Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Gangadharan Menon’s Book Evergreen Leaves

Gangadharan Menon’s book Evergreen Leaves is an unrestrained peek into the life of a naturalist who is at home in the wild forests of India. Not for nothing does his email identity begin as “Wild Ganges.” I know him as “Ganga” from my childhood. We used to study in one class at Adarsha Vidyalaya, Chembur, a suburb of Bombay. He was a superman right from school: good in studies, good in sports, good in writing, good in dramatics and debating, etc. We used to be rival house captains; he leading yellow house and I leading green house. Leading my team against his proved to be a herculean task in those days. Those days remain a daze now.

Ganga went on to shine in advertising as a copywriter, the best in the field. Before that he experimented with many genres: film maker, actor, script writer, and artist, so on and so forth. Then somehow after 28 years of advertising he gave it up at the peak of his career to be a writer on nature and to teach young people. Was he a bit disillusion by advertising? Yes, he told me one day. Like many of the stalwarts of those days he was disillusioned by the tasteless ads produced today. Today all they know is to “make the logo bigger” and “why is this space empty?” So he quit.

Today he teaches creativity at Bombay’s Rachna Sansad and when he is free he travels to the sanctuaries and national parks around the country, discovering new flora and fauna and writing about them. Photography is one of his passions and has a huge catalogue of birds and animals in his computer. He does this because he loves doing it and most of the time he drives his own vehicle across the length and breadth of the country. From Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat and from Leh to Kanyakumari he has seen it all, experienced the mountains, rivers, lakes, sanctuaries and national parks, sitting in the driver’s seat. No safe beaten tourist tracks for him, he loves the wild as it comes, through dangerous tracks, often with only a guide for company.

The elephant that almost killed Ganga is now known as Gangadharan
It was on one such expedition on June 15, 2008 that he was almost gored to death by an elephant in the jungles of Masinagudi. Here it is in Ganga’s own words, “As I turned back to look at what we were running away from, I saw a wild tusker aged about 16 barely 30 feet away from me, in full charge. I ran for my life, as fast as my 52-year-old feet could carry me... then the tusker went down on his front legs and attacked me with his right tusk, right on my lower back, exactly where I had a slip-disc for 14 years.” After many days in hospital Ganga was out of danger. When I asked him if he held any grudges against elephants he said, “No, I still love them.” I am reproducing alongside a photo of the elephant that attacked Ganga which has been named “Gangadharan” by the people living in the area.

During his travels he has been shocked b the wanton destruction of forests by greedy men and poachers. The Chilika lake is one such conservation effort launched by Chilika Development Authority with the help of the local people. “The poachers turned protectors patrolled the waterways of Chilika, day in and day out. They took nature lovers in their boats, with the precise knowledge of which species can be found where. The division of labour among them was well-defined. Some of them became boatmen, some turned cooks who provided food on a day-long boat journey, and the ones with better communication skills became guides.”

He adds, “Conservationists across India would do well to take a leaf out of the Book of Chilika. If a conservation effort has to be successful as the one in Chilika, the local community has to be deeply engaged and passionately involved. That’s the only way to protect the last green bastions left in our country.”

The book serves as a memoir as well as a chronicle of India’s vast natural beauty. It is written in the lucid style Ganga is known for. He uses every clichĂ© that exists with certain panache. It’s a worthy addition to every nature lover’s library.

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