Meet the 24-year-old teaching Chennai to love nature

M Yuvan has spent nearly half his life discovering the joys of the wild. A look at how he shares his findings with others through music, books and rambles in the woods

For the interview, M Yuvan comes dressed in jungle fatigues. If there was a cluster of trees nearby, he would have disappeared looking for life-forms, drawn to a micro-mini beetle in the rotting leaves or a raptor cruising amidst the clouds. And would have returned to speak, write or sing about them — Yuvan, 24, is a new-age writer, photographer, musician, philosopher and jungleman.

At 16, he dropped out of formal schooling and decided to educate himself. One night at 9, he left home and knocked at “Gautam sir’s” door (G Gautama, then principal of The School, KFI). During Yuvan’s days at The School, he had been deeply inspired by Gautama’s deep engagement with Nature. Yuvan’s mother urged Gautama to take him in, and Yuvan moved to Patashala, a residential school 70 kilometres from Chennai.

Yuvan registered for A-levels as a private candidate. Surrounded by village ponds and “all things Nature”, he prepared for exams on his own. To fill in the gaps, he would call teachers from The School or travel four hours to Besant Nagar for lessons. He passed, was invited to stay on and became the handy-man of the institution — handling construction work, washing cattle, gardening. He taught academics and music to middle-school students, took them on Nature walks, conducted enrichment workshops, set up a butterfly garden, became a “dorm parent” settling quarrels. When he wanted to be alone, he went on extended treks. And read books by the dozens.

The list included Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra, Gary Zukav’s Dancing Wu Li Masters and “lots of Jiddu Krishnamurti, M Krishnan, EO Wilson, Annie Dillard, Seamus Heaney, Barry Lopez and Peter Matthissen”. He enrolled for a degree in Zoology with an open university, but quit “due to dissection classes”. He switched to Physics for a major. “The five years in Patashala, from 2011, shaped my thinking,” he says. “The formless aspect of Nature that encompassed all creatures, appealed to me. I began to explore it.”

Meet the 24-year-old teaching Chennai to love nature

Life was not without its lighter moments. He once caught a rat snake; it bit him. “The bleeding rattled everyone. I insisted all I needed was an antiseptic cream, but was rushed to the hospital, taken in ahead of other patients. I am uncomfortable with injections, so I began to plead. ‘It’s a non-poisonous snake! I have its picture!’ The doctor was miffed. ‘Am I a pambatti (snake charmer) or doctor?” he glowered, and plunged the needle into my arm. Mom rushed in asking ‘Who got bitten?’ and the episode lost its sting.”

During a gap year, he associated with Bhoomi College, Bengaluru, devised workshops and field-trips for kids in the neighbourhood and led citizen walks. He dabbled in Nature art and poetry. His first book, A Naturalist’s Journal — a delightful collection of observations — came out this year. “I write from a single space, a continuum of mindscape and landscape, something I had experienced in my Vipassana course,” he says. “It is meditative prose, about how I interact with the wild.”

Yuvan counts biologist and best-selling author Robert MacFarlane among his mentors. “I read his book The Lost Words in Class IX and was smitten by his language reflecting a deep connect with the landscape.” He posted a review of MacFarlane’s book on Instagram and last year, “the great man read the review and thanked me. It launched our e-interactions and friendship. He recently wrote about my work on Instagram. The next day my book on Amazon got sold out.” Inspired by MacFarlane, Yuvan puts out a “word of the day”, to show how it opens up a world of information.

Meet the 24-year-old teaching Chennai to love nature

Days and nights seem to stretch for Yuvan as a special favour. He holds a LTCL in recorder music performance (“I’ve been playing the recorder since I was a toddler”) and audiences have heard him play solo for Madras Musical Association, Madras Chamber Orchestra and other choral groups. He teaches music at Abacus, has designed their “Nature-teaching” curriculum, never misses the outreach programmes of Madras Naturalists’ Society, won its M Krishnan Nature Writing prize and is writing stories for children. In August, he organised the Concert for Conservation with Nizhal. “All music comes from the heart of trees,” he says.

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 7:42:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/meet-the-24-year-old-teaching-chennai-to-love-nature/article29392833.ece

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