Of Human-animal Co-existence


By JoAnne Saldanha

“… do step outside the confines of your classrooms and houses. You never know what you might find right in your back yard,” Gundappa Sir advises children, in the story Kaadu Paapa by Sujatha Padmanabhan – one of the ten delightful tales featured in the anthology People and Wildlife published by Kalpavriksh True to his words, this book inspires children to do exactly that by telling them fascinating stories of how people and wildlife co-exist across the country. Along the way, it also informs them of our country’s stunning natural heritage. 

When I think of India, I think ‘diverse’. So, what struck me the most was the close attention given to diversity in this book. In addition to wildlife, it also highlights the diverse cultures, beliefs, traditions, landscapes and people across the country. In the lush northeast, a Naga grandfather tells his grandson about the traditions of their tribe and how their people listened to messages from nature. In the west, villagers in Charotar, Gujarat, co-exist peacefully with mugger crocodiles. In Rajasthan, Ratanlal and his wife draw from the teachings of their religion to feed thousands of migratory Demoiselle Cranes from Mongolia. And in Kerala recollections of their carefree childhood days, lead a group of friends to clean up their river, bringing back the otter that once frolicked there. 

In addition to rural narratives, the book also features stories from big metros. In Chennai, citizens help save the Olive Ridley Turtle from extinction, and, near bustling Mumbai, despite attacks, the leopard is worshipped as Waghoba, the guardian of the forest.

Nayantara Surendranath’s charming illustrations bring alive this wonderful potpourri of stories, helping readers picture the cultures and unique creatures they might not have seen otherwise. While a couple of the stories did drag, what I can say about all the stories is that they brought hope and inspiration to an otherwise dismal narrative on environmental degradation that one usually encounters. These are stories children must know – of real people, doing real work to preserve the natural world. A must have in any school classroom or home library. 

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