Once, in her 20s, artist Meena Subramaniam dreamt of trains running overhead in her erstwhile neighbourhood of Indiranagar. This, she says, was in the late 1980s, when Bengaluru’s population “could walk more freely, found water everywhere and could grow beautiful plants”. This vision remained with her even after she left the city.
“Three years ago, when I revisited my neighbourhood, I was shocked to see a metro,” says Meena, “It was frightening. The ugly pillars… we’ve lost our aesthetics to industrial development. It was the demise of the old Bangalore we grew up in.”
She recounted this on Monday at Bangalore International Centre at Domlur, where she received this year’s T.N. Khoshoo Memorial Award for her artworks on the environment.
The T.N. Khoshoo Memorial Award — named after Padma Bhushan awardee Triloki Nath Khoshoo, an environmental scientist — was constituted by Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) in 2004 and has been attended by luminaries like the Dalai Lama, scientist M.S. Swaminathan, historian Ramachandra Guha among others.
Meena, who lives near Thekkady, is a self-taught artist and environmentalist whose works predominantly highlight nature. “When Dr. Nitin Pandit [ATREE’s director] called me, I thought someone was pranking me. Because most of the time, artists are not usually recognised, especially people who work in the field of nature and ecological paintings and natural history and things. So, I was very touched by this gesture.”
The executive vice-president and chief scientist at the National Geographic Society (NGS), Jonathan Baillie, who delivered the T.N. Khoshoo lecture, spoke about the rapidly diminishing forests. His presentation showed the global forest cover of 1888 (NGS’s year of inception) in which many parts of the world map were green (which marked forests) and some parts were grey (human-exploited land). Green, in 2019, was markedly less.
What Meena Subramaniam felt happened to Bengaluru, it seems, has been happening across the world.