Updated: April 8, 2021 8:02:47 am
“How can we communicate our research to a wider public and partner with them in protecting the city’s environment?” This is the question that played in the minds of a group of ecological researchers in Bengaluru’s Azim Premji University for quite some time. Later, they came up with an idea of developing a tale with embedded illustrations featuring ‘gunda thopes’ (translated to wooded groves) in Bengaluru — now mostly in the city’s outskirts — as many trees made way for urban development.
Titled ‘Where have all our gunda thopes gone?’, the book is bilingual with Kannada and English paragraphs placed adjacent to each other. In an interaction with indianexpress.com, lead author Seema Mundoli said the story was worded using simple language to ensure it has a wider reach among the masses, be it school students, teachers, or people living across rural and urban areas with a Karnataka connect.
“Gunda thopes are common across Karnataka as they stand out as a salient feature in villages. These groves typically comprise trees which are common — planted, nurtured and owned by the entire village community — which over the years transforms to a multi-purpose location,” Mundoli, who hails from Kerala but spent her childhood in Andhra Pradesh, said.
However, these are very different from ‘Kavu’ (sacred groves) found in Kerala and adjacent places. “Gunda thopes comprise species of mango, jamun, tamarind, peepal and fig, among others. They primarily provide wood as fuel for village feasts, fruits for children, shade for cattle and also become a common meeting place for the village-dwellers. We have also observed that some families would also worship a particular tree by laying seven stones. The sense of belongingness developed by a community through such thopes ensures that it sustains for decades as a relevant part of their lives,” Mundoli said.
Many such facts and anecdotes find reference in the 56-page-long story which features two characters, Lakshmamma and Maranna. “We named them so as to relate to the local ethos. Maraanna translates to ‘brother tree’, while Lakshmamma is a very common name. The akka (sister) or anna (brother) suffix is very common in rural areas across Karnataka,” Mundoli said.
Co-author and renowned ecologist Dr Harini Nagendra attributed the idea behind the story to an ecological study which has been on since 2013. “Our work on wooded groves has been going on since 2013 and we have visited nearly 96 gunda thopes before developing the narrative for a fictionalised version of true incidents that took place in a grove in Mahadevapura area. Each year, students, too, join us for field visits and case studies. We noted several transformations and got more opportunities to learn from them, who also happen to be the inhabitants of the villages,” she said.
She added that the initial idea was to publish the storybook only as an open-source work enabling individuals and organisations to print and circulate it widely. “However, Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Secretary (Uma Mahadevan Dasgupta) approached us with an interest of replicating 6,400 copies of the same, one for each newly renovated rural library across the state,” Dr Nagendra added with delight.
Further, the RDPR department has also asked the team behind the book to develop learning activities based on the book, to be circulated among school teachers and students. “With Kannada and English versions placed next to each other, we also aim to bridge the gap between these two languages for all those who are interested,” Dr Nagendra said.
While MK Shankar, a visiting faculty member at the National School of Drama Bengaluru, has translated the story, the illustrations have been done by APU researcher Sukanya Basu and two undergraduate students — Neeharika Verma and Sahana Subramanian.
“India is rapidly urbanising, but our cities are facing an environmental crisis. Whenever there is any development, for building a road, a flyover or a Metro, the first casualties are trees”, the team behind the book highlighted.
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