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Romancing the Black Panther – Rohini Nilekani with Usha KR

Climate & Biodiversity | Dec 13, 2020

The session began with a screening of a short film where Rohini Nilekani shared her experience looking for a Black Panther in the Kabini forest, Karnataka. She made us fall in love with this panther, which she lovingly calls Blacky, that has an irresistible pair of yellow eyes and evenly black skin. The film consisted of so many stunning photographs of this panther clicked by various people. She took us on this trip to the forest, describing its vastness and beauty. She explained to us why she describes this experience as romancing the black panther by defining what romance meant to her. She delved deep into her experiences in this forest space, given the numerous amount of times she has been there. We understood the way in which this experience has given her a sense of peace and also made her introspect. She connected her ideas with that of some interesting figures like Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy. This film then shifted its focus to environmental sustainability, conservation, and biodiversity. She described this journey of looking for Blacky as symbolic of engaging with the natural world.

Usha KR, the moderator, led the session with a narration of the poem ‘Ithaka’ by C.P. Cavafy and linked it to Nilekani’s experience. Nilekani spoke of her motivation to engage with the natural world and motivated the audience to introspect too. She also introduced us to a book called ‘Animal Intimacies: Interspecies Relatedness in India’s Central Himalayas’ by Radhika Govindrajan, which deals with how people create stories about animals, and their relationship with these animals.

Usha then steered the discussion towards the topic of climate change and its urgency. Nilekani examined this problem faced by the entire world and presented us with solutions and answers that could help turn this situation around. This led to a discussion on the economic model in India and how it should (and can) be restructured to help protect the planet from further damage. She spoke with great confidence in the youth population who she considers to be cautious about their carbon count.

On being asked to describe her approach to such important topics for children’s literature, Nilekani shared the problems faced by her as a writer for children. This included her difficulty in trying not to sound too didactic, or indulge in writing down to them. She then prompted the audience to engage in more literature because she believes it is the only way to develop critical thinking which leads to introspection. She also gave many book suggestions for children as well as adults to further engage with ecological aspects. The session ended with an interactive question-answer round.

Transcript

0:00:17.6 Rohini: Namaste everyone. Thank you so much BLF for inviting me to speak here today. I’m going to need the indulgence of my audience for a good 20 minutes or more, as I share with you all my story of Romancing the Black Panther. So here we go. There is a pregnant pause. We are all holding our breaths. He’s just next to us behind the lantana bushes or maybe in that ficus nearby. I just know it. I can almost feel him and so can the langurs and all the chital. Their continuous alarm calls reverberate through the forest. The morning mists have cleared but our human eyes can see nothing, no shadow, no movement at all. And nor can the super lenses of all the photographers and array of modern Canons on a hair trigger ready to shoot. Cut. We have to leave this story there again. It is 9:11 AM, and we have to get to the gate by 9:30 AM at the latest or the poor safari jeep driver can lose his license for several days. So the photographers pack up their expensive cameras and the tourists grumble, “Sha! , almost, almost.” Frustratingly, this pattern has repeated itself for me several times, especially in the past few months.

0:01:46.5 Rohini: In this year of the virus, I have often escaped the forlorn city Bengaluru and lodged myself in Kabini, my favorite part of the Nagarhole forest in Southwestern Karnataka. And there, even though I can appreciate every inch of the forest, from the spider, the ant, the jackals, to the trees and the water, and all the creatures in between, there is one animal that I very much want to and I’m yet to find. He is the fabled Blacky or Kariya as he is locally called, the melanistic leopard who has lived in the tourist zone of Kabini for the past six years. This black panther has been the focus of numerous viral photographs, documentaries and articles. Arguably, he is the world’s most famous black panther. People come from all around the world to see him. Often, they return without a glimpse, but when they do see him, their oohs and aahs and their clicks only serve to add to the mystery and glamour around this elusive creature. Quite objectively, he’s a beautiful animal. He’s perfectly imperfect, evenly black with magnificent yellow eyes in a sleek muscled body. When found paired with a normal female leopard, as Mithun H did, the contrast creates even more of an irresistible striking image.

0:03:19.8 Rohini: Moreover, he’s the one black panther in the world who is relatively possible to find as he has a well-documented territory, mercifully overlapping the tourist area of the forest. So it is no wonder that tourist and photographers flock to take a chance on him. In Kabini, all conversations among strangers are likely to begin with, “Have you seen Blacky?” and then begin the endless stories of how many times and how and of all the near-misses and then the hand ringing of those who have not managed yet to catch a glimpse. But all this hype and hoopla leaves real environmentalists and foresters rather cold. “What’s all the fuss about,” they ask. It is just another leopard, they say, shaking their heads at the frenzy on display.

