Ode to nature’s best friend

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EVENT The release of naturalist and wildlife photographer M. Krishnan’s book, Of Birds and Birdsong, had fellow nature lovers evoking vivid memories of the man who could write as well as sketch nature at its everyday best

BIRDS OF A FEATHER FLOCKED TOGETHERRavi Chellam, Ashish Chandola, Zafar Futehally, Shanthi Chandola, and Raman Sukumar at the launchPhoto: Murali Kumar k.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER FLOCKED TOGETHERRavi Chellam, Ashish Chandola, Zafar Futehally, Shanthi Chandola, and Raman Sukumar at the launchPhoto: Murali Kumar k.

Sitting on a parapet, he watched a green bee-eater, some thirty yards across, through his binoculars for half an hour.

What happened in those precious 30 minutes as the bird sallied forth in search of seemingly invisible prey, makes for such a riveting read, that you’re immediately trying to take your next pick from the content table of naturalist and pioneering wildlife photographer, M. Krishnan’s book, Of Birds and Birdsong .

Krishnan’s birth centenary

This year marks the 100{+t}{+h}birth anniversary of Krishnan (1912-1996), and what better way to honour the man than with a book that compiles a host of his writing and sketches of over a 100 species of birds. These writings have appeared in The Hindu, The Statesman , and The Illustrated Weekly of India in the 1940s and 50s.

Edited by well-known Bangalore-based wildlife filmmakers Shanthi and Ashish Chandola, the book was released this week at the Oxford Bookstore by Indian Institute of Science’s Professor Raman Sukumar, popular as “the elephant man”.

Guest Ravi Chellam, director of research and conservation at the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust put his finger on what made Krishnan’s writing and photography tick — “We are always going up an escalator. We don’t have time to think, reflect, observe…it’s the kind of quality time needed to produce the kind of writing and photography Krishnan did. He was an extraordinary observer and raconteur of the ordinary. They just don’t make people like him anymore.”

Like most others at the event, Chellam too grew up reading “Country Notebook”, Krishnan’s popular fortnightly column in The Statesman that was first published in 1950 and ran continuously for 46 years! “He would write about the neem tree and tamarind tree…having grown up on a staple of rasam and sambar, who would think the tamarind is not of Indian origin? It was about these daily things, not about his exclusive access to forest sanctuaries and tigers that he wrote on. It was his ability to understand fairly complex knowledge and distil it in simple language for us to understand. My biggest lesson from him was the recognition of the intrinsic value of nature,” Chellam noted.

Professor Raman Sukumar recalled his personal association with Krishnan, of dropping in at his Madras house in the afternoons for discussions on elephants. “Krishnan would characteristically be in his lungi . He would come out of his darkroom with a photograph he’d just processed and tear it up saying ‘This is no good!’ He would look at photographs I brought and help me age some elephants. In fact I’m here because I followed his sound advice. He told me ‘whenever you see a herd of elephant in front of you, always keep your eye over your back for that straggler’!”

The evening witnessed the presence of Krishnan’s son Harikrishnan, and also a rare appearance by Bangalore’s noted ornithologist Zafar Futehally who has penned the book’s foreword.

For those of us unfamiliar with Krishnan, the man and his work, Shanthi and Ashish Chandola’s elaborate introduction to the book offers great insight. One interesting fact that links him to Karnataka can be found here. In 1942, Krishnan moved to Sandur (Bellary district, Karnataka) “where he worked for the Maharaja in various capacities — schoolteacher, judge, publicity officer and political secretary! …it was perhaps during the time he spent at Sandur that Krishnan’s fascination and love for nature matured, and he firmly settled into being the extraordinary naturalist and writer that we know.”

Krishnan’s original pencil sketches being untraceable, they have been reproduced by Bangalore-based artist Soumen Chakravorty. Of Birds and Birdsong is published by Aleph Book Company (Rs. 595).


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