It’s not easy for somebody to sustain readers’ attention while writing about environment. Rangarajan’s in depth writing actually captivates the readers.
NATURE AND NATION : Essays in Environmental History ;
By MAHESH RANGARAJAN. Published by Permanent Black . Price : Rs.795/-
Eminent scholar and historian Mahesh Rangarajan has penned a thought provoking book on India’s environmental history. It’s a book about human interaction with the natural world, on ecology and history, focusing on animals, and society.
In a collection of 10 essays, he examines two decades of Indian environmental thinking covering the governments of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. But he begins with colonial India, a time when hunting and killing tigers was seen as a manly feat. Cut to the time of Indira Gandhi and there’s a sea change. Key decisions such as the initiation of Project Tiger, India’s flagship wildlife conservation programme, the enactment of the Wildlife Protection Act and saving the Silent Valley in Kerala, a biodiversity hotspot, from submersion by a hydro-electric project were undertaken.
Rangarajan writes: “The strategy of preservation was simple. Spaces on land and water of intrinsic ecological worth were delineated and protection was made the explicit management priority.
Preservation was the way to safeguard ecological integrity… Protecting nature has primarily meant locking human influences out in a small but significant area of land…Tiger reserves, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries still slow down if not hamper major changes in the land in parts of India.”
He dwells on India’s limited availability of land; on the fact that with only 2.4% of the world’s surface and 17% of its population, we have to manage three biodiversity hotspots.
The book looks at the conservation activities of people like Jim Corbett, Kenneth Anderson, Salim Ali, Kailash Sankhala and M. Krishnan— all of those who influenced a generation of naturalists and conservationists. Their books have enthralled an earlier generation of readers.
Rangarajan writes fluently but be warned he is an academic and parts of the book make for heavy reading. The value of his book lies in the fact it is about our inheritance, why our environment is like it is and how we continue to influence its current state.
About the author
Writing India’s environmental history is not easy. The country’s territorial vastness, geographical complexity, and unusual biodiversity make the task difficult. Relatively few scholars have shown the historical range and intellectual depth required to tackle the area compellingly and with sophistication.
Mahesh Rangarajan is among the foremost scholars in this field. The papers and books he has written or edited over more than two decades have helped craft and enlarge Indian environmental thought as a whole. They have established his reputation as a stimulating and wide-ranging historian-thinker in the discipline.
The present collection comprises ten essays showcasing the core of Rangarajan’s thought and interventions. They include comparisons of the subcontinent with the world beyond, most specially with societies in Asia and Africa once under Western domination. They also include studies of specific historical conjunctures under regimes such as those of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, Jomo Kenyatta and Julius Nyerere.
Environmental shifts and continuities in a massive Asian society and polity are the central focus of this book. It discusses events and processes to show how specific environmental changes happened. It discusses the global ecological dimensions of Indian transformations. Economy and ecology, state-making and identity, nature and nation converge and cohere to make this a book for every thinking person.
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