0:04:14.1 Rohini: Now, this is true. The black panther is just another big cat in the wild. He’s just another leopard with a melanistic condition that leaves his spots intact but darkens the rest of his coat as well. Now, there are many melanistic leopards in Karnataka alone, so there should be no reason to think of this one as special. And yet, and yet, I am one of the humble hordes who has fallen under his spell, or at least I’ve happily participated in the fantasy. And to me, it has been a magical journey thus far. I think, I first heard of this panther in 2015 when my friend and world-renowned wildlife documentary filmmaker and photographer Sandesh Kadur showed me some really stunning images. Till then, the term, “Black panther” for me was more about the radical political movements in the West. But I was strangely drawn to the pictures and started watching out for the animal on the regular safaris that my husband Nandan and I would anyway take to Nagarhole two or three times a year.

0:05:23.2 Rohini: But over time, as the fame of the black panther grew, my interest in him began to peak as well. He appeared often enough at safari time to keep people interested, but not often enough to become a routine sighting. There were all sorts of legends begin to build around him, of his prowess at mating with many leopards and at fighting with many competitors. All this peaked in 2019, when Shaaz Bin Jung’s film for National Geographic came out. It came in on the heals of the super successful superhero movie, The Black Panther. And this film was rather cheekily called The Real Black Panther. Shaaz posted some spectacular shots on social media that of course went viral and throngs of tourists, more of them, headed to Kabini. By this time, I had been seriously searching for him whenever I could because Blacky was in his prime and seen regularly enough in the public zone for Shaaz and others to get some remarkable sequences of him and his various mates and dueling partners.

0:06:34.3 Rohini: But domestic issues, including the very joyful responsibility of helping out with my grandson, kept me tied to home territory in those years. But then came 2020. Strangely, the pandemic set me free. My domestic issues were resolved. The lockdown had been lifted. My travel commitments had pretty much vanished. I was finally in a position to go more often to the forest because I could continue my virtual meetings anywhere at all. And I used the new freedom to the hilt. I checked. This year, I have clocked more than 40 days and nights in Kabini doing dozens and dozens of safaris, soaking in the forest with all its amazing flora and fauna. And yes, desperately seeking Blacky, whom I’ve still not seen. Seriously. I think I’ve become a little notorious in the Kabini Jungle. There are many other photographers, filmmakers and even tourists who are seen regularly on safari, but I have become a bit of a fixture, a woman in a strange-looking sun hat and a colourful face mask, perpetually doing the rounds, zone A, zone B and trying hard to be mostly in zone A, which is where Blacky lives.

0:07:51.2 Rohini: I have come to know all the safari Jeep drivers and many of the forest guards and officials as well. I have learned that their opinion of me is a bit divided. Some feel sorry for me, and they often say, “Don’t worry, madam. We’ll show you Blacky soon. This time definitely. Khandita.” And some others, who have neutrally observed that Blacky never seems to show up when I am on safari, they worry whether I’m a bit of an ill omen as far as this coveted cat is concerned. One cheekily asks me when I’m leaving back for Bengaluru so that this panther can come out. And Sandesh Kadur’s film crew joked that they can strategize their filming of the panther based on my safari schedule and so on and on. My little grandson, Tanush, is kinder. Once when I rued, “Maybe Blacky doesn’t like me.” He said, “No, no ami. He’s only playing hide and seek with you.” But the annoying fact is that the data shows that too often, Blacky comes out on the safari just after I have left the forest. This has happened too many times, especially this year. No matter whether I stay for one day, three days or five days, Blacky shows up soon after I am back in Bengaluru.

0:09:12.6 Rohini: Now, it is extremely tempting to allow myself to go beyond the humour. It is extremely tempting to imagine that there is something more than coincidence going on here. Am I special? Yes, says the ego. Am I crazy? Oh yes, says the family and my close friends. I wonder, why do we want the things that we cannot have. We are partly excited by the thrill of the chase, but also as psychologists agree, often when we want something or someone, we begin to ascribe characteristics of value to it which may not actually be possessed by that object of interest. And I watch myself, allow myself to be drawn into romancing the black panther who has no clue that any human is remotely interested in him, let alone me. I looked up one definition of romance. It says it is a quality of or feeling of mystery, excitement and remoteness from everyday life. I think that’s a great way to describe this adventure that I have undertaken, to find a single unique animal among hundreds of his species in a forest of 625 square kilometers, where tourists are only allowed into 10% of the area that too for a limited time each day. What are the chances?

