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Rohan: Wildlife ‘cartoonizer’

in Biodiversity and Environment by

I am yet to meet someone who decided to be an artist early on and work their way up. I wonder if as a society we don’t allow the young to make that decision. While we root for them if they want to be doctors and pilots and engineers, we don’t encourage careers in humanities and arts. I remember a perceived notion in India is that the students who scored “low” took up humanities and were treated as low rung, and pursuing science was most prestigious. The creamy layer went on to do science. Unfortunately, this mindset has washed away generations of talented students to pursue what they love to do and find a niche for them. However, today’s India is perhaps the right place to pursue those unchartered career paths. The guy I spoke to recently, as a part of my thesis on alternative career (This time I am my own guide and my own university) was a part of the famed and celebrated creamy layer.

Rohan Chakravarty since, childhood wanted to become a playback singer but soon realized that it’s not going to happen (it may have been his voice!). He went on the ‘good Indian kid path’ and joined the medical school to be a dentist. It was there that he met with frustration and lack of contentment. And being witty, as he is, he started cartooning as a way to express his dissent from boredom and routine subjects. Boredom and frustration can be the cradles for imagination and play. We have seen this in others stories that we shared as well (link).

Running away from dentistry took him to unchartered routes. He learned animation skills and took up a job of an animator. At some point, he made a courageous move of taking up cartooning as a full-time venture. The first cartoon he ever published was that on Fardeen Khan (Bollywood actor) and his drug abuse way back in 2001. By his admittance, that piece was not something he is very proud of. His confession not only speaks of his humility but also reminded me of something Ira Glass pointed out. Ira said, “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years, you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.”.

A real artist keeps making more and more work until the ‘gap’ is narrowed down, something Rohan has achieved.

Wildlife and women have been the subject of his attention and his cartoons for a long time. When he started his cartooning, Rohan to form niche of his own, in which he still resides. He said, ‘creative satisfaction obtained from drawing wildlife is beyond measure.’

Superb lyrebird by Rohan
Superb lyrebird by Rohan

In this world with growing intolerance, Rohan has had his share of the hatred pie. From a right wing group (not to be named!), he received flak for a cartoon that encouraged people to reject firecrackers on Diwali. Authoritarian critics, in their criticism, without their knowledge, make the art come alive. Such projects keep Rohan excited and alive, inspire some of us and educate most of us.

One of his recent projects was an illustrated map of wildlife in Bhutan (http://www.wwfbhutan.org.bt/downloads/). He narrated his experience in a few sentences, “Having moved to Delhi from Nagpur (one of India’s greenest cities) and failing to acclimatize with Delhi’s air miserably, I was desperate for some lung therapy. Fortunately, a collaboration with WWF Bhutan was struck, which made way for the most peaceful week of my life, in Cloud Kingdom. My ‘Wildlife Map of India’ had met with a great response from both the media and print collectors in India and abroad, and Bhutan was always a dream destination both to travel to and draw, so I proposed the concept of a wildlife map to WWF Bhutan, which they instantly accepted. My trip spanned 7 days, in which I visited Jigme Dorji National Park, the fields of Punakha, The Royal Botanical Gardens at Lampelri (where I saw my first Brown Parrotbills and Large-eared Pikas!), trekked along the Punatsang Chhu in search of the critically endangered White-bellied Heron (the search ended successfully!), interacted with and fed captive Takins (Bhutan’s national animal) and Serows at the Takin Rescue Centre in Thimphu, and finally went birding in Paro, where we saw Blood Pheasants and Himalayan Monals at Chele La, Bhutan’s highest motorable pass. Wildlife aside, the trip was memorable for several other reasons- witnessing a warm and hospitable culture, hanging out with some of the most affable folks I have met, hogging on Ema Datsi and outstanding pork momos, and having three lovely Bhutanese women wrap a Gho around me! When flew back from Paro to Delhi, statistically from the world’s cleanest to the world’s dirtiest air, it felt like an oxygen mask was being pulled out of my face!”.

Recently on CSG, there was a discussion on how scientific illustrators are poorly paid in India. Rohan mentioned that while scientists always pay him his fair due, it is the administrative agencies who find it difficult to pay up. His words are reassuring for the some of us who do want to be professional scientific artists and illustrators.

His journey is a reminder that we need not only doctors, engineers and scientists; we also need artists and educators. Hopefully, our generation will encourage the young to be more open to such choices while growing up.

