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MAY/JUNE 2017 Rs. 20


Cultural Natural Heritage


The Aga Khan Trust for Culture, with the support of the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, has restored the Batashewala Mughal Tomb Complex in New Delhi to its old glory.


he 16th-century Batashewala Mughal Tomb Complex in New Delhi, an architectural wonder almost lost to neglect and decay, has been renewed and preserved for generations to come. A restoration project carried out by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), a private philanthropic foundation, has resulted in the complex winning inclusion in the buffer zone of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Humayun’s Tomb. “This is the most significant outcome that could ever have been expected,” says Ratish Nanda, an architect and conservationist who

Photographs courtesy Aga Khan Trust for Culture

Restoring Herita

May/June 2017



Restoring Heritage


Capturing Mammals


Fueled by Fulbright


Into the Wild


Historic Hostel


The Nature of Change


Leaves of History


Defending Biodiversity



Take Me to the River


Eco Educator


A Study in Green

Finding Life in a Necropolis Saving the Song


Courtesy banglanatak dot com

19 Left and above left: The interior of the dome of the “Unknown” Mughal Tomb before and after restoration. Above: Craftsmen work on restoring the decorative motifs in incised lime plasterwork on the facade of the “Unknown” Mughal Tomb.

19 Editor in Chief Craig L. Dicker

Printed and published by Jeffrey R. Sexton on behalf of the Government of the United States of America and printed at Thomson Press India Ltd., 18/35 Delhi Mathura Road, Faridabad, Haryana 121007 and published at the Public Affairs Section, American Embassy, American Center, 24 K.G. Marg, New Delhi 110001. Opinions expressed in this 44-page magazine do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Government.  Articles with a star may be reprinted with permission. Those without a star are copyrighted and may not be reprinted. Contact SPAN at 011-23472135 or

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Reviewing Editor Branden L. Young

Editor Deepanjali Kakati Associate Editor Suparna Mukherji Hindi Editor Giriraj Agarwal Urdu Editor Syed Sulaiman Akhtar Copy Editors Bhawya Joshi, Shah Md. Tahsin Usmani Editorial Assistant Yugesh Mathur

Art Director Hemant Bhatnagar Deputy Art Directors Qasim Raza, Shah Faisal Khan Production/Circulation Manager Alok Kaushik Printing Assistant Manish Gandhi

Front cover: A view of the Batashewala Mughal Tomb Complex in New Delhi. Photograph courtesy Aga Khan Trust for Culture Research Services : Bureau of International Information Programs, The American Library

Photographs courtesy Aga Khan Trust for Culture

Top and above: Interiors of Mirza Muzaffar Hussain’s Tomb before and after conservation. Popularly known as the Bara Batashewala Mahal, the tomb was built in 1603. Top right and above right: Geometric patterns in incised plaster-work were restored, where missing or damaged, by master craftsmen using traditional tools, materials and techniques that would have been used by the Mughal-era builders.

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is the chief executive at AKTC, India. “Never before has any World Heritage Site in India been given expansion in this manner.” The innovative three-year project, for which $750,000 (Rs. 5 crores approximately) in funding was provided to AKTC by the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) of the U.S. State Department, included urgent repairs that required major masonry stabilization and conservation work to restore the site’s historical and architectural integrity. AKTC simultaneously undertook garden restoration, and bore technical and project management costs.

The three monuments in the complex—the Bara Batashewala Mahal, Chota Batashewala Mahal and the “Unknown” Mughal Tomb— were granted World Heritage recognition by UNESCO in 2016. Another inclusion within the expanded World Heritage Site was the 16th-century Sundar Burj—also conserved by AKTC with funds from the AFCP in 2011. Situated north of the Humayun’s Tomb World Heritage Site, the Batashewala complex is in the Nizamuddin area of New Delhi, which has been in continuous existence since the early 14th century. Within its neighborhood is the famous dargah (shrine) of Sufi saint

Above: A view of the “Unknown” Mughal Tomb before and after restoration (top). Far right: A series of photographs depicting the process of restoration of the stone finial at the “Unknown” Mughal Tomb. Right: Cement concrete layers on the plinth of Mirza Muzaffar Hussain’s Tomb, also known as the Bara Batashewala Mahal, were found to be of poor strength and inappropriately laid, leading to water percolation. The layers were carefully and manually dismantled and the concrete was replaced with traditional sandstone paving.

Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Since it is considered auspicious to be buried in the vicinity of a saint’s tomb, there was a profusion of tomb building in this area over the last seven centuries, resulting in a site of major national importance. “The three tombs are all garden tombs, as is the Humayun’s Tomb,” explains Nanda. “Therefore, their conservation and preservation are critical to a unique ensemble of Mughal-era garden tombs. The conservation effort has also led to a greater understanding of the larger Nizamuddin area and that this comprised an ensemble of 16th-century garden tombs.” To share articles go to MAY/JUNE 2017 5

“ ”

We understood from the outset that we wanted to utilize the skills of traditional master craftsmen.

Aga Khan Trust for Culture

U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation

AKTC— Batashewala Mughal Garden Tomb Complex publication

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Another important aspect of the project was the fostering of traditional building craftsmanship. This was required to reverse the effect of the earlier restoration efforts carried out with modern materials like cement, which had actually damaged several structures. The site had also suffered from years of neglect during which various structures deteriorated. “We understood from the outset that we wanted to utilize the skills of traditional master craftsmen—masons, stone carvers, ceramic tile makers, carpenters—to replicate the works of their forefathers using traditional materials, traditional tools and building crafts,” says Nanda. This approach resulted in more than 100,000 man-days of work for master craftsmen in the area. According to Nanda, AKTC aims to leverage cultural assets to improve the quality of life for local communities through specific, direct interventions focused on physical, social and economic revitalization of historic sites in the dozens of countries in which it operates. The master craftsmen were part of a multidisciplinary team that included architects, engineers, historians and archaeologists. AKTC projects are intended to serve as models within the Indian context and aim to introduce modern technology like 3D laser scanning for documentation of heritage structures in the country. “Without a sustained archival research program, it would not have been possible to successfully implement these projects,” says Nanda. “Hundreds of archival images were procured from sources across the world. These were useful both in providing details that had gone missing due to structural collapses, and also to ensure that the project did not need to resort to conjecture for any conservation work.” In addition to integrating modern technology and traditional craftsmanship,

Above: Ratish Nanda, an architect and conservationist, is the chief executive at the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, India. Right: Traditional master craftsmen replicated the works of their forefathers using traditional materials, tools and building crafts. They clocked over 100,000 man-days of work to complete the work at the Batashewala Mughal Tomb Complex.

Nanda notes the Batashewala project has demonstrated that complex conservation projects requiring multidisciplinary coordination can be accomplished through partnerships between private and public agencies, along with successful fundraising with international and national foundations and corporations. For now, AKTC is the only private agency undertaking conservation work at any of India’s national monuments protected by the Archaeological Survey of India, under the Government of India’s Ministry of Culture. “The works undertaken here over the past decade have demonstrated that conservation works require a multidisciplinary approach and dedicated funding. They can fulfill several government objectives—employment generation for craftsmen, increased revenues through tourism, improved urban spaces and higher quality of life for local communities,” says Nanda, adding, “hopefully, many more such efforts will be undertaken in India in future years.” Steve Fox is a freelance writer, former newspaper publisher and reporter based in Ventura, California.