0:10:39.9 Rohini: But many people say to me, “Oh, it is just a jinx. It will be broken soon. Once you see him, you will see him often.” And so, I persevere in joyful pursuit of the presumed pleasure in sighting Blacky. I keep tabs on his comings and goings. I plan my trips to Kabini after much speculation on when he is likely to emerge. People say, “The dark one likes moonless nights.” Others swear he comes out on festivals and full moon nights. I try all options. Results? Nada, nada, nada. [chuckle] Well, Blacky or no Blacky, I still love my forest bathing or shinrin-yoku, as the Japanese call it. The rhythm of my safari visits, day after day, waking up at 5:00 AM, doing my two safaris, squeezing in all those virtual meetings and having early dinners and off to bed again, create a sort of rhythm that becomes like a substitute for happiness itself. Once I’m in the forest, it’s an experience like meditation, of being hyper-aware of the slightest rustle, of being in the present moment for long periods of time. No past, no future.

0:11:53.5 Rohini: Like Henry David Thoreau urged us centuries ago, “I am trying to find my eternity in each moment.” I am taken up with a sense of wonder, of marvelling at something so tangibly bigger than us all and perhaps this is what humanity is desperate for now. Perhaps we have lost our way somewhere, somehow. Alain de Botton, the TED popular, Swiss-born British philosopher, lectures on modern society and its many anxieties. “We have nothing,” he says, “at the centre that is non-human. We are the first society to be living in a world where we don’t worship anything other than ourselves. We think very highly of ourselves. Our heroes are human heroes and that’s a very new situation.” “Most other societies,” he says, “have had right at their centre the worship of something transcendent; a God, a spirit, a natural force, or the universe, whatever it is. That is why we are particularly drawn to nature for an escape from the human ant hill, an escape from our own competition and our own dramas.” Botton’s analysis seems very authentic to me. Unlike our tribal communities and some other people in this country, we urban folks like myself have winnowed out our animistic cultures. And this yearning for Blacky definitely has some renewed yearning for the mystical at its very core.

0:13:25.1 Rohini: Especially in a year when my… When all our sense of our own mortality is ever present and when forced closeness has ruled our intimacies, the promise of the open and the untamed and the unregulated has been too much of a lure, which brings me to a far more serious question, “How does this particular obsession tie into my broader work on environmental sustainability, biodiversity conservation, and greener livelihoods? Are these two interests at odds?” After all, the idea of biodiversity is quite opposite to the emphasis on any one animal, and there’s a strong critic of people’s devotion to a few flagship species such as the tiger. Some conservationists believe that the excessive attention on these that makes people ignore all the other species which are as critical, each in their own way, to sustaining the web of life. Urbanites especially who are often quite deracinated from the wild may not be able to be self-aware of the consequences of an imbalanced reaction to a few species or to one particular celebrity animal for that matter. For example, all the tourist Jeeps crowding noisily, their cameras clicking away like gunfire around Blacky or around the beloved tigress Machali of Ranthambore or Tadoba’s famous Maya, do disturb the animals and it makes their cubs skittish too.

0:15:00.5 Rohini: A narrow focus on some animals can do genuine harm, not just to them, but also to other species or landscapes because the whole system is so intricately interconnected that it eventually may be detrimental even to the species that people claim to love. And some environmentalists are therefore dead against giving human names to wild animals and taking a very anthropocentric approach to conservation. And there is some truth there for us to ponder for sure. We have to be very vigilant not to let the symbol become bigger than the message it connotes or carries. We have to be very careful, especially as tourists, to go into the wild not to extract value alone, but as trustees of the forest’s innate worth. Yet, maybe the love for one kind of animal may also lead people to understand more about how that animal is connected to the food chain and the environment in which it must thrive, and how all that connects back to human well-being as well.