Oh! and by the way, he is apparently, not that bad a singer (https://soundcloud.com/rohanchak).

Clean India by Rohan
Clean India by Rohan

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ipsa Jain is a Ph.D. student at IISc. She wants to gather and spread interestingness. She prefers painting and drawing over writing.

 

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Abhisheka the multifaceted artist and scientist

in Biodiversity and Environment by

“We have come to this world to accept it, not merely to know it. We may become powerful by knowledge, but we attain fullness by sympathy. The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence. ” Tagore, 1917

A Multipotentialite

When I met Abhisheka the first time, it was those sparks in her eyes and a very characteristic short spurts of laughter that caught my attention.  Abhisheka K Gopal is a painter, a dancer, a veena player, nature educator, wildlife rehabilitator and an ecology researcher. Yes, talk about multipotentialite, she defines it.  Today I will share her story which is mostly her journey to the foray of science communication.

Like Aarthy (link), Abhisheka studied science in pre-university. She says “I was not the brightest student and I knew back then hat marks did not add up to knowledge.”  She realized that though she loved science, especially biology, science education at the college was killing her curiosity, and eventually decided against pursuing science post pre-university. The ‘fractured’ education does seem to put off quite a few good science students in the class. The culture of memorization in our education with little stress on rational thinking drives many like Abhisheka away from pure science.

“This education of sympathy is not only systematically ignored in schools, but it is severely repressed. From our very childhood habits are formed, and knowledge is imparted in such a manner that our life is weaned away from nature and our mind and the world are set in opposition from the beginning of our days. Thus the greatest of educations for which we came prepared is neglected, and we are made to lose our world to find a bagful of information instead.” Tagore, 1917

Dabbling with creative art:

After school she joined the bachelor of fine arts course at the College of Fine Arts, Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath in Bangalore. While she enjoyed art, she disapproved of the way art was taught. She found that there was no freedom to express her artistic creativity under strict syllabus of the college. That art was mostly governed by the imagination and style of the teachers at the college. Being part of the urban wildlife rehabilitation group, she was deeply concerned with the way humans upturned the balance of nature by destroying the animal and plant ecosystem. She wanted to explore the idea of “conflict between concrete civilization and green civilization”, in her canvas only to realize that the apart from a couple of teachers, the others at the fine arts college would approve only human-centric and abstract art. The act that destruction of nature by man could be captured on the canvas was incomprehensible to them. As a student, she disapproved of the emphasis on abstract art. Her view was while abstract art does satisfy the creative spirit; it fails to engage the society in a meaningful way since the common man fails to understand what is depicted in that work of art. According to her “It caters to a very small section of the society.” Realizing that her creative expression was getting choked by the academic discipline of the school she drifted away from arts as well after completing her graduation.

“We rob the child of his earth to teach him geography, of language to teach him grammar. His hunger is for the Epic, but he is supplied with Chronicles of facts and dates…Child-nature protests against such calamity with all its power of suffering, subdued at last into silence by punishment.” Tagore, 1917

Because of her interactions with the Chief Wildlife Rehabilitator Mr.Saleem Hameed at the wildlife rehabilitation center and other wildlife experts in Bangalore, she soon realized her calling in ecology, biodiversity and conservation sciences.  When she read up about Environmental art which was quite popular abroad she realized that artists in the process of creating nature-based art were destroying the natural habitat of native flora and fauna. She recollects an example of such art installation where artists covered Surrounding Islands with a pink plastic sheet for a week (http://christojeanneclaude.net/projects/surrounded-islands). Realizing that such project would have caused havoc on the biota of that island at the shores, she decided that artists working in the field should have a primary education of ecology to understand the catastrophe they were creating during their creative process.

The struggle to pursue Ecology:

It was then she decided to pursue ecology only to find that most colleges in India require strict criteria of having a minimum level of science education. She soon came to know that she was not ‘qualified’ to do a postgraduate level course in ecology. Very quickly she noticed that the strict curricular requirement does not allow one to learn what one aspires for, something that Gaurav Goyal also mentioned in his conversation with CSG (insert link).

Determined, she eventually found a distance learning course from Manipal University that allowed her to learn the concepts and science of ecology and conservation. The subject knowledge of the process in combination to her work with animal rehabilitation in urban spaces, made her realize that education is fun when it is interactive.