Photographs courtesy Aga Khan Trust for Culture

Fulbright fellow

Karni Singh Jasol brings international learning to his work with museums in India.

fueled by



arni Singh Jasol was working as an assistant curator at the Mehrangarh Museum Trust in Jodhpur when he received a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—travel halfway around the globe, live with a host family in the United States and learn from renowned art experts at some of the most famous museums in the world. The catalyst for such an amazing chance to grow and explore, both personally and professionally, was the Fulbright Program. Created in 1946 in the United States by Senator J. William Fulbright, the program funds and supports, according to the bill the Senator

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introduced in the U.S. Congress, “promotion of international goodwill through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture and science.” Currently, the Fulbright Program operates in over 155 countries, enabling thousands of curious explorers to participate in priceless, cross-cultural research, teaching and studies in countries around the world. The program is administered by the U.S. State Department’s Institute of International Education, and in India, it is administered by the United States-India Educational Foundation (USIEF).

Right: Karni Singh Jasol, director of the Mehrangarh Museum Trust in Jodhpur. Center right: A painting of Maharaja Man Singh playing polo. Far right: Carpet weights from the early 18th century on display at Mehrangarh Museum.

Courtesy Karni Singh Jasol


MORAKHIA/Courtesy Wikipedia

SHITHA VALSAN/Courtesy Wikipedia

NEIL GREENTREE © Mehrangarh Museum Trust

Left: A view of Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur. The fort, and its palaces, was built over a period of 500 years following the foundation in the mid-15th century.

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Fulbright fellowships for Indians

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Mehrangarh Museum Trust

SHITHA VALSAN/Courtesy Wikipedia


Freer | Sackler

Jasol came to know about the Fulbright Program while looking for ways to educate himself internationally. “I was keen for a curatorial program at the Smithsonian,” he says, referring to the world’s largest museum and research complex, which consists of 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park and nine research facilities, largely clustered in Washington, D.C. “While researching grants available for U.S. studies, I discovered the Fulbright Program. The program is prestigious, with generous funding to support study in the U.S.” During his work as an assistant curator at the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, Jasol focused on cataloging its collection of art—a discipline he hoped the Fulbright experience would help him perfect. “The Smithsonian, with its great public access policy to its collection, was the right place to learn about museum collections management and how to effectively make the collections more 10 MAY/JUNE 2017

accessible to the public,” he says. After being accepted as a Fulbright fellow in 2004, Jasol spent most of his time at the Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian’s museums of Asian art. His supervisor for the program was Debra Diamond, the museum’s curator of South and Southeast Asian art and an expert on the art of India. “One great outcome of this trip, apart from learning to manage museum art collections, was interacting with Diamond,” says Jasol, who currently serves as the director of the Mehrangarh Museum Trust. “During my Fulbright program, Diamond and I conceived of a groundbreaking exhibition of Indian miniature paintings called ‘Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur.’ The exhibition opened at the Freer and Sackler in 2008, then traveled to the Seattle Art Museum [in Washington], the British Museum [in London], and [The Art] Gallery

Courtesy Karni Singh Jasol

BOOKCHEN/Courtesy Flickr

MORAKHIA/Courtesy Wikipedia

Above left: A rifle, helmet, shield and dagger on display at Mehrangarh Museum. Left: A traditional hookah on display at the museum. Far left: The museum has a rich collection of palanquins. Below: Catherine Glynn Benkaim (from left), co-curator of the “Garden and Cosmos” exhibition; Karni Singh Jasol; Debra Diamond, curator of South and Southeast Asian art at the Freer and Sackler Galleries; and Neil Greentree, photographer at the Freer and Sackler Galleries, at the Smithsonian Institution building in Washington, D.C. Right: The 15th-century Mehrangarh Fort houses Mehrangarh Museum.

KRONNIED/Courtesy Wikipedia

of New South Wales, Sydney.” Jasol’s visit to the United States involved not just work with his Smithsonian colleagues, but also a complete immersion into the art, culture and daily life of the country. “My standard day was at the museum, visiting storage areas, looking at beautiful objects, meeting with different members of the museum, understanding the workings of different departments,” he says. “The Smithsonian is such a great place—there are so many museums and so many activities, exhibitions, concerts and film screenings.” When not at the museum, Jasol spent time with his American host family. “They were very generous and we are lifelong friends,” he says. Jasol’s fascination with museums began decades ago. “I grew up in a museum!” he says, laughing. “Mehrangarh Museum is housed in a 15th-century fort in Jodhpur, which has been a heritage site and a museum since 1974. My father served as the director of the museum for 20 years and, as a great privilege, the director’s residence is inside the fort. As a child, I got interested in art and later pursued museum studies.” Jasol says that Indian citizens interested in studying in the United States must investigate Fulbright opportunities for themselves. “The program supports different disciplines. I

recommended the program to my colleague who works in a conservation lab, and he received a Fulbright grant to study conservation in the U.S.” “It’s a great program, enabling individuals to choose from a wide variety of disciplines to study or gain experience in a field of their choice,” Jasol continues. “One should make the best of the time available to them, make friends and make collaborations that will have some impact on the work one is doing in India.” Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City.



I Hostel Historic


Photographs courtesy The Bombay YMCA

A grant from the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation helped give a new lease on life to the YMCA’s Student Branch at Lamington Road in Mumbai.

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t’s fun to stay at the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association), especially if you are at its Student Branch at 412 Lamington Road in Mumbai. The building underwent 19 months of restoration work before reopening in April 2010, when it celebrated its centenary. Built in 1910, the neo-classical and neo-Palladian building occupies the corner spot on one of the busiest streets in the historic part of Mumbai. It was designed by local architects, Chambers and Fritchley, who also designed some of the city’s prominent buildings like the Army and Navy Building in 1898 and Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue in 1884. In 2007, Paul George, deputy general secretary of the YMCA, began planning for the building’s much-needed restoration. He approached conservation architect Vikas Dilawari for it and also applied for funding from the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) of the U.S. State Department, eventually getting a $30,000 (Rs. 20 lakhs approximately) grant. Changes to the building included installation of a historically accurate mezzanine floor and bell-shaped wall lamps, use of different colors for painting the walls of the

U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation

Conservation. The UNESCO panel praised it for its “appropriately modest approach to preserve the building, which has maintained the spirit of place of this well-loved community institution” and for “uplifting the entire historic streetscape.” Upon completion of the renovations in January 2009, the YMCA hosted Martin Luther King III, son of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the leader of the American civil rights movement, to inspire students and pave the way for visits by other public dignitaries. “YMCA is like a mini-India. You have students from every community, caste, creed and background living here. It is very important they realize the importance of celebrating these differences. Who better to teach this than Martin Luther King III. Hence, we decided to invite him and his delegation here,” said George in an interview to The Indian Express in 2010. Since its initial restoration, the YMCA continues to work on further improving the facilities for its residents and visitors.