0:16:05.4 Rohini: Many conservationists themselves have been victims of the emotional attachment to a particular species because it is a very powerful thing, and maybe we humans cannot conserve and cannot renew our ecology without that pull, without that undeniable attraction. And we really can’t seem to feel drawn to ants or cockroaches, so understandably, it must be a charismatic species that becomes the objects of our attention. And maybe this is a powerful way to harness a much broader public constituency and to engage local communities who are very critical for conservation, but of course, people have been obsessed with all sorts of animals throughout human history. Love it seems can have many forms. Did you know that the innovator, Nikola Tesla, used to love a white pigeon? He said he loved it as a man loves a woman, and he also claimed that the pigeon loved him back.

0:17:06.4 Rohini: Now, literature and art have celebrated the possibility of such passion enthusiastically, and many writers have also talked of these practices all over especially in India. And some of the best stories, especially for children, have been about the human love for animals. Think of Black Beauty, The Yearling, My Friend Flicka, Lassie. And it’s not just domesticated animals that evoke love and passion in books and in movies. Think of Free Willy, Hong Kong, Hachiko, The Black Stallion, Beethoven, the War Horse, Seabiscuit, the list just goes on and on. And then there are the stories and movies inspired by real-life heroes who have had a passion for animals. There’s Joy Adamson and Elsa the lioness in Born Free and Living Free later. There is Jane Goodall and her bond with Flint, the chimpanzee, in the film Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees and much later in the documentary simply called Jane.

0:18:06.6 Rohini: Much more recently, there was a Netflix documentary called My Octopus Teacher of Craig Foster’s journey of self-learning with a common octopus in the South African kelp forest. Rather, as in this most recent and very beautiful film, My Octopus Teacher, I think my experience also has allowed me to see Blacky as a kind of a guru in the sense that I have learnt many lessons from him and from my journey chasing him. They are lessons of perseverance, of patience, of grit, of learning how little we really need in life and how personally understanding what might be the foundations of happiness in the sense that in the suspension of my normal self, I’ve experienced a complete loss of control. Occasionally, I joked that I feel like a hapless puppet. When Blacky calls, when he comes out, I must go and I have experienced such a loss of control as a kind of a freedom, as a kind of a joy. But most of all, it has taught me this as well, my wealth and the power that undeniably goes with it, derives from it, has been pretty worthless in this case. Blacky has not revealed himself to me no matter what I do. And by this, he has taught me more about humility than all my other teachers combined.

0:19:29.0 Rohini: By taking his non-appearances personally, I make myself vulnerable, open, and Blacky entreats me to surrender to a grace not defined in material terms. I’m invited into another realm of possibility. In every sense, of course, it has also exposed my own privilege and my own sense of that privilege. In a pandemic here when most people have had other problems, I have not had to worry about things like the cost of my visits. I can leave at a moment’s notice, my hapless driver in tow. I can reschedule my meetings. I can even change other people’s plans. Unfortunately, and sadly, access to the forest in the safari have become an elite privilege. It is expensive and time consuming. I have to share one heartbreaking experience. Not a kilometre from the gate that the forest department controls all entry. The buffer zone is dotted with many hamlets. The little children watch us all coming out onto the road. We look so alien, so aspirational, and we take off joyfully in our Jeeps while they can just wave to us from the roadside. Sometimes I take storybooks for them, especially this year, as they have really suffered through school closures. They take the books happily, but they plead with me…

[foreign language]

0:20:48.3 Rohini: We want to go on safari. Sure, the villagers have extricated some livelihood opportunities related to tourism, but they themselves cannot get in, to marvel at the forest which they help to conserve. And ironically, the opposite is true of the tribal communities who live even closer to the forest, sometimes inside the forest and have access to its resources such as honey or gooseberry and other things. They cannot experience other basic conveniences that we take for granted outside the forest, be it running water or a choice of cuisine. All this has forced me to rethink my priorities for my environmental philanthropy. Recently, I signed an MOU with Nagarhole Conservation Foundation to start giving forward to Kabini and its people but a small portion of what I have so blessedly received. All in all, I feel as though I have been exposed to all the wisdoms locked in all the self-help books in the world all at once, and now I must dedicate myself to internalizing those lessons better. People ask, what happens if and when I meet Blacky at last? The truth is that I do not know. I meet many people in the forest who keep chasing Blacky, no matter how often they have seen him.

0:22:10.5 Rohini: Maybe my journey will follow their path from ase which is hope to nirase which is disappointment and back to ase again, and then to durase, which is greed. Kariya may call again and again, and I may respond again and again. But as the classic Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White reminds us, “We are constrained by lifespans. Time is draining away on both sides of this equation of no name.” I do hope I can meet my mystery friend soon, but if I do not, I salute