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Mehran Zaidi

BIRDS OF THE GREAT ANDAMANESE
By Anvita Abbi and Satish Pande
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 134, 950.00

VOLUME XXXV NUMBER 11 NOVEMBER 2011

'This is a labor of love in more ways than oneā€”deep love both for the scientific work that went into it and for the people whose language and knowledge are the object of this book.' Luisa Maffi, Co-founder and Director of Teralingua said in her Foreword. This I found out to be true when I read this book. Let me explain how. Being an amateur birdwatcher myself, I am surrounded by dozens of books on birds, and keep going back to them again and again. These range from the compact handbook on the Birds of Kangra by Jan William Den Besten to the exhaustive tome Birds of the Indian Subcontinent by Richard Grimmett and Carol Inskipp. Above all, of course, is the Bible of Indian ornithologists, The Book of Indian Birds by the 'Birdman of India' Dr. Salim Ali. Most of these books are indispensible, enlightening and valuable, and have always motivated me to get up and go bird watching to the nearest forest cover. Birds have always enchanted human beings. In these modern times with its peculiar tensions and pressures, bird watching acts as a great stress-buster. So, I do feel blessed to be living in Delhi, home to numerous bird species and one of the greenest capital cities in the world. Be it the banks of the Yamuna river or the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary, you are sure to find a number of birds. The sight of a Kingfisher flying over water and swooping down to catch a fish is what blissful moments are made of. Abbi's work on the languages of the Andaman tribes is well known. She has painstakingly put together a dictionary of the Great Andamanese and their dying language. Noble work indeed. Pande is a known ornithologist and has done considerable work on birds. The short section on recognizing bird species is very insightful. The 'Utilitarian View' versus 'Inherent Need' debate was perfectly written and to the point. The most riveting part about this section was the birds being considered ancestors by the Great Andamanese people. To quote from this section: 'Though birds in general are considered to be the Great Andamanese ancestors, some birds like mynas, doves, pigeons and brahminy kites are particularly not eaten because they are specially named after ancestors.' I was fascinated by the excellent accounts and behavioural patterns given about the Great Andamanese people. How they ...


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