The Bombay Young Men’s Christian Association

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Natasa Milas is a freelance writer based in New York City. Photographs courtesy The Bombay YMCA

building’s three stories, and the restoration of an iron spiral staircase. The AFCP grant supported the full restoration and outfitting of the ground-floor public space for use as a multipurpose sports and activity room, and exhibition and lecture area. The space also contains a library and administrative office. The grant helped restore the original flooring—after floor tiles added over the decades were removed—and repair ceiling and floor cracks, and damaged arches. The YMCA Student Branch provides public space, open to youth and underserved members of Mumbai’s urban population, as well as housing for college students with demonstrated financial need. According to George, the place “which has found favor among the students from the hostel and the neighboring area is the public reading room and library—a great boon for the students, especially those who have no proper place to study, and those residing in chawls and one-room tenements in the vicinity.” The restoration project of the YMCA Student Branch building received a UNESCO Award of Merit in its 2009 Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage

Above far left: A view of the 100-year-old YMCA Students Branch building at Lamington Road in Mumbai. Left, below left and far left: The restored building contains a renovated public reading room, a new counseling center, and a multipurpose sports and activity room. Center left: The iron spiral staircase inside the building has been restored.

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Courtesy United Theological College

Leaves Leavesof ofHistory History



n the basement of the United Theological College in Bengaluru lies a rich archive of more than 5,000 palm leaf manuscripts—a recorded history of India’s cultural heritage of the 18th and 19th centuries. And, thanks to the college’s efforts, you needn’t venture into the depths of its library, which is one of the biggest theological libraries in Asia, to view them. They are all available, or are in the process of becoming available, in digitized form for universal access.

The rare collection The palm leaf manuscripts include writings dating back more than 200 years, covering folk literature, native medicinal formulae, religion, astrology, astronomy, cultural practices, veterinary medicine, agricultural sciences, and crafts and skills. “These manuscripts are important material for historical research and a treasure trove of ethnographic and historical information,”

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says Samuel Raj, the United Theological College librarian working on the digitization of the manuscripts. Written in several Indian languages, the manuscripts take on various formats and styles. One that stands out for Raj is “in Sinhala language with images carved in the form of a comic story.” The manuscripts preserved in the archive include accounts of India’s history written by missionaries, not as monographs but as journals. These give historians an additional perspective on the incidents they seek to study. Raj is also working on digitizing the college’s assortment of rare books. So far, he says, he has “identified more than 60 rare books, which are not available anywhere online.” After scrutinizing these rare books and determining they don’t have online duplicates, Raj converts them into PDF format and makes them universally available.

Photographs courtesy United Theological College

Below: The United Theological College library in Bengaluru has an impressive collection of rare books (left) and palm leaf manuscripts (far left).

The U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation is helping to preserve thousands of relics of India’s past in the United Theological College’s archives. Partial funding for the preservation work came from a 2006 grant of $35,000 (Rs. 23 lakhs approximately) from the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation. The fund was awarded for the preservation and microfilming of the palm leaf manuscripts and rare books in the United Theological College’s archives. The digitization of the palm leaf manuscripts and the rare book archive makes the college’s impressive collection available to not only students, but also to “researchers from other secular colleges from many parts of the country and abroad,” says Raj. The team working on the project has seen to it that the library keeps the historic documents wrapped up carefully in its air-conditioned basement at all times. The library fumigates each manuscript to kill insects and termites before

it’s archived, says Raj. The college uses “wax paper and wooden boxes for manuscripts,” treating the palm leaves “periodically with neem and citronella oil” and tying them up “using red cloth in the traditional way,” he adds.

The library While the United Theological College was founded in 1910, its library began to take shape as a “standard library” in 1968, when its collection started growing in earnest from “generous contributions of the missionary societies and individual well-wishers,” says Raj. More than 95,000 books, 272 periodical titles, 420 microfilms of historical record and 23,023 microfiches comprise the library’s collection today. The library boasts of historical relics, both religious and secular, like Martin Luther’s “Commentary on Galatians” (1523); Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg’s

U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation

“Grammatica Damulica” (1716); Mohandas K. Gandhi’s letters; the first Tamil New Testament printed in India; writings of 18th-century Tamil poetsinger Vedanayagam Sastriar; and countless literature, history, anthropology, sociology and science texts. With such treasured works on hand, the library, which started moving to its current facility in 1992, “preserves the original records and periodicals” and is an “invaluable source of information about the life and conditions during the last two centuries,” says Raj. As he explains, having palm leaf manuscripts, rare books and other resources digitized ensures the posterity of the originals, increases their availability to scholars and helps to keep India’s past alive. Carrie Loewenthal Massey is a New York City-based freelance writer.

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Photographs courtesy Aga Khan Trust for Culture

Archaeological excavations funded by a grant from the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation provides new understanding of the Qutb Shahi Heritage Park in Hyderabad.


in a Life Necropolis



ocated just below Hyderabad’s famous Golconda Fort is Qutb Shahi Heritage Park, one of the world’s most significant medieval necropolises. The 43-hectare site hosts more than 70 mausoleums, mosques, wells, a mortuary bath, pavilions, garden buildings and other structures. The tomb complex, built during the approximately 170-year reign of the Qutb Shahi dynasty in the Hyderabad region during the 16th and 17th centuries, is the beneficiary of a major conservation and landscape

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restoration project. The project aims to ensure the longterm preservation and accessibility of the site, which has earned tentative listing in the World Heritage List. The restoration project, expected to be completed in 2023, is being implemented by a private philanthropic foundation, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), in partnership with the Department of Archaeology and Museums of the Government of Telangana. AKTC is an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network, which is

Above and top: Although the Qutb Shahi Heritage Park is spread across 43 hectares, excavations under the AFCP project were limited to the central zone of approximately 16 hectares, which was considered the most significant.

active in 30 countries, especially in Asia and Africa. A key piece of the project was made possible by a $101,000 (Rs. 67 lakhs approximately) grant from the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) of the U.S. State Department. AFCP supports the preservation of cultural sites, cultural objects and forms of traditional cultural expression in more than 100 countries around the world. AKTC received the AFCP grant and began executing the project in September 2014. This project officially ended in December 2015 and an exhibition of the archaeological finds

at the complex was organized in July 2016. Although the Qutb Shahi Heritage Park is spread across 43 hectares, excavations under this project were limited to the central zone of approximately 16 hectares, which was considered the most significant. Through advanced scientific investigations, archaeological excavations and appropriate conservation work, the AFCP grant helped map and document the diversity of the structures found at the Qutb Shahi tomb complex, like the remnants of a 16th-century residential complex and tomb-garden enclosure walls. During these To share articles go to MAY/JUNE 2017 17

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Photographs courtesy Aga Khan Trust for Culture

Left and below: The excavations at the Qutb Shahi Heritage Park led to unexpected and spectacular discoveries, like the 16th-century enclosure walls of Sultan Quli’s garden-tomb and the tiles that once adorned the facade of Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah’s Tomb. The excavations also yielded antiquities like stone elements, cannon balls, pestle and mortar and fragments of ceramic glazed tiles.