“Thus the greatest of educations for which we came prepared is neglected, and we are made to lose our world to find a bagful of information instead. We rob the child of his earth to teach him geography, of language to teach him grammar.” Tagore,1917

Canvassing ecology:

For her MSc project, she went to ATREE Bangalore where a senior scientist spotted her talent for field work and employed her as a researcher. There she worked on a project which involved studying water use in agriculture and its impact on bird diversity and local migration patterns. She says that she is grateful that she found a supervisor like Dr. T. Ganesh who was willing to work with her despite her lack of formal science education and “that is a rare event.” “As long as you can work in the field and think and analyze its good” was what her mentor expected. She is also grateful to her teammates in ATREE who taught her wildlife monitoring techniques and basic statistics and never once treated her indifferently.

Sketches of flora and fauna

After few years of working with ATREE she worked with Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) where she studied bird migration patterns. Every winter she would spend time at the Chilka Lake in Odisha and Point Calime in Tamilnadu and in Pong Dam in Himachal Pradesh. The work involved tagging birds and learning about their migratory patterns.  While being part of these research she won scholarships to do short courses in institutes like Smithsonian school of conservation USA, Wageningen CDI, Netherlands and so on which made her realize how much she enjoyed science.

Apart from her research, she worked as an educator at ATREE. She coordinated a program where they interacted with rural as well as urban school students in an attempt to encourage them to adopt and spread sustainable practices. As part of the program, students are trained to monitor biodiversity in and around the schools eventually turning those schools “green”. She realized that being an educator can touch so many lives. During those years, she had interacted with students, few of whom now are pursuing studies in the field of ecology and environment, working with Greenpeace, conducting nature awareness programs, etc. She says “It is a gratifying feeling to be able to touch and change the lives of impressionable minds for the welfare of not just the mankind, but the whole ecosystem.”

Students sketching animals at a pond.

It was then, based on the encouragements from both her mentors Mr.Saleem and Dr.Ganesh that she started dabbling with her passion for art again for the purpose of audience engagement and science communication. “I finally began to enjoy the art.” She worked on nature illustrations that involved a lot of audiences and also used them for developing nature education material.

Though as a student she felt she may not be able to reach out to the common man with abstract art or installation art, she now wants to try her hand at using these forms of creative expression to see if  environmental awareness could be achieved amongst non-artists without sticking to just realistic art works.  Experience also has taught her not to stick to a particular style or medium but to work according to the requirement of the target audience. 

The dancer within:

After her stint at ATREE, she took a stab at the contemporary (movement based) dance forms. She was trained in Bharatnatyam since childhood. With the help of her dancer-choreographer friend Veena Basavarajiah, she realized her potential as a dancer lies in engaging her audience with a story. Being part of a dance-theatre piece titled ‘Mooki’ (means mute) that invoked questions on gender-based issues, changed her conception about the art form. She loved that experience so much that she now wants to communicate the story of diverse flora and fauna through dance. She hopes that ‘someday’ she will be able to realize her dreams.

Performing ‘mooki’

Painting the wall: Foray into science communication

While Abhisheka has led few community art projects, the one she values the most is the wall mural done for ‘Punarchith’, a collective started by social anthropologist Dr. A. R. Vasavi to work with village youth to empower them and develop sustainable agricultural practices. She painted the different millet varieties on the walls with Soliga youth an ethnic group living on the foothills of Biligiri Rangaswamy hills and Malai Mahadeshwara Hills near Mysore. The idea behind the wall mural at Punarchith was to encourage the revival of traditional millet farming in Nagavalli village and surrounding areas as the farmers there have switched over from dry agricultural practices to water intensive sugarcane and banana cultivation in the recent years. Since the region falls under the rain shadow area, it is largely a belt suitable for dry grain production and was once well-known for producing millets and pulses. However, recent trends have led to bore wells being dug in large numbers, and the extensive use of water has led to the decrease in ground water level.

During the process of painting the mural on the public wall with the help of two young boys, she realized that potential of visual art as a strong medium of science (agriculture in this case) communication to involve the society which could have a tremendous impact on the sustainable development of rural India. A lot of locals became enthusiastic about the paintings, and she started using the opportunity to talk about sustainable agriculture practices. “I hope to pursue and engage at the interface of science and arts, considering that I now understand both….it is an incredibly powerful educational tool.”

Sustainable living:

Today she lives on the outskirts of Bangalore, away from the hustle-bustle of the city. She stays in a small gated community of artists, scientists, and educators. She uses public transport for travel. She engages with local students in remote villages and exposes them to natural history, arts, and painting. She continues to experiment with science, arts and education. She firmly believes that alternative education systems allow students to learn more efficiently. Such education systems also create sensitivity about diverse issues and teach sustainable development a topic of grave importance in our world today.

