These history lessons are a lot of fun!
By Boski Gupta
In order to strengthen our future, we need to understand our past. History not only gives us information on our past, but also teaches us how to improve our present and the future. Books which help us give insight both into the past and the future are rare gems and Meghaa Gupta’s Unearthed: An Environmental History of Independent India is one such book. The book gives a detailed knowledge on the history of India’s environment. It talks about Green Revolution, the Milk Revolution, Bhopal Gas Tragedy, Nuclear Tests among other environment-related topics. In the following interview, Gupta talks about how the pandemic has made us realise the importance of nature and why conservation should start from home…
Tell our readers something about yourself…
I work in children’s publishing and enjoy writing about the environment and on issues affecting young people. Unearthed: An Environmental History of Independent India is my third book for young readers. I’ve also written a picture book, A Home of Our Own that was selected by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Book Club. I tell terrible jokes and laugh before I can finish them, so usually people end up laughing more on me, than on my jokes! I’m inspired by the indomitable spirit of childhood that knows no failure.
We all talk about harms to nature and the environment but rarely do anything about it. How can we teach our kids to be more nature-conscious?
The problem is that we want our children to be all sorts of things when we ourselves are not! Isn’t it a bit unfair to expect that children will grow up to be nature conscious if they’re surrounded by adults who live wastefully, buy and throw things without thinking, drive around in cars without pollution checks, don’t switch off lights and fans, keep the tap running etc. The moment we genuinely introduce environment-friendly practices into our households and our classrooms, children will start abiding by them and even getting inspired. I cannot overemphasise the need to take children out into nature. Let them walk barefoot on the grass, pick up old leaves and flowers, press these in their notebooks – basically have experiences that make them feel one with nature.
Do you think this pandemic has jolted us?
Extreme events that change the way we’ve been living our lives always jolt us and the impact of the pandemic on our daily lives has been unprecedented. It’s changed everything. I think in the history of the world, this pandemic would be an epoch with extremely long-term implications. Precisely what these would be, can be anyone’s guess. Personally, I hope people start thinking more seriously about the environment and the importance of being compassionate.
Now would we stop ignoring signs that nature and humankind should exist in harmony? We need nature, we have to survive.
I certainly hope so. Self-preservation is a basic instinct in all living beings. Humans, with their superior skills have managed to overpower nature in their pursuit for self-preservation. But the pandemic is a reminder of how the tables can turn anytime. An invisible virus has jumped from wildlife to humans, bringing the whole world to a standstill.
What should India do to make her citizens more environmentally conscious?
Much like children would never truly become nature-conscious unless classrooms and households change, a nation too needs a government that prioritises the environment. The news is full of stories around environmental degradation. Mindless damming, oil spills, suppression of voices raised against environmental destruction… it makes one feel very helpless and anxious. I actually go around looking for positive environmental news, initiatives by spirited NGOs, local communities and individuals to make myself feel hopeful and write from a place of promise instead of a place of doom.
What do you think about Greta Thunberg?
Greta Thunberg has given a face to young environmentalists the world over. I’ve spoken to so many school children who have been inspired by her. However, one has to be very careful about inspiration – are you inspired more by her work or by her ‘celebrity’ status.
Anything else you would like to add…
The one thing that I try and follow in my own life and also advise children about is to do things because you find some enjoyment doing them and not for what it might bring to you. Environmentalism isn’t just a fashionable word. It’s not just about activism, about sloganeering, about being heard… It’s about the small acts of kindness you extend to nature every day of your life, no matter what others think, do or say. The finest environmentalists in India have persisted with their work, often in the face of great apathy, only because they genuinely care about nature.