Aga Khan Trust for Culture

U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation

Qutb Shahi Monuments

Qutb Shahi Heritage Park—2015 Annual Report

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excavations, extensive water features like aqueducts and baths fed with terracotta pipes were also discovered. “The archaeological excavations funded by the AFCP grant have helped us understand the complex started as a residential settlement and seems to have been later turned into a necropolis,” notes architect and conservationist Ratish Nanda, who is the chief executive at AKTC, India. “Also, the excavations have revealed remnants of garden enclosure walls and, in turn, led to the understanding that, as with the Mughals, the Qutb Shahi built enclosed garden tombs. “Remnants of enclosure walls have now established that both the tomb of the first king, Sultan Quli Qutb Shah, as well as the tomb of Ibrahim Quli Qutb Shah stood within enclosed gardens, thus negating the commonly held belief that unlike the Mughals in the north, the Qutb Shahis did not build enclosed gardens to site the tombs. These discoveries are informing the landscape restoration.” The AFCP grant has also allowed the

conservation of the excavated remains, which will ensure these significant new findings will not be covered over, as is the usual practice, and will continue to be visible to visitors to the site, notes Nanda. In addition, the excavation program funded by AFCP has helped students of archaeology to gain significant field experience under the guidance of K.K. Muhammed, current project archaeological director at AKTC and former regional director (North) of the Archaeological Survey of India, which is part of the Government of India’s Ministry of Culture. “Here, layers and layers of history have been buried. And it was here many of the battles and wars were fought, and history was made and unmade,” says Muhammed. “So, what we have been looking for is, what is that kind of history which was buried earlier, how to expose it and how to present it to the world.” Steve Fox is a freelance writer, former newspaper publisher and reporter based in Ventura, California.

the Song


ffortless, worldwide communication and endless media streaming, single-click global commerce and instant access to librariesworth of information. These are just a few of the momentous benefits brought about by the technological evolution of the 21st century. But hand-in-hand with such wonderful gains, daunting challenges have also emerged for nations around the world. Within India, for example, many vital, centuries-old folk art forms threaten to disappear entirely as the country becomes more urban, globalized and high-tech. When it comes to the traditional

folk music of West Bengal, this is a trend Amitava Bhattacharya, founder director of banglanatak dot com, wants to reverse. Based in Kolkata, his 17-year-old social enterprise works not just to preserve the traditional art forms of rural communities, but also to help them leverage those art forms into engines of economic power and humanitarian enrichment. Through Art for Life, a methodology developed by the organization, Bhattacharya and his colleagues seek to highlight the value of traditional folk arts in rural communities, To share articles go to MAY/JUNE 2017 19

Courtesy banglanatak dot com


banglanatak dot com and the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation help preserve vital folk music forms of West Bengal and support communities in the process.

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Amitava Bhattacharya

U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation

Courtesy banglanatak dot com

We have seen when people come forward, they start participating in the development process, and they safeguard their own art forms.

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helping local practitioners learn and build their capacity to make compelling and marketable creations. The organization also connects rural artists with collaborators and partners who can help them practice their art, preserve their traditional culture and thrive economically, all at the same time. The results have been stunning, with the organization lifting over 15,000 people in West Bengal and Bihar out of poverty since 2014. This is just one example. banglanatak dot com’s efforts have also earned it global recognition from organizations like the United Nations. It’s a formula for success Bhattacharya and his team continue to pursue with passion. “We have seen when people come forward, they start participating in the development process, and they safeguard their own art forms,” says Bhattacharya. “So, our goal is to use folk traditions and art to mobilize. The rest is magic.” Magic may or may not have been involved in banglanatak dot com’s decision to reach out to the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) several years ago. Regardless, it has already begun to help transform communities across West Bengal. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, AFCP supports efforts to enrich

and preserve traditional cultural heritage in over 100 countries around the world, making it a natural partner for banglanatak dot com. Bhattacharya and his colleagues applied to the program and, in 2014, won an AFCP grant to help them scale up their efforts. “We used the money for documenting three art forms in Bengal—Bhawaiya in north Bengal, Bhatiyali in Sunderbans and Bangla qawwali in the middle part,” says Bhattacharya. “The AFCP money was a big help in allowing us to start interacting with the communities and bring pride to them. We recorded and released albums of the three genres of music and also published a book on Bangla qawwali.” “Bengal’s folk culture is very rich and has the capability of engaging people,” continues Bhattacharya. “People love their traditions, and money is not the only parameter of life in this part of the world. Using this spirit, we have also helped marginalized villages evolve into cultural tourism destinations.” For Bhattacharya and his team, folk traditions in West Bengal and beyond are not just relics of the past, but are also vibrant reflections of the present. Creating community connections surrounding those traditions is vital on several levels.

Photographs courtesy banglanatak dot com

“Preserving folk music traditions is important,” says Bhattacharya, “but who preserves these is the most important. If the work provides no benefit to communities, then just doing documentation will not achieve anything.” “Traditions in a country like India celebrate diversity, which is key in uniting India and a possible model for the world to explore in achieving global peace.” Since creating banglanatak dot com, Bhattacharya has grown confident in his organization’s ability to engage rural communities with their own cultures, strengthen their abilities to sustain themselves based on their art and, in the process, reduce migration from rural areas and help prevent human trafficking. “Just to give an example, no one migrated from any of these villages we worked with in the last 12 years,” he says. With 82 members on its team; operations in Kolkata, Goa and New Delhi; and active engagement with over 15,000 folk artists, banglanatak dot com is poised to make an even greater impact in the years to come.

Top and above: banglanatak dot com, in partnership with the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, documented three folk music forms in West Bengal.

Top left: Amitava Bhattacharya, founder director of banglanatak dot com.

Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City.



Exchange program alumnus

Rahul Khot involves schoolchildren in India’s rural areas in documenting animals and rare species.



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itizen science is a global movement that promotes the participation of amateur or nonprofessional scientists in examining and recording scientific phenomena. One example is eMammal, which encourages scientists and citizen scientists to join in the fun and discovery of camera trapping. The collection, storage and review of the photos help address important scientific and conservation issues, and provide a unique view of the hidden world of wildlife. One of its projects connects citizen scientists with researchers at the Smithsonian

Institution in Washington, D.C., and North Carolina State University to document mammals in the mid-Atlantic region. In 2015, Rahul Khot, a curator at the Natural History Collection Department of the Bombay Natural History Society, implemented the project in India among schoolchildren in rural areas. The Bombay Natural History Society is a wildlife research organization that promotes the cause of nature conservation. The eMammal project in India is part of the eMammal International project which is

Photographs courtesy Rahul Khot

Mammals funded by the U.S. Department of State and administered by the American Alliance of Museums. The project employs camera traps near schools to document animal population sizes, activation patterns and habitat use. These photos help researchers answer questions about mammal distribution and abundance, and use this information for conservation studies. The results, uploaded on the eMammal website (, are accessible to a network of scientists


worldwide and help generate global awareness and understanding of biodiversity.

Involving the young “Involving people, especially young people, in such activities is very important,” says Khot. “It encourages awareness and a love for nature.” In 2014, Khot participated in Museums Connect, a museum-based exchange program of the U.S. Department of State and the American Alliance of Museums. The program

Above: Schoolgirls in Waki village in the Palghar district of Maharashtra learn to operate a camera used to collect data on local mammal populations under the eMammal project. Above far left: Rahul Khot, a curator at the Natural History Collection Department of the Bombay Natural History Society and in-charge of the eMammal project in India.

