floor. He would take two or more marbles and roll them on his wide flat stomach.
The days passed peacefully at Basra, but I dreaded the prospect of transporting Mij to England, and to Camusfearna. The British airline to London would not fly animals, so I booked a flight to Paris on another airline, and from there to London. The airline insisted that Mij should be packed into a box not more than eighteen inches square, to be carried on the floor at my feet. I had a box made, and an hour before we started, I put Mij into the box so that he would become accustomed to it, and left for a hurried meal.
Dreaded the prospect- was in great fear of something that would happen in the future
After a peaceful time at Basra, it was now time to take Mijbil to England and the author was anxious even at the thought of travelling with him. British airline refused to allow animals along with, so he booked with another airline which insisted on Mij being carried in a box not more than eighteen inches square. It was not a direct flight from Basra to England. They had to first fly to Paris and then to London. Just as the airline demanded, narrator put Mij in a box, an hour before so that it got enough time to be comfortable and left for a quick meal.
When I returned, there was an appalling spectacle. There was complete silence from the box, but from its airholes and chinks around the lid, blood had trickled and dried. I whipped off the lock and tore open the lid, and Mij, exhausted and blood spattered, whimpered and caught at my leg. He had torn the lining of the box to shreds; when I removed the last of it so that there were no cutting edges left, it was just ten minutes until the time of the flight, and the airport was five miles distant. I put the miserable Mij back into the box, holding down the lid with my hand.
An appalling spectacle- a shocking scene
Whipped off- quickly took off
Trickled- drip, flow
After the meal, narrator faced what he feared the most. The box was still and blood was dripping out of its air holes. He panicked and opened the box only to find the inner lining torn by frightened Mij. The narrator removed every piece of the sharp metal lining and cleaned the box. Till the time everything was back in place, it was only ten minutes left for the flight to take off and they had to cover a distance of five miles. Gavin placed Mij in the box and closed the lid with his hand, lest he should escape.
I sat in the back of the car with the box beside me as the driver tore through the streets of Basra like a ricochetting bullet. The aircraft was waiting to take off; I was rushed through to it by infuriated officials. Luckily, the seat booked for me was at the extreme front. I covered the floor around my feet with newspapers, rang for the air hostess, and gave her a parcel of fish (for Mij) to keep in a cool place. I took her into my confidence about the events of the last half hour. I have retained the most profound admiration for that air hostess; she was the very queen of her kind. She suggested that I might prefer to have my pet on my knee, and I could have kissed her hand in the depth of my gratitude. But, not knowing otters, I was quite unprepared for what followed.
Ricocheting bullet- a bullet with changes direction after hitting a surface
Infuriated- very angry
Took her into my confidence- here, shared with her my experiences or secrets
The narrator cleaned the mess and hurried in a cab. The cab went extremely fast, negotiating the turns like a ricocheting bullet. He somehow managed to reach just before the flight took off, thereby annoying the officials. He got in his seat and gave Mijbil’s food package of fish to the air hostess for refrigeration. He told her the incident which had delayed them and she gladly understood while explaining him what to do next. Gavin developed extreme admiration for the air hostess as she was very helpful. He took her advice and kept the box on his lap. He felt like kisisng her hand as a token of thanks for her help.
Mij was out of the box in a flash. He disappeared at high speed down the aircraft. There were squawks and shrieks, and a woman stood up on her seat screaming out, “A rat! A rat!” I caught sight of Mij’s tail disappearing beneath the legs of a portly white turbaned Indian. Diving for it, I missed, but found my face covered in curry. “Perhaps,” said the air hostess with the most charming smile, “it would be better if you resumed your seat, and I will find the animal and bring it to you.”
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As soon as the author opened the box, Mij jumped out of it and disappeared. There was chaos all around, passengers were getting scared, a lady climbed upon her chair. When he saw Mij beneath the seat of a white-turbaned man, he attempted to catch Mij, and ended up getting his face covered in curry only to find that Mij had vanished again. Just then the air hostess extended the offer to help find Mij and advised him to go back to his seat.
