Books in local language would help people grasp environment issues better. This was the idea behind Pasumai Sandippu, a meeting of Tamil writers aiming to promote green literacy

The invite was e-sent; the banner at the ICSA Centre had fresh mango leaves pinned together to announce “Pasumai Sandippu” (Green Meeting); the hall had no power-guzzling air-conditioners. It figured. The event — a discussion on books — was put together by publishers and environment organisations such as Poovulagin Nanbargal (Friends of Earth), Environment Monitoring & Awareness Initiative and Nature Conservation Foundation. The book talk, critique really, of books both original and translated, turned out to be a literary event thanks to the reviewers, many of them eminent writers themselves. Each came up with a well-rounded analysis of the premise, peppered it with personal anecdotes, stories, quotes and poems — a benchmark in book reviewing.

Author Theodore Baskaran put it in perspective: “Books on science are hard to come by, and harder to come by are books on conservation and natural history. A group of youngsters got writers on environment together to discuss how to create interest in reading and writing on Nature, especially in Tamil, and how to equip these writers. One idea is to release a glossary of terms relating to environment/conservation.” The glossary will have standard translations for terms such as “global warming” and “sustainable development.” (Did you know plastic is “neghizhi”?) The group hopes this will promote green literature — fiction and poetry that express concern for Nature — will form another wave of literacy.

Bonanza of books

“This is the first time Tamil writers on environment/Nature have come together,” said Prof. T Murugavel. After the dictionary, a compilation of Tamil names for our fauna and flora, including names used by local populations, is on the anvil. All this will be available online as open source. Through workshops the forum proposes to educate the media on Nature/wildlife, remove myths, ensure ‘responsible’ writing/reporting on environment-related issues, he said. “Solutions can be found only when there is proper understanding of environment issues by local populations. For this we need books in Tamil. The Silent Valley was saved because the campaign was in Malayalam and it reached the grassroots.”

“This year there has been a bonanza of books on Nature in Tamil,” said K. Valliappan, organiser, Pasumai Sandippu. The books chosen were peer-reviewed by experts in the field. “These include 15 fresh titles and five re-prints (best-sellers).” Happy at this “healthy trend,” he said, we'll share all the information they compile with environment organisations and publishers, we'll support them. “We want to increase readership, we see a lot of interest in environment issues already in the print and the electronic media.”

Talking of Nugarvenum Perum Pasi (How Much Should a Person Consume?) by Ramachandra Guha, Mullai Sundarrajan narrated how a Buddhist monk would downcycle a bed sheet till it became a wick. The Chipko Movement was the first environment campaign, he said, quoting Guha, our consumption patterns were sustainable and based on sharing. Professor Jayakumar broke into verse as he took us through Dr. Sultan Ismail's excellent book on vermiculture. Poet Aasai showed how in Iyarkaikku Thirumbum Pathai (The Road Back to Nature) Masanobu Fukuoka calls agriculture a spiritual quest and proposes the Taoist principle of doing less (moderation) as the path to prosperity. Dr. Murugavel found birds an excellent field guide for birdwatchers. (The state bird of Tamil Nadu is the emerald dove).

Pamayan's Thinaiyiyal Kotpadugal discussed the five-thinai concept, the age-old form of land classification in Tamil Nadu, said Nakkeeran. “People led a co-operative life aligned to the local environment, land was never bought/sold, all had access to the produce through equitable distribution.” Chittu, by Adhi Valliappan, broke the myth that cellphone towers caused sparrow disappearance and explained the true reasons for it, said journalist Pramila Krishnan. It would make an ideal book for school kids and would teach them to build nests. Marangal by Madhumitha is a collection of essays chosen for the authors' deep emotional connect to trees.

Kathiravan explained John Bellamy Foster's argument (Trans: Vasanthakumaran) in Marxiumum Soolalialum (Marx's Ecology). Marx condemned the separation of labour from people and their displacement from their environment. Fight for socialism, and you fight for the environment, is Marx's ecology theory, he said. Mohamad Ali's Atho Anda Paravai Pola, the first book on ornithology is timely, said Theodore Baskaran. There is a spurt in bird-watching with the arrival of digi-cameras, and the book with its pared-down style is a gift for those who want to get close to Nature and learn all aspects of birdlife, he added. Lovers of Nature and Tamil cannot ask for more.