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“ ”

Photographs courtesy Rahul Khot

The eMammal project is a vibrant site of information exchange.

links U.S. communities with others around the world through museum-based exchanges, which are designed to foster cultural understanding among community members, especially young people, through the exploration of different topics like nature, social inclusion and empowerment. “The year we applied [for Museum Connect], only nine out of 66 applications were selected,” says Khot. “We, the 24 MAY/JUNE 2017

Bombay Natural History Society, collaborated with the North Carolina State University Museum and the Museo de Paleontología de Guadalajara, Mexico.” The first meeting in Washington, D.C., was all about understanding the objectives of the grant. “We discussed the implementation of the program in India,” says Khot. “I started working on the ideas discussed when I got back to India.” Selecting the schools was the first step. “We selected

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three schools from Maharashtra for the first phase—Union English School in Amboli, Sindhudurg district; Jay Seva Adarsh High School in Pawni, Nagpur district; and S. G. M. Bhadange High School in Waki, Palghar district,” he says. Choosing rural schools over urban schools was a conscious choice. “These schools lack basic networks of Internet and most available phones are ordinary [non-smartphone] ones. Things we take for granted in urban areas are missing here,” says Khot. In implementing the project, Khot learned some valuable lessons. “The project uses sophisticated technologies like camera traps with heat and motion sensor controls,” he says. “Data sheets with the recordings need to be filled. I was worried these children, aged between 11 and 14, would find it difficult.” But, three days of training was all they needed. “They learned fast and were soon pros at ensuring data sheets were kept up to date,” says Khot. Teachers were trained to monitor the project and ensure help was available in case the students ran into difficulties, he adds. In Pawni village in the Nagpur district of Maharashtra, the data collected by the camera traps of students from Jay Seva Adarsh High School showed, although their village was not considered an area tigers frequented, they used the same walking paths as humans at night. “Through this project, we were able to reach 200

kids directly in the selected schools,” says Khot. The recorded images showed that India has 20 unique species of animals, and among these, dhole and tiger are endangered. The Bombay Natural History Society is now adding 20 more schools to this program, with financial support from ICICI Bank and a partner nongovernmental organization, Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra, based in Chiplun in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra.

Information and more “The eMammal project is a vibrant site of information exchange,” says Khot. “Children here uploaded the data the cameras recorded as well as the cultural programs they had in school. For children in the U.S., this was perhaps their first time seeing how closely humans and animals interact in India.” At the end of 2015, selected teachers and two students traveled to the United States, along with Khot, to share their experiences. “They were very excited by the homestays in the U.S.,” he says. The project was useful in targeting children at the grassroots level to ensure they grew up aware about ecology and conservation. “It’s harder to change minds in adults,” says Khot. “It’s not that they didn’t know about animals before, but through the cameras, they realized how closely animals and humans interact.”

Above: Kiran Hattimare (right) of Jay Seva Adarsh High School in Pawni village, Maharashtra, with Rahul Khot during a presentation in the United States. Above center: Khot demonstrates camera use at a school in Waki village in the Palghar district of Maharashtra. Above far left: Students from a school in Pawni village learn to set up camera traps. Far left: A training workshop organized as part of the eMammal project in Amboli, Maharashtra.

Paromita Pain is a journalist based in Austin, Texas. MAY/JUNE 2017



IVLP alumna

Prerna Singh Bindra

Photographs courtesy Prerna Singh Bindra

works to protect India’s wildlife through her journalism and conservation advocacy.

Above: Prerna Singh Bindra on a tour of Ken River along Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh. Above right: Bindra finds a pugmark at Nandhaur Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttarakhand.

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ildlife journalist Prerna Singh Bindra has dedicated her career to the preservation of India’s wildlife and their habitats. She has brought conservation to the forefront of mainstream media by penning over 1,500 articles on nature and wildlife, sometimes pursuing investigative stories in remote forests and in markets engaged in illegal wildlife trade. Her unflinching determination to expose threats to India’s natural heritage has translated into measurable actions. Bindra’s articles helped increase the focus on the protection of wildlife corridors and nesting sites, the construction and expansion of roads inside nature reserves and enforcement of laws protecting India’s natural world. Her recently published children’s book, “When I Grow Up I Want to be a Tiger,” and her soon-to-be released book, “The Vanishing: India’s Wildlife Crisis,” are her latest contributions to wildlife advocacy. The upcoming book addresses “unprecedented threats on all fronts to our wildlife and wildlands.” Bindra’s constant childhood companions were books by authors like Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, M. Krishnan and Salim Ali, who are well-known in the field of environmental conservation, along with a backyard menagerie of animals. “Birds, frogs, mongoose and peacocks in our garden helped develop my love of nature,” she says. She admits to even skipping school to

witness peachicks hatch. Bindra graduated with a degree in management in 1994, but within four years, “jumped stream to journalism because I couldn’t just sit back and not do anything when I saw the natural world being decimated around me.” She worked at India’s premier wildlife magazine, Sanctuary Asia, and then progressed through half a dozen newspapers and magazines, including The Asian Age, The Pioneer, The Times of India, India Today, The Week and Tehelka, trying to reach a larger audience for wildlife reporting in mainstream media. Inevitably, she gravitated toward conservation advocacy and collaborative work with the Indian government. “When you do a story on an issue, you can’t walk away from it. You want to take it forward, follow up and ensure action,” says Bindra. As was the case when the Ministry of Tourism, taking note of her article about the blocking of natural corridors for tigers and elephants by a multitude of tourism resorts, asked her to study the impact of tourism on Corbett Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand. This eventually led to the formulation of Government of India guidelines for regulating tourism in tiger reserves. When insurgents were reported to have destroyed communication towers

and ranger stations in the Similipal Tiger Reserve in Odisha in 2009, Bindra and another conservationist, Aditya Panda, were among the first to go in. “Well, of course, we took a risk! We didn’t know what the situation would be. When we went in, we found the rest house had been burnt, and the communication tower had been destroyed. I wrote about it, and the National Tiger Conservation Authority set in motion an investigation into the situation to see what would get the tiger reserve back on track,” she says. Known to walk unarmed in forests, Bindra feels safe there. However, despite her healthy respect for an animal’s comfort zone, she has experienced mock charges by elephants and a mating rhino, and recalls a lonely walk back to her camp in the dark hearing the sawing sound of a nearby leopard. Bindra says her greatest learning experience and contribution is, perhaps, her work on the National Board for Wildlife, India’s apex statutory body for conservation policy regulating activities in protected wildlife areas. She was a member of the board and part of its core Standing Committee from 2010 to 2013. “We studied the impact of industrial and infrastructural projects on wildlife areas and tried to regulate those projects with grave

Project Tiger

ecological impacts—like roads through the only nesting site of flamingoes in the subcontinent—and worked to protect key wildlife areas of the critically endangered [Great Indian] bustard and hangul [Kashmir stag],” says Bindra. However, she feels, “it is the forest rangers and guards who are at the frontline of saving wildlife from poaching and other illegal activities,” and are most deserving of our respect. India set a new standard for saving a species with the launch of the conservation program Project Tiger in 1973, which now governs 50 tiger reserves. “In a country of 1.3 billion people, we still have predators—lions, tigers, Asiatic elephants, as well as freshwater dolphins,” she notes. “But there are things one can learn or adopt from other countries, like the dedicated National Park Service in the United States.” Bindra says her participation in the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program in 2012 gave her great exposure and insights, and left her wanting “to learn more about the U.S. national park system, its protection policies and cohesive regulation of activities within national parks.” Hillary Hoppock is a freelance writer, former newspaper publisher and reporter based in Orinda, California.

