The Wild Heart of India
Shortlisted | Book Awards 2020 | English Non-fiction
The Wild Heart of India
"Wild—untamed, hostile, remote. Yet, wild can be gentle, welcoming, and inspiring, too. This is the wild that preoccupies biologist Shankar Raman as he writes about trees and bamboos, hornbills and elephants, leopards and myriad other species. Species found not just out there in far wildernesses—from the Thar desert to the Kalakad rainforests, from Narcondam Island to Namdapha—but amid us, in gardens and cities, in farms, along roadsides. And he writes about the forces that gouge land and disfigure landscapes, rip trees and shred forests, pollute rivers and contaminate the air, slaughter animals along roads and rail tracks—impelling a motivation to care, and to conserve nature.
Through this collection of essays, Shankar Raman attempts to blur, if not dispel, the sharp separation between humans and nature, to lead you to discover that the wild heart of India beats in your chest, too."
T.R. Shankar Raman is a writer turned wildlife scientist turned writer, living in the Anamalai Hills in southern India. He works with the Nature Conservation Foundation.
From a boat on Assam’s Deepor Beel — the freshwater lake lying southwest of Guwahati, the largest city in the Northeast — you can look east past thousands of waterbirds and a carpet of floating leaves to see the city’s seething, smoking garbage dump. Under spotless blue skies, a thin brown haze blankets the lake from fringing forest to quarried hillock, from skirting township to the Boragaon dump yard. As another dump truck lurches to a halt and tips its load of filth over, an unruly mob of black kites and a cloud of dark mynas explode from the murky earth, flapping like pieces of tattered cloth caught in a gust. The truck deposits another mound of unsegregated waste—a fraction of the more than 600 tons generated daily from this city of nearly a million people—all plastic and putrefaction, chicken heads and pigs entrails, street dirt and kitchen waste, broken glass and soiled cloth, bulbs and batteries and wires and electronics, metal, paper, and much more. Beside the truck waits a line of people: women, adolescents, and children. And behind them, a phalanx of greater adjutant storks — tall, ungainly birds with bayonet-like beaks and naked yellow and pink necks — is next in line. In company with cattle and dogs, the people will scavenge first. Driven by poverty, with little or no land or possessions of their own, these people from poor families living around the lake have turned to the dump yard, despite its appalling prospects for their health, to scour a livelihood from the residues of urbanisation. In the waste thrown out of home and market, hospital and motel, collected and dumped again by the trucks, in that twice-discarded garbage, they will rummage to gather things to sell, to use, to survive. Without even a cloth draped over their noses against smoke and stench, they will sift valuable scraps from the offal with metal hooks and bare hands.