An open fan mail to Amitav Ghosh: The voice of environment conservation in India

On 20th December 2013, at its 68th session, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) proclaimed 3rd March – the day of signature of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in 1973 – as UN World Wildlife Day to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants.[1] Although, the theme for World Wildlife Day 2021 is “Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet”[2], today’s post is dedicated to an issue less anthropocentric in nature; wildlife conservation.

It was the year 2012. I was in my second year of college and on the brink of hitting my 20s. I had been in GNLU already for two years I was probably destined to read my college library’s copy of The Hungry Tide during my end semester exams following the fifth semester. Throughout graduation, our end-semester exams were scheduled in such a manner that we had an exam every alternate day. I was yet to become so disillusioned with the marking system that I would completely stop paying attention in all classes for all the subjects; we had six subjects each semester except the final year which was designed differently. However, I could never make myself cover much of the syllabus even on the day before the exam and had therefore more or less given up in the face of distraction. On the day of the exam, I would wake up at dawn and study for a couple of hours to mug up the entire syllabus. I was aided by one of my closest friends from college, Snehi about whom I have previously mentioned that I co-authored a paper about the Uphaar Fire Tragedy. She had this uncanny ability to tell me precisely how many hours would I need to cover the syllabus. To this day I am stunned with how she had a better sense of judgment regarding the matter than I did. I guess that is the thing with friends. On certain occasions, they seem to know you better than you would know yourself. The only other author who had impacted me as powerfully as Amitav Ghosh previously was Erich Segal. It has been about a decade since then but my reverence for the two has remained unfazed over the years. I am as fascinated by his meticulous research as I am by the magic he weaves through words. Someday if I can invoke half the response he evokes in his readers I would know I am on the right track as a fictional author. There have been fictional authors in the country before who have written heart-waring stories about animals but to date, I haven’t come across a single Indian author who takes up the cause of environment conservation the way he does. He is the voice of environment conservation in India for me; a trend setter in his own right. Here is sincerely hoping that he continues to inspire many others like me.

The Hungry Tide, set in the Sunderbans is a story of a people; some who were born and brought up and the rest who gravitated towards it due to various reasons. The topography and climate, unique to a mangrove area are described so vividly that once you are at once taken back by the mystique surrounding this land on a corner of India and yet have a sudden urge to visit it immediately. The characters have been etched out so well that it seems that you know each of them personally and needless to say they with you long after you have finished reading the book. One of the most captivating features of the book is that it seamlessly travels between the late 1970s and 2000s through means of a diary to familiarise the reader with living conditions now and then. At the heart of the book lies environment conservation and a hauntingly beautiful bond that develops between two individuals who are different yet similar. It was through the this story that I first learn of the Marichjhapi incident and witnessed man-wild conflict from a lens that I never knew existed before.

Gun Island is a sequel to The Hungry Tide and is set almost a decade after the events of the latter take place. The underlying message is loud and clear ; climate change can have a devasting effect on mankind, and we are caught unawares more so when we are oblivious to its existence in the first place. Through means of a folk tale passed on through generations, anthropology, history symbolism, and natural science we are told that human being across various continents despite time and distance are more connected than we can even dare to imagine. Just how its predecessor focuses on issues that had received very little attention so far, this book revolves around the predicament of climate refugees. Though it is the rich and powerful whose carbon footprint is the highest, it the poor living on the fringes who bear the brunt of climate change. This book does a great job of sensitizing you towards climate change but leaves you wanting for more in terms of storytelling. I had been so blown away by The Hungry Tide that Gun Island literally broke my heart coz compared to how I felt connected to the characters of the former, I found the characters of the latter almost superficial in their quest. Amitav Ghosh couldn’t do justice to the extraordinary story created out of ordinary characters earlier. I wonder why could he not just write essays about the issues he has touched upon instead of writing a sequel because he writes really good essays too. On that thought signing off for tonight.


[1] https://www.wildlifeday.org

[2] https://www.indiatoday.in/information/story/world-wildlife-day-2021-history-theme-images-and-significance-1774844-2021-03-02

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