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Prerna Singh Bindra

The Nature of

28 MAY/JUNE 2017

Change Fulbrighter


Todorovic-Jones plans to publish her latest research which, after months in the field, she finalized in Bengaluru, in affiliation with the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), a nonprofit organization working to conserve India’s biodiversity. Her focus is on human-dominated forest landscapes, and she builds on ATREE’s previous research, analyzing 3,500 samples, 153 of which she collected herself.


Alex TodorovicCourtesy Saad Amer

studies how people and nature are adapting to climate change in the Himalayas. Left: Alex Todorovic-Jones. Below left: One of the many greenhouses ATREE helped install under the USAID-funded program, Managing India’s Forests for Biodiversity and Human Well-being in the Face of Global Environmental Change.

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Courtesy Alex Todorovic-Jones


all her a professional tree hugger or nature lover, the 2016 Fulbright-Nehru Student Research Scholar Alex Todorovic-Jones does more than just hugging trees—she studies them. That and how trees and the people living among them in agricultural villages in the eastern Himalayas are adapting to climate change. This work, she hopes, will help “people understand climate change and protect future generations from its repercussions.”

We have the potential to understand ecology and use that information to help make decisions in this human-dominated forest landscape that would help people and nature.

capacity, chemical components, and leaf and wood structure—to understand how they might be affected by climate change,” says Todorovic-Jones. She worked with forest officials and technicians, along with more than a dozen Indian academics, to determine how the banj oak changes with fluctuations in temperature and precipitation patterns. While her master’s work gave Todorovic-

Courtesy Alex Todorovic-Jones

“I conducted 12 group discussions with over 60 household members. Then, I used the discussion data to develop a more thorough individual survey,” says Todorovic-Jones. Her research took her to six villages ATREE had yet to reach for climate-smart agriculture trainings. While she now concentrates on the people living in forests, Todorovic-Jones’ interest in nature began with trees. After growing up in the urban cities of Newport in Rhode Island, and Cambridge in Massachusetts, Todorovic-Jones attended the University of Colorado Boulder for geography and environmental studies. There, she discovered how important natural areas are to her. Through one of her research jobs, she was able to go to every single national forest in Colorado. Todorovic-Jones left Boulder “obsessed with climate change and mountain ecology,” craving “a more scientific understanding of how climate change affects forest areas.” She followed her curiosity to the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies in Connecticut, where she completed a master of forest science program. The research for her master’s project took her to the Himalayas for the first time. There, she studied the banj oak, an evergreen tree significant to the local communities as it’s “anecdotally known to enrich the soil, prevent erosion and help biodiversity. The tree also provides acorns, which people eat,” says TodorovicJones. She got to know the banj oak quite well while collecting samples for her project. “Basically, I climbed the trees and investigated their physiology—think water

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Jones the hard skills she needed to research physical specimens successfully, it left her wanting to merge those skills with the social science skills she developed working with nongovernmental organizations and her academic colleagues. “In the Indian Himalayas, there is a romantic, spiritual and economic connection between people and forests. People live in forested regions and are directly connected to the areas. What did this tell me? Science matters here. We have the potential to understand ecology and use that information to help make decisions in this human-dominated forest landscape that

Photographs courtesy Alex Todorovic-Jones

Left, below left and below far left: Alex Todorovic-Jones is studying humandominated forest areas in the Himalayas to understand how community livelihoods and forests might be affected by climate change.

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would help people and nature,” she says. It’s the desire to fulfill this potential for understanding that drives Todorovic-Jones’s Fulbright research and her plans for the future. Upon completing her grant, she sees herself publishing her research results and then working with a sustainability company for a few years. Her long-term goal, however, is to “become a head scientist at a conservation organization and be able to communicate the necessity and importance of science for a range of audiences.” As Todorovic-Jones gathers the private sector experience she needs, and then pursues her

Ph.D., there’s no doubt her love of nature will continue to guide her work. “I can’t imagine life without natural areas,” she says. “When you go to natural areas, you inevitably see and feel the world is much bigger than you and whatever problems you have at that moment. I’m a better person with nature around. I think other people, even those without access to natural spaces right now, have a right to have them there and protected for the future.”

Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

Carrie Loewenthal Massey is a New York Citybased freelance writer.




Biodiversity By PAROMITA PAIN

IVLP alumnus

exchange visit to the United States helped advance his biodiversity conservation efforts in India.


Courtesy Sargam Singh Rasaily

Sargam Singh Rasaily says the

s a child, Sargam Singh Rasaily remembers his father reading hunter-turned-conservationist Jim Corbett’s books, like “Man Eaters of Kumaon,” to him. “He would retell the stories with liberal sprinklings of stories of his own making,” remembers Rasaily. “His versions would invariably put the tigers and the leopards in a favorable light and leave us empathizing deeply with wildlife and their cause. It was my father who sowed the seed of my love for nature conservation and biodiversity.” Today, Rasaily is member secretary of the Uttarakhand Biodiversity Board. He has over 20 years of experience working on forest issues in India and has played an instrumental role in writing the management plan of the Singalila National Park in West Bengal. A science graduate, with mathematics and physics as his major subjects, he qualified for the Indian Forest Service in 1992. He also completed a three-month certificate course in wildlife management from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India, in

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Left: Sargam Singh Rasaily works on the eradication of lantana at Rajaji National Park in Uttarakhand. This non-edible, invasive weed is edging out plants which form the food of herbivores in the park. Right: Rasaily (second from right) at the Everglades National Park in Florida during his International Visitor Leadership Program visit. Below right: Rasaily (front) during an anti-poaching patrol at the Chila Range of Rajaji National Park.

1991. “I won the gold medal in wildlife management in the ranger’s course at WII,” he says. In 2005, when he was serving as the director of Rajaji National Park in Uttarakhand and conservator of forests in the state’s Kumaon region, Rasaily was selected to be part of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), the U.S. State Department’s exchange program for professionals. He says the program taught him some valuable lessons.

Formulating effective policies “The whole program was tailor-made for practicing forest officers actively involved in the management of protected areas and those who were in charge of developing wilderness tourism in India,” says Rasaily. It included visits to the headquarters of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington, D.C., and other parts of the capital; Shenandoah National Park, Luray Caverns and Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Virginia; Everglades National Park in Florida; and the mountain parks of Colorado.

Photographs courtesy Sargam Singh Rasaily

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Courtesy Sargam Singh Rasaily

“During the sessions and discussions, I realized how important it is to have a wellresearched scientific study to back up any decision or recommendation for managing a protected area,” he says. Another important point was that creating awareness and generating public support for conservation is crucial for dissuading political leadership from taking decisions which may be politically attractive, but disastrous for conservation efforts. “It is also very important to involve the local people in conserving our forests,” says Rasaily. “This garners public support for conservation,

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while providing an ecofriendly employment opportunity to the local people.”

