Saturday, October 21, 2017

DD Prakriti : The right kind of Swadeshi

Nain Singh Rawat as Doodled today
At long last, the front page of a newspaper, for those of us who still read it in hard copy, carried some positive news. The sporadic sport victories do qualify as good news too but they don't count as policy decisions or announcements which would have a real impact on our immediate world.

Today's Indian Express carried news of an upcoming Doordarshan (DD) channel dedicated to the intricate and magnificent natural world. The Prakriti channel, Hindi for nature/environment, would focus on India specific nature documentaries and Indian content creators for the same. 

Yes, it may seem hard to imagine that a stodgy government department or panel will come up with something interesting but someone up there has made an interesting decision all the same. In the national parks that I have visited, I have been astonished by the sheer hard work and capability of individuals, who are not toasted or celebrated by the masses, but are doing extraordinary work alright in preserving what we have and making casual interlopers like me care about their mission too. 

Having personally seen what the brilliance of such men and women can accomplish, encumbered by red tape and realities though they may be, I am keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for great things from DD Prakriti.

Now this long wait for a local channel like this is something that had puzzled me. We did not lack in natural wealth, fast receding though it may currently be. We did not lack in wonderfully talented nature writers, researchers and local characters either. So why would only the BBC, National Geographic and Discovery make stories about our wilds and not anyone local?

It's not that I don't love the quality work that the foreign content producers have done. In fact, I have been raised on a steady diet of their wonderful programming about the forests of India and those of the rest of the world. It's just that for once I had hoped to hear the Himalayas addressed as the local Hee-ma-layas, instead of the clipped British Him-a-la-yas in every darn documentary.

Wandering about zoos in North America where I made it a point to visit the local zoo of every major city that I visited, I was amazed that most of the animals that interested me were found in or around my own country half a world away. Zoos, admittedly, are not the best place for any wild animal but the irony of seeing animals who were almost my neighbours being protected and discussed by countries thousands of miles away was not lost on me.

Sure, Indians are for the most part a practical sort of people to whom bumbling through jungles to study nature's menagerie seems like a colossal waste of time and a lot of the scientifically relevant information of our own natural wealth comes from books and studies by them so-called 'foreigners'. A lot of work still needs to be done to make the majority of us actually care for and understand the natural world but it's not like we didn't know anything at all. 

We knew better than to go about destroying jungles just for curiosity's sake or to try and control nature. For a country as populated and resource-hungry as India, it is a monumental achievement and a testament to our culture of tolerance in every sphere of life that we have co-existed with our natural surroundings even to this extent. Human beings do not have a very good reputation for putting up with competition from other species, and though with every passing day that relationship is strained and pushed further to the brink, we have managed a lot better than the developed world.

As spectacular and well preserved as the pockets of wild landscapes of the US are, in my travels through them, it was hard not to note that the systematic elimination of natural residents like pumas, grizzlies and wolves from domains once roamed by them, still beautiful but devoid of their animal soul. What happened to the native humans who had a relatively sustainable co-existence with their natural world is a tragic tale I won't even touch.

Development is the theme song for India of today but thanks to the efforts of foreign channels like Discovery, National Geographic and BBC, it would be fair to say that wildlife does have a fair hold on the mental landscape of a number of Indians. Developing local versions of their famed programming is a nativist initiative alright but one of the right variety and one that we are in dire need of. 

Having a local person well versed in the charms of nature explain to a larger, mostly non-urban audience of what exactly is so charming, would connect in a manner which was not possible before to inspire a lot of positivity and possibilities.

In what seems to be a completely unrelated but relevant co-incidence, the Google Doodle today celebrates the 187th birth anniversary of Nain Singh Rawat, whose name I must confess I had never heard of. What's most interesting about him is that he was the first to exactly pinpoint Lhasa on a map all those years ago in what was then the semi-mythical kingdom of Tibet.

There's no denying that Indians had set off on many a adventure before throughout our long history - for example when they sailed off to conquer vast swathes of distant lands in south east Asia or as missionaries walked to exotic lands to spread the wise words of the Buddha. But in my own brain-washed mind, the word explorer always conjures up images of a Westerner in a khaki suit so it is wonderful to learn of a native role model, a Swadeshi explorer for all practical purposes.

Nain Singh Rawat fits the more cliched image of a seeker in what was still the golden age of exploration (or exploitation, also a perfectly valid description), map and compass in hand, linking the modern world to an ancient one, forever changing both and launching a million more adventure stories. His example becomes all the more relevant when we aspire to capture in a modern and scientific way, what is truly Indian heritage, much older and much more 'native' than any human culture could ever hope to be.