While we may not be able to give up our city lives and comfort living, we can for sure adopt some practices that help save diversity and conserve the environment. I know, I will tag along next time she is painting a wall in the village or taking art workshop with school kids talking about these issues, and contribute my tiny bit.

 

Authors:

Ipsa is a Ph.D. student at IISc Bangalore, India. She wants to gather and spread interestingness. She prefers painting and drawing over writing.

Ananda is a Technology Marketing Associate at Office of Industrial Liaison, NYU, NY, USA and is a co-founder of ClubSciWri. He loves adda (casual chat) and music.

 

Cotton Stainer Bugs: Living life the weird way

in Biodiversity and Environment by

Cotton Stainer Bugs – Living life the weird way

How often do we stop and admire the nature around us? Almost never. But if we ever decide to take out a little time just to explore our surroundings, we will know the vast number of surprises nature hides in its beauty. But where is nature? We all now live in places which is far from the image of ‘nature’ that comes to our mind.

I expect many of you to agree to this last statement but I beg to differ. The truth is that humans are a part of the nature as well and in whichever way we are shaping our surroundings, it is as natural as a bird building a nest on the tree. I came up with this view recently when we were given an assignment by our Professor Dr. Maria Thaker of CES department, IISc to make a documentary on any creature found in the institute. So, this documentary was made not in the Jubilee Gardens or the forested patches of IISc, but on the streets and drains of IISc.

If you have spent some time in the institute you might have noticed some red and black bugs with their posteriors attached to each other. An awkward position to be found in but this is what attracted us to make a documentary on them. These bugs are called ‘Cotton Stainer Bugs.’ Its scientific name is Odontopus varicornis and it belongs to the family of Pyrrhocoridae. It spends almost ninety percent of its life in this awkward position called ‘copula’ and that is why they are commonly found in this position. Some interesting points we were able to show in our documentary included this mating position and the bug’s strange relationship with the dead bodies of its fellow beings.  They mate on them, lay eggs on them and sometimes even eat them. For all we know these bugs might be mating on the dead bodies of their past lovers. Gross! Over and above this, they are also cannibalistic. Well, that always has a sense of weirdness attached to it. Icing on the cake?

The video was made as part of an assignment given by Dr. Maria Thaker. We would like to thank her for giving us this opportunity.

Alishan Sahu

Alishan is a third year UG at IISc majoring in Biology. She is an active member of the Rangmanch club of IISc. She is interested in Microbiology, although she admits she has no idea where her life is headed towards.

Sajini Patel

Sajini is a third year UG at IISc majoring in Biology. She is a curious person and keeps looking for new things to work on. She is growing as a person in IISc, socially as well as academically and is thinking of doing some serious work in microbiology.

Abhijeet krishna

Abhijeet is a third year UG at IISc majoring in Biology. His research interests lie in Theoretical Biology, Synthetic Biology and Neuroscience. Apart from finishing assignments JUST before the deadline, he is interested in the art of science communications. 

 

Cover image Courtesy: https://www.flickr.com/photos/zimbart/5803779740 under Creative Commons License.

Bluethroat

in Biodiversity and Environment by

Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica)

The sparrow-like bird displays brilliant blue feathers on the throat, known to reply to the calls of other bird, and sing its tunes is a treat to the bird lovers. In North America, they habitat the tundras. However, they are found in Europe and Asia too.

The male bluethroat has red spots on its neck and European ones mostly have white or entirely blue throats. They also have flashy red tails. These are migratory birds and hence can be found in Rajasthan during American winters. Insectivorous in nature, IUCN classifies them as Least Concerned (LC)

References:

http://homegrown.co.in/these-beautiful-birds-all-migrate-to-india/https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Bluethroat/lifehistory

Krishnanand Padmanabhan

krishnanav

Hello everyone, I am Krishnanand, a graduate student in the field of biological sciences currently residing in Tel Aviv, Israel. Seeing the world around us with different perspectives has always inspired me and this was the reason behind choosing Photography as my passion. Being a biologist I firmly believe that equipment cannot match the perfection of Human Vision but they can definitely create art which we love to see.Motivated by this concept I wish to present you all my perspective to the beautiful world around us. Hope u all would enjoy the same!!

Contact

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