Let’s take nature home
By BOSKI GUPTA
We all want our children to respect nature, but where do we start? Author Benita Sen suggests we start from home. In her latest book for children One Lonely Tiger, Sen talks about the jungle and its animals, earth and nature, and man and his friends. Her verses help kids to think, and talk. In conversation with MyCoup, Sen here talks about her book, environment and what makes her love nature…
MyCoup: It’s difficult for parents and teachers to talk to kids about the environment and get them interested sometimes…
Benita Sen: I keep hearing the word “boring” when it comes to issues of the environment. The environment and climate change are about the air we breathe, about animate life forms, it’s about life around us, it’s about things that influence life everywhere. It’s as living a subject as one can find. It’s about us! No other issue can be so “alive” or so close to our wellbeing. To me, living things are so interesting! So, I do not find environmental issues boring. I would love to discuss trees and bees with young people. They are the brightest hope for us!
MyCoup: Global warming is an impending threat but how to make them understand that?
BS: I believe this incredibly uncomfortable summer of 2019 has convinced many children already. I find it easier to discuss these issues with children than with older people. Of course, it would help if the person explaining the issues, is also convinced about the issues. I, for instance, cannot grasp rocket science. So, if I had to explain it to a child or write about it, I doubt if the book could be convincing. Children respect facts as much as they may love fiction. So, let us give them the facts as they are. Data is vital. Examples are important to back facts up with. Presentation is vital. And so is treatment. I try to bring in gentle humour wherever I can, because that’s the way I think and am.
MC: One Lonely Tiger helps a lot in this sense. It is relatable, and it’s simple.
BS: Sometimes, the simpler story goes further. There was no other way I could think of writing it. It also had to have a story and it had to have some gentle humour like the page on the elephant. Even the other characters are thought of with much care. They’re not there just to fill the pages. They share the same habitat. Which is why we don’t have a grizzly bear or a polar bear or a penguin, but we have babblers. I watch and read environmental videos, posts, books and articles for hours every day. There is this video about a gibbon teasing tiger cubs. I must have seen it a dozen times. So, that’s how a child can pick up tiny nuances about habitat and the web of life; about how we are all connected. I must say, officially, that my heart goes out to the tigers in that video but I do realise how interconnected their lives are. Traditionally, we only hear about the tiger being the king of the jungle. But who would have thought an ape could have so much fun at the expense of tigers? See the sense of humour that primate has! So, nature studies need not be boring!
MC: As a children’s writer, how difficult or easy it is to reach your audience. How do you do that?
BS: One of my favourite quotes is : A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song. I did not write One Lonely Tiger to “teach” children. I write because I have something to write. I honestly have no idea whether or not I am reaching readers. It always surprises me when people come up to discuss my books. One Lonely Tiger is written in verse because I find it easier to write less. So is my book What Did Nepo Do With a Sari?, which deals with gender issues and respect for the farmer. I don’t mean to get preachy. It’s just that these issues are important to me.
MC: How did the idea of One Lonely Tiger come to you?
BS: I have lived for a few years on the edge of a couple of forests, so I’ve walked through them or skirted their periphery. And thus, I’ve bumped into nilgai, dodged jackals, just missed wild boar crashing into the hedge I was walking past and found ways to live in peace with some rather strange insects you would not see in our cities. Every time I bump into a wild animal, I feel guilty and apologetic to have crossed its path. We have left less space for them ever in the course of history. Do they deserve this?
Habitat destruction is a sad reality of our times. Once, we were flying low over tiger territory and it struck me that the forests did not look as thick as one would think tiger habitat would be. That led to the guiding thought of this book. Another issue it addresses is interdependence of species. Whether it is ants or bees, tigers or trees, the web of life springs a gaping gap every time one species is wiped out. I know several environmentalists are worried about the lack of attention to species smaller in size, some of which may be bordering on extinction, virtually unnoticed.
MC: How can we teach our children the importance of nature?
BS: The best way is, to lead by example. The more we take them outdoors, the more they understand the outdoors. The more they read about the environment, the more they understand the issues. Just a little nudge, and they are capable of taking on from there. Let’s take Versova beach. It gets cleaned by Afroze Shah and his team, and in a couple of years, the Olive Ridley Turtle comes back to nest there. The connection is simple. It is all around us.
Children are doing a lot for the environment. I’m so inspired by Greta Thunberg who, at 15, protested outside her country’s Parliament asking for immediate steps to tackle climate change. Aman Phatak of Pune is a school student who is an animal welfarist. He volunteers to find homeless InDogs or Indian Pariah Dogs loving homes. Ridhima Pandey of Uttarakhand is raising awareness about climate change. I just read about Ella and Caitlin McEwan, aged 9 and 7, who have written to a fast food chain to change their give-aways from plastic to something that can be composted. Eleven-year-old Shalvi Shakshi was in the Fijian delegation at COP 23 where she said, “every single person on this earth has the power to change the world.” I believe she is right.
Title: One Lonely Tiger
Illustrator: Sekhar Mukherjee