I returned to my seat. I was craning my neck trying to follow the hunt when suddenly I heard from my feet a distressed chitter of recognition and welcome, and Mij bounded on to my knee and began to nuzzle my face and my neck.
Craning- stretch out one’s body or neck in order to see something
Recognition- identification; acknowledgement
Nuzzle- to rub gently with the nose
Bounded on to- climbed up quickly
On being requested by the air hostess, the narrator came back to his seat and his eyes started looking for Mij. It was only then he heard some chitter while Mij climbed up his knee to reach his face. Mij had returned.
After an eventful journey, Maxwell and his otter reach London, where he has a flat
Mij and I remained in London for nearly a month. He would play for hours with a selection of toys, ping-pong balls, marbles, rubber fruit, and a terrapin shell that I had brought back from his native marshes. With the ping-pong ball he invented a game of his own which could keep him engrossed for up to half an hour at a time. A suitcase that I had taken to Iraq had become damaged on the journey home, so that the lid, when closed, remained at a slope from one end to the other. Mij discovered that if he placed the ball on the high end it would run down the length of the suitcase. He would dash around to the other end to ambush its arrival, hide from it, crouching, to spring up and take it by surprise, grab it and trot off with it to the high end once more.
Terrapin shell- the shell of small turtle found in North America
Engrossed- completely interested in
Ambush- to attack suddenly from a hidden position
Crouching- squat; adopt a position where the knees are bent and the upper body is brought forward and down, typically in order to avoid detection or to defend oneself
Trot off- to leave
They stayed in London for a month while Mij had learned to engross himself with tons of games. He used to play with ping-pong balls, marbles, rubber fruit, and a terrapin shell. Ping-pong ball kept him engaged for about half an hour. Gavin’s suitcase had got damaged on the journey. It had a slope from one end to the other. Mij would roll the ball from the higher end towards the lower end. Then he would rush to the lower end and hide, waiting for the ball to reach. He would jump up in time and surprise the ball. Then he would catch the ball and rush once again to the higher end of the suitcase. Very excitingly, he would again hit the ball from the other end.
Outside the house I exercised him on a lead, precisely as if he had been a dog. Mij quickly developed certain compulsive habits on these walks in the London streets, like the rituals of children who on their way to and from school must place their feet squarely on the centre of each paving block; must touch every seventh upright of the iron railings, or pass to the outside of every second lamp post. Opposite to my flat was a single-storied primary school, along whose frontage ran a low wall some two feet high. On his way home, but never on his way out, Mij would tug me to this wall, jump on to it, and gallop the full length of its thirty yards, to the hopeless distraction both of pupils and of staff within.
rituals: a religious ceremony
gallop: run fast
Gavin would take Mij for a walk and exercise just like a pet dog. Mij ran around the streets in a particular fashion just like school kids did. Like children formed different habits of placing their feet in the center of each block that came their way, or of touching every seventh pole of the railing, or crisscrossing out of the street light poles. There was a primary school with only the ground floor being constructed, opposite the author’s flat. There was a low height wall – almost two feet high that ran along the school’s boundary. On their way back home only, Mij would pull Gavin towards the wall, jump on it and run on its entire length at a high speed. He would attract the attention of the students and staff inside the school.
It is not, I suppose, in any way strange that the average Londoner should not recognise an otter, but the variety of guesses as to what kind of animal this might be came as a surprise to me. Otters belong to a comparatively small group of animals called Mustellines, shared by the badger, mongoose, weasel, stoat, mink and others. I faced a continuous barrage of conjectural questions that sprayed all the Mustellines but the otter; more random guesses hit on ‘a baby seal’ and ‘a squirrel.’ ‘Is that a walrus, mister?’ reduced me to giggles, and outside a dog show I heard ‘a hippo’. A beaver, a bear cub, a leopard — one, apparently, that had changed its spots — and a ‘brontosaur’; Mij was anything but an otter.
