by Radhika Changoiwalla
Two academic researchers in Bengaluru come together to weave an interesting tale about trees
Harini Nagendra and Seema Mundoli’s book takes one on a fascinating journey about trees’ heritage, their science and the diverse culture surrounding it across India.
A labor of love – ‘Cities and Canopies’ delves into many aspects about the sentinels of nature. In fact, the book is structured on childhood memories, rebuilding one’s relationship with nature, encouraging animated conversations with the elderly and children alike.
Putting their experiences, research, memories and thoughts in a lucid manner, the scientist-authors who are faculty at Azim Premji University take a ‘look at trees’ in a wholly new light. Presently, Seema is involved in a research anchored by Harini Nagendra who is looking at the status of and changes to urban commons like lakes, village forests, grazing lands and so on in urban and the peri-urban interface of Bengaluru.
The book is as a result of lot of childhood memories and tales, they say. Seema playfully reminiscences growing up at the university campus in Vishakhapatnam surrounded by innumerable trees, climbing and playing around Jamun trees and having mango feasts in summers. If Harini indulged in long walks with her parents where her mother would pause – fascinated by different parts of flowers, their structure, scent and colors. Peeling apart the flower to identify the stamen, pollen and other parts was their own science project!
Cities and Canopies is not aiming to be an encyclopedia of trees but is rather an attempt to walk you through interactions between man and landscapes. It brings out the meaning of different trees for a commoner as also the uses of different trees and the collective memories that makes these beautiful patterns and canopies alive and real.
Seema mentions that her favorite tree currently is the Gular tree right outside her house in Malleswaram, a Ficus also commonly known as Atti in the south. For years, she has been observing the same set of people in the mornings walking around the tree, a watchman eating his lunch in its afternoon shade and bats flittering about the tree in the wake of night. She also poetically narrates how Malleswaram is lined by many an avenue of beautiful trees offering so much to its urban commoners.
With a PhD in Ecology, Harini has been fascinated with nature for long but it was only a few years back that she started researching more about urban dwelling, the history of change in urban setups with the changing ecosystem of trees. She realized that more she understood and explored cities and nature, the past and the future; the more she could truly influence change. The book being her brain-child, Harini and Seema were introduced to each other by their university professor, and the result was this beautiful narrative poured into every page of this book.
Full of research, one year of intense writing, delving into innumerable journals, blogs, newspaper articles coupled with interactive experiences that pieced together traditional practices, real-life stories that now seemed like a distant dream led to the completion of ‘Cities and Canopies.’
Harini narrates to Green Minute a soulful experience while writing one of the chapters related to silk-cotton trees. She says, “It evoked a far memory of someone visiting our house to sew mattresses from all the silk-cotton collected in the past year.” Adding to this, Seema chimes about the folklore narrated in the chapter about Jamun tree. “It excited my mother to go back to her school books where she remembered reading this fascinating story.” Harini adds, “I went to the extent of narrating and explaining buzz pollination to my 10-year old daughter in a quest to make the language in the book simple and relevant to all age groups and background.”
As scientists-educators, Harini and Seema have been working towards increasing influence among schoolchildren by conducting experiential workshops. Playing with Jamun seeds, painting beautiful acrylic trees and working with teachers to conduct such activities – all such narratives brings the book come alive in a fascinating way.
Both the authors hope Cities and Canopies can create a ripple of conversation, curiosity and knowledge while urging citizens and city dwellers to look around and discover the untold stories of canopies within Indian cities.