VoW 2019 / Sessions / November 15 / AN EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES: A HISTORY OF NATURAL HISTORY IN INDIA
A Quick Glimpse of Natural Historiography
The final session of Day 1 of the Valley of Words Literature Festival 2019 in Blue Star Hall was conducted at 1625 hrs. The sessions in this venue were delayed due to certain difficulties. Notwithstanding this unfortunate glitch, Bikram Grewal carried on his session with gusto and momentum.
His session was supplemented by a presentation comprising a series of slides featuring multiple representations of Indian animals, birds and insects ranging from Jahangir’s court to the colonial enthusiasts who collected, studied and contributed to the discipline of natural studies. More often than not, the people who engaged in these studies were not professionally trained in the discipline. Nevertheless, their contribution to the field of study has benefitted the discipline immensely.
The slides began with the depiction of a painting of a Siberian crane and dodos which belonged to the court of Jahangir. This highlighted the significance of Jahangir’s court with regards to the early portrayal of birds which are now either endangered or extinct. What makes these portrayals significant and intriguing is the fact that they are the first depiction of the species hundreds of years before they were discovered by modern science.
The amalgamation of Mughal school of art and the British colonial government was briefly talked about. The emergence of the Company School introduced new techniques of painting such as watercolour, shadows and perspective. Calcutta was the great centre of the Company School. However, this school came to an end after photography came to the scene.
Thereafter, Bikram Grewal talked about the ‘honourable’ East India Company, which was anything but honourable. Yet he did not dismiss their huge contribution to the study of natural history. A brief overview of persons and organisations followed. The Asiatic Society of Bengal, which was the first Natural Museum of the country; James Forbes and his Oriental Memoir of 1813; Brian H. Hodgson, the civil servant who had many discoveries to his name; Robert Armitage Sterndale, whose work had inspired Rudyard Kipling to write the Jungle Book. These were some of the many things he talked about in a very brief span of time.
After Mr Grewal’s session came to a close a book release ceremony took place. Vijayaditya Singh Rathore’s first book ‘birds of Chandbagh’ was released. Rathore’s parents were first called to the stage to deliver a word of thanks and appreciation. Thereafter, the book itself was unwrapped and revealed to the house. After a brief photo session Rathore shared a short testimonial where he attributed his success to his mother, sister and father. He was awarded a tiny trophy by Valley of Words as a token of appreciation and encouragement. Much applause was given by the audience for this young author’s impressive efforts.
Samson S Haokip, St Stephens College