Barrage of conjectural questions- a stream of questions filled with guesses
As an otter is not a very common animal in London, the author found it strange that the residents were unable to recognize one. People had wild guesses as to what Mij was. Otters belong to a group of animals called Mustellines, shared by the badger, mongoose, weasel, stoat, mink and others. People could guess all animals of the group but Otter. Most famous guesses were, a baby seal or a squirrel. Some guessed that Mijbil was a hippo, beaver, leopard, walrus, etc.
But the question for which I awarded the highest score came from a labourer digging a hole in the street. I was still far from him when he laid down his tool, put his hands on his hips, and began to stare. As I drew nearer I saw his expression of surprise and affront, as though he would have me know that he was not one upon whom to play jokes. I came abreast of him; he spat, glared, and then growled out, “Here, Mister — what is that supposed to be?”
spat: past tense of spit
The most shocking reply came from a labourer digging a hole who paused working while observing Mij. The man kept his tool aside, placed his hands on his back and stared at Mij. His expressions of surprise and affront signalled that he would not tolerate any nonsense. He spat, stared at them and asked the author in a loud voice that what was that (Mijbil) supposed to be.
Mijbil the Otter- Question and Answers
Q1. What ‘experiment’ did Maxwell think Camusfearna would be suitable for?
A. Maxwell thought that as Camusfearna was close to water, it was suitable for an experiment to domesticate an otter.
Q2. Why does he go to Basra? How long does he wait there, and why?
A. He had gone to Basra to the Consulate-General to receive and answer his mail from Europe. Unfortunately, only his friend’s mail had arrived. Therefore, he tried connecting to England via telegraph and telephone but could not associate due to waiting period, holidays and technical glitches for another couple of days. His mail arrived after waiting for 5 days.
Q3. How does he get the otter? Does he like it? Pick out the words that tell you this.
A. When the author came to his room to read the mail, he found two Arabs with a sack that was twisting again and again. One of them handed the author a note from his friend that said the otter was a gift from him.
The author liked the otter very much. This is evident from the fact that he later uses words like “otter fixation” which means a strong connection between the otter and the owner. This feeling is shared by other otter owners as well.
Q4. Why was the otter named ‘Maxwell’s otter’?
A. Otters are of a race previously unknown to science, and were at length named by zoologists as Lutrogale perspicillata maxwelli, or Maxwell’s otter.
Q5. Tick the right answer. In the beginning, the otter was
• Aloof and indifferent
A. In the beginning, the otter was aloof and indifferent.
Q6. What happened when Maxwell took Mijbil to the bathroom? What did it do two days after that?
A. When Maxwell took Mijbil to the bathroom, for half an hour he went wild with joy in the water, plunging and rolling in it, shooting up and down the length of the bathtub underwater, and making enough slosh and splash for a hippo. Two days later, it escaped into the bathroom and Maxwell saw it opening the tap, all by itself.
Q7. How was Mij to be transported to England?
A. Mij was to be carried in a box, not more than eighteen inches square, to be kept on the floor at the author’s feet. British airlines did not allow transporting animals, so they booked another flight to Paris and from there to London.
Q8. What did Mij do to the box?
A. Mij had torn the inner lining of the box to shreds. The lining was made of metal, thus, in the process of tearing off the lining, he hurt himself and started bleeding.
Q9. Why did Maxwell put the otter back in the box? How do you think he felt when he did this?
A. Maxwell removed every bit of the shredded inner lining so that Mij won’t hurt himself. He then kept the otter back in the box as they had to reach the flight on time. He must have felt pity and be worried about Mij.
Q10. Why does Maxwell say the airhostess was “the very queen of her kind”?
A. When Maxwell boarded the flight, he took the air hostess into confidence about the latest incidents. Being understanding, friendly and kind, she advised him to keep the box on his lap. Thus, the way she listened and helped him, led to an admiration that made the narrator say that she was “the very queen of her kind”.
Q11. What happened when the box was opened?
A. As soon as he opened the box, Mij flashed out of it and disappeared. Everyone in the flight panicked and a lady even climbed her chair. Finally when he saw Mij’s tail disappearing beneath a turbaned man, he tried to catch hold of him and in the process, ended up covering his face with curry. After having created such a chaos, the air hostess advised him to go to his seat while she brought Mij back to him.
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