Protecting national parks “National parks are important preservers of biodiversity,” says Rasaily. “But, they face huge problems.” Water scarcity is one. Also, forests and wildlife habitats have degraded due to increased and unabated pressure on natural resources for livelihood and collection of fuel, fodder and food, besides overgrazing and overfishing. “This is especially true of forests and national parks

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Left: Sargam Singh Rasaily (third from left, front) at the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia during his exchange program visit to the United States in 2005.

close to human habitats,” says Rasaily. “Smuggling of wild animals and their parts is another huge menace.” As an IVLP participant, Rasaily learned being practical while dealing with such issues and formulating effective policies to protect precious forestland is important. “We must take care of all natural beings, even the tiniest being, apart from the more glamorous ones like lions and tigers,” he says.

Empowering local populations Rasaily also commissions research studies in

various fields for conservation of biodiversity. At the moment, he is involved in the creation of Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) for preparing People’s Biodiversity Registers (PBRs) in Uttarakhand. Local populations are empowered to document the bioresources and biodiversity found in their area in the form of a PBR. “In all, we are to prepare more than 8,000 BMCs and an equal number of PBRs,” says Rasaily. “So far, we have managed to create around 800 BMCs and prepare around 90 PBRs.” Paromita Pain is a journalist based in Austin, Texas.




run Krishnamurthy decided to quit a bright career at Google to pursue a higher calling: restoring India’s polluted lakes and rivers. In 2011, he formed the Chennai-based Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) focused on scientific research and environmental conservation through community participation. Krishnamurthy, and his team of about 900 youth volunteers, not just restores water bodies, but also undertakes tree plantation, herbs restoration, waste management education, mass awareness campaigns, documentary filmmaking and establishment of bio spots. He

participated in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) on environment in 2010. The IVLP is the U.S. State Department’s exchange program for professionals. Excerpts from an interview. How did you first come to experience India’s lakes and wildlife? When did they become the focus of your work? Growing up in suburban Chennai, blessed with freshwater habitats and many different kinds of animals, taught me key life lessons. The fact that we share this planet with many other lives got strongly etched into my belief

Take Me to the


Courtesy Arun Krishnamurthy


36 MAY/JUNE 2017

What were your biggest takeaways from your time at Google? What inspired you to start Environmentalist Foundation of India? Google taught me to think outside the box and about the business world at large. I had begun thinking about forming my own NGO during my days in college. However, the formalization happened while I was at Google. Deciding to leave Google was not easy but, ultimately, my calling toward conservation became so strong that I just decided to quit one fine day.

Arun Krishnamurthy

Environmentalist Foundation of India

International Visitor Leadership Program

Left: Arun Krishnamurthy near a Chennai lake restored by his organization, Environmentalist Foundation of India. Below left: Local people and volunteers work with the Environmentalist Foundation of India to clean up Old Perungalathur Pond in Chennai.

IVLP alumnus

Arun Krishnamurthy works to inspire a new generation of volunteers and activists for environmental conservation.

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system. My appreciation for the environment has always been an inseparable part of my life.

Photographs by STEFAN WALTER

You’ve been critical about “urban arrogance” and the lack of a cohesive multidisciplinary collaboration for environmental conservation efforts. How would you like to see this improved in the future? I’m unsure how exactly this will change. However, I am sure it has to change. Unless we work together, life isn’t going to be easy for future generations. We need to understand our environmental conservation mission is not just to protect the natural world around us, but also to ensure future generations continue to enjoy this great planet. We are dependent on it for everything, and we cannot disregard that fact due to urban arrogance and shortsightedness. How many restoration projects has the Environmentalist Foundation of India completed so far? EFI, to date, has restored 19 ponds and six lakes, with work currently underway at 54 more water bodies all across India. We never abandon a restoration project. Even after completion, we continue to follow up and ensure sustainability.

Top: Arun Krishnamurthy works with volunteers to clean up the area around Kilkattalai Lake in Chennai. Above: Krishnamurthy (left) buys plants to be used to stabilize the shores of Kilkattalai Lake.

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What are some of the goals of the Environmentalist Foundation of India? Getting as many like-minded citizens to volunteer for environmental conservation efforts remains our simple goal. Resultoriented and real-time projects will continue to be our sole focus. How did your experience with the EFI is growing rapidly, with new team International Visitor Leadership Program members. We are expanding our efforts into influence your career? The IVLP visit gave me global exposure and new regions. In the near future, EFI will helped me broaden my knowledge resources. It branch into Sri Lanka and Bhutan as EFS and came at a critical juncture and gave me some EFB. much-needed confidence to go forward. What would be your advice to those who are interested in environmental advocacy How do you approach communities to get them involved in environmental conservation? and wildlife conservation? 1. Step out of your homes: Go outside to Almost every individual is worried about explore and understand your natural the deteriorating conditions in the larger environment. environment and wants to help. The challenge 2. Take charge of your personal lives: Be more is linking their desire to do something with conscious with regard to waste, water and actually getting something done. Citizens lack energy. a clear platform to directly engage in conservation efforts. EFI aims to be a platform 3. Start living as a “human” and abandon the that educates and inspires people to actively “consumer” in you. participate. By listening to people about what changes they want to see, we help motivate Jason Chiang is a freelance writer based in Silver Lake, Los Angeles. them to bring about that change.

Fulbright and Hubert Humphrey fellow

Shubhalaxmi Vaylure strives to raise environmental awareness through innovative educational programs.




Above: Entomologist Shubhalaxmi Vaylure has developed nature-based mobile apps (above right) like eForestrails, which provides an audiovisual tour of three nature trails inside Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai; and iButterflies, iNaturewatch Birds, and iTrees, which help users identify the common butterfly, bird and tree species found in Mumbai, Kolkata, New Delhi and Hyderabad.

hubhalaxmi Vaylure is an entomologist by training and an environment educator by passion. She has worked with the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), a wildlife research organization that promotes the cause of nature conservation, in various positions for over 21 years. In 2014, Vaylure founded a Mumbai-based social enterprise, Ladybird Environmental Consulting, which specializes in environmental corporate social responsibility (CSR) and nature conservation. A couple of years later, she founded iNaturewatch Foundation, a nonprofit trust in Mumbai that strives to educate people about urban biodiversity in India. Vaylure has participated in two exchange programs sponsored by the U.S. State Department. In 2003, she went to the University of Montana as part of a Fulbright program on environmental

leadership to study U.S. educational institutions that deal with the natural world. In 2010, Vaylure participated in the Hubert H. Humphrey program at Boston University, where she studied about nonprofit management and distance learning. In an effort to bridge the natural world and the field of education, Vaylure has designed and implemented many educational programs, like the interactive “Breakfast with Butterflies,” at her home institution, Bombay Natural History Society. Her latest offerings are three mobile apps launched by her iNaturewatch Foundation—iTrees, iButterflies and iNaturewatch Birds. Through these nature-based apps, users can identify the trees, butterflies and birds they encounter in cities like Hyderabad, New Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai using their mobile devices.

