A labour of love

Scholars, historians and anthropologists came together to felicitate Dr. Tarun Chhabra on his definitive work on the Toda tribe

October 26, 2015 04:59 pm | Updated 08:39 pm IST

The Toda Landscape (Explorations in cultural ecology) was launched in Udhagamandalam by Ramachandra Guha. The first copy was received by a Toda elder, Kwattawdr Kwehttn in the presence of (from left) M.R.Srinivasan, and author Tarun Chhabra. Photo: M. Sathyamoorthy

The Toda Landscape (Explorations in cultural ecology) was launched in Udhagamandalam by Ramachandra Guha. The first copy was received by a Toda elder, Kwattawdr Kwehttn in the presence of (from left) M.R.Srinivasan, and author Tarun Chhabra. Photo: M. Sathyamoorthy

 T he 150 year old Nilgiri library witnessed the launch of a definitive volume, The Toda Landscape Explorations in cultural ecology. It is a labour of passion, by Dr. Tarun Chhabra, and is co-published by Orient Black Swan and Department of South Asian Studies, Harvard University.

The event started with a traditional song by the Toda elders. Mrs. Geeta Srinivasan, the President of the Nilgiri Library gave the welcome address.

M R Srinivasan, Former Chairman, Indian Atomic Energy Commission spoke of the rare dedication that Chhabra has shown, in his study of the Todas over almost 25 years. He has always been on the move in the Nilgiris studying rare orchids, plants, grass, sacred rituals, etc. and has spoken exhaustively at various forums.

This book, said Srinivasan, should serve as a catalyst for other scholars to study and bring out equally authoritative volumes on the other tribal communities.

C R Sathyanarayanan, Regional Head, Anthropological Survey of India, Mysore, also called it a major breakthrough in the study of the Todas, bringing to light unknown ethnographic aspects of this tribe. It was perhaps the first such effort by a local Indian scholar. This book comes at a time when rapid

changes and transformations are taking place in life of the Todas.

The Toda Landscape… was formally released by eminent historian and anthropologist Ramachandra Guha and the first copy was ceremoniously presented to Toda elders Kwattawdr Kwehttn, Ooner Kwehttn and Taihhthilly Kwehttn.

Ramachandra Guha described Chhabra’s work as “a staggering book, a work of empathy and involvement and not just a work of scholarship.” Learning to speak their language provided an important window to Tarun, into a culture, with no barriers caused by interpretation. Terming it an effortless blend of science and literature, Guha, said the book was staggering for the range of subjects it covered ; art, architecture, ethno pottery, after-world and a total history of the Todas.

In a lighter vein he commented on a similarity between him and Chhabra; he is a historian who has never formally studied history while Tarun is an anthropologist who has not studied the subject. In conclusion he suggested that Tarun should in about 15 years bring out an autobiography called “Toda world of

Tarun Chhabra,” a much more personal account of his life with the Todas.

Kwattawdr Kwehttn, thanked Tarun for his stupendous effort for bringing the Today way of life to light.

Tarun Chhabbra then read a part of the prologue and epilogue from his book.

The event concluded with an interaction with the audience and a vote of thanks.

Speaking of the book, Tarun Chhabra said he has been doing field work on the subject for years and published many papers and chapters for books. But for The Toda Landscape he has worked intensively for the past five years.

“There have been four revisions of the book and Professor Anthony Walker who has also written the foreword to my book, guided me on my work and got the manuscript into shape. Harvard University has published this in its Harvard Oriental Series that began in 1891. My work is the 79 th volume it has brought out in 120 years. The book is available in leading book stores and online. It costs Rs 3,600.”

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