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Gatherings of the Palash Tree

Malavika Chauhan

Edited by Mahesh Rangarajan
Dorling Kindersley, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 570, Rs. 199.00


Over the past thirty years, in the various university departments teaching environmental sciences or related issues in India, somehow, there has been a steady loss of value. The best, most forward looking and most famous environmental scientists of the country have not arisen from backgrounds in environmental sciences, but from basic studies in the pure sciences. They were grounded in the philosophies and theories, stories and histories of their science, and expanded the subject to environmental issues. They moved into environmental issues since these fulfilled their urge for practical application of their expertise in the basic sciences.   Now, for the past fifteen years or so we have had a plethora of students with specialization in environmental sciences as a subject. Despite this, both the number of relevant papers in good, international journals, and the number of visible, devoted scientists with a focused purpose and cause seems to have suffered a loss. In fact, what is more worrying is that most such students seem to feel that as a subject, environmental science is ‘easier’ than a pure science subject. Whether ‘environmental science’ should at all be treated as a subject at the masters level in India may not be an issue entirely relevant to the present context, but Rangarajan’s book, the altogether engrossing reader on Environmental Issues in India, highlights both, the relevance of inter-disciplinary understanding of the issues relating to environment in the country and the importance of the regional and local context of such issues. The fact that he is one of the best documenters of environmental issues in the country, while others like him are also from the social sciences, and, that there are none such from the stream of environmental sciences, is a glaring indicator of the state of scientific intellectualism in the country.   Put together from papers presented at a workshop convened at the Department of History in Delhi University in 2005, this compilation presents work which has, in the most part, already been in print. There are three original papers written especially for the book, along with Rangarajan’s introductions to the different sections. The rest are selected with a view to assimilate insights from differing ecological pasts. As the editor states, knowing where we stand in relation to the land, a sense of geography is but the first step to making our histories.   Drawing a timeline through history, from pre-colonial times till today, Rangarajan ...

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