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Photographs by ISAAC KEHIMKAR


Photographs by ISAAC KEHIMKAR

Above: Shubhalaxmi Vaylure’s upcoming book, “Birdwing Field Guide to Common Moths of India,” features descriptions of 712 species of moths from 35 families depicted on 135 color plates. Top right and above right: Through interactive programs like “Breakfast with Butterflies” and “Meals with Moths,” Vaylure tries to clear misconceptions and phobias about insects.

Excerpts from an interview. You are one of the first Indian female scientists to study moths. What inspired you to be an entomologist? As a child, I was passionate about nature. A college project on insects helped me get more interested in the topic. However, it became a full-blown passion once I joined the BNHS and explored the natural world for real. I did my undergraduate degree in zoology and later pursued my master’s and doctoral studies on moths. Insects continue to fascinate me. I see there are very few who spread awareness about them. There are so many misconceptions and phobias around insects. Someone should be decoding these and telling the world how fascinating these insects are, and I am glad I am doing it. Not only has your interest in natural habitats led you to become an entomologist, but you are also very successful in bridging your scientific interest and education. Please tell us

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about your programs “Breakfast with Butterflies,” “Bash with Bugs” and “Meals with Moths.” At the Bombay Natural History Society, I developed the knack of communicating science in a simple, engaging and innovative way. “Breakfast with Butterflies” was the precursor of all other special events I planned. This happened only after I visited the Bronx Zoo in New York City during my Fulbright fellowship in 2003. I realized glamorization of nature was required to create awareness and public support. All these events target families and children. Each, as the names suggest, is a program module on a particular topic. The idea is to make learning about wildlife a fun-filled process. In a similar vein, the three mobile apps that your iNaturewatch Foundation has launched—iTrees, iNaturewatch Birds, iButterflies—bring together science, education and technology. Please tell us more about these apps and their target users.

iNaturewatch Foundation

Ladybird Environmental Consulting LLP

These three apps are targeted at students, teachers and common citizens. The aim is to provide expert knowledge on a mobile platform and make it accessible to all. These apps were developed in such a way that anybody could identify city birds, trees and butterflies without an expert’s help or a field guide. Thus, I was able to launch a citizen science program, where users from all parts of India were able to send their sighting data to our portal You studied at the University of Montana while on the Fulbright fellowship and at Boston University for the Hubert H. Humphrey program. How did these experiences enrich your education and help you with your current plans? My career and life have been influenced by two factors—my job at the BNHS and my fellowships in the United States. While the BNHS made me a strong person technically, my fellowship experiences polished me into

a fine professional with a wide skill set. I developed a competitive edge in my profession, for I am knowledge-wise and skill-wise an accomplished person. So, I give credit for my success to the fellowship programs, which helped me challenge the status quo and made me into an entrepreneur. Today, I am heading a social enterprise, Ladybird Environmental Consulting, and a nonprofit, iNaturewatch Foundation, and I am doing my dream job here. The consulting company works with corporations and governments on implementing CSR projects. We have established 12 butterfly sites—five butterfly gardens, four butterfly habitats, and three butterfly parks in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh, the latter being in progress. We have planted 31,350 butterfly plants and another 15,000 will soon be planted. Through the foundation, we have launched four online courses on bugs, birds, gardening for wildlife, and botany.

What would you say to other emerging women scientists in India to encourage and help them improve their status in this field? Most women I meet lack the courage to think big. It is not only important to be well qualified, it is equally important to fight for the space that you wish to be in. I fought my entire life to be where I am today. Women need to fight for themselves, and nobody else can do that for them. Never settle for less. Always keep dreaming big enough to scare you and do not fear failure. Also, women tend to be thorough planners. So rather than the goal, they keep focusing on the hurdles. My style of working has been, I plan 50 percent and then jump into it to figure out the remaining 50 percent. We women should stop thinking and start acting. Lastly, having a fire in the belly is always good; without the fire, one will never dump one’s comfort zone. Natasa Milas is a freelance writer based in New York City. MAY/JUNE 2017


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American Fulbright scholar

Farshid S. Ahrestani

talks about his ongoing efforts to preserve India’s wildlife and their habitats.


arshid S. Ahrestani is a wildlife ecologist, who studies distribution and dynamics of terrestrial animals. He also studies how species and ecosystems respond to environmental change. Ahrestani is currently a Fulbright scholar working on research projects related to large herbivore conservation in India at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)-India, Bengaluru. Excerpts from an interview.

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How did you get interested in the field of wildlife conservation? I first got interested in studying birds while studying for my engineering degree. By the time I completed a year working as a naturalist at Ranthambore Tiger Reserve—my first wildlife-related job after graduating—I had decided I wanted a career in wildlife ecology and conservation. I enjoyed working outdoors in nature rather than in human-dominated landscapes. How did you become involved with the Wildlife Conservation Society-India? What part of their mission is most inspiring to you? I first worked with the Wildlife Conservation Society in 1997 when I collected

data for my master’s thesis from the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary [in Karnataka]. Reading books written by WCS field biologists, such as George Schaller, inspired me to become a wildlife ecologist. The WCS-India program has been at the forefront of wildlife research and conservation in India for nearly three decades, which continues to inspire me. What are some of the challenges you face in the field of biodiversity conservation? What is key for preserving biodiversity in a region? Biodiversity conservation means conserving a diverse array of life forms or biological species. It is one of man’s greatest challenges for the 21st century. As recent trends suggest, it is likely this century will witness mass extinction of species. Most large-bodied animals across the Earth have shrunk by 80 to 90 percent in the last 50 to 60 years, including all the big cats—tiger, lion, cheetah, etc.—and large herbivores—elephant, deer, antelope, etc. As conservation often directly conflicts with economic development needs, it requires multiple interventions, including changes to public policy and policing, and increasing local support and research. Winning support for conservation by lobbying with policymakers and working with people living around protected areas to reduce their dependency on the resources they share with wildlife are examples of interventions people can get involved with. What unique challenges does India face in relation to biodiversity? India is the last stronghold for many iconic wildlife species that inhabit southern Asia,

Courtesy Farshid S. Ahrestani

Green including tigers, elephants and rhinos. Preservation of these species requires sustained political will that favors conservation, more focus by the government and nongovernmental organizations, and increased vigilance in areas where species are vulnerable to poaching. The government and the people of India need to recognize it is still possible to protect additional land besides the five to six percent of India’s landmass currently set aside for wildlife. What outcomes do you hope to reach in India through your Fulbright scholarship work? I hope my Fulbright-supported research helps managers and conservationists understand the potential, risks and pitfalls associated with using different methods to estimate species populations, and helps us understand the extent to which different threats affect how and when large herbivore species occupy different habitats. Do you have any advice for those who want to get involved in ecology and wildlife conservation? There is an acute need for many more people to get involved in wildlife conservation at various levels—policy, working with local people, policing, research, etc. Acquiring funding to do necessary and meaningful wildlife-related work can be difficult and, therefore, to succeed in building a career in wildlife conservation, you need to be patient, persistent, eternally optimistic and blaze your path boldly without looking back or having any self-doubt. Jason Chiang is a freelance writer based in Silver Lake, Los Angeles. To share articles go to MAY/JUNE 2017 43

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Fulbright Program

Courtesy Farshid S. Ahrestani

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Farshid Ahrestani

May/June 2017  

Preserving Cultural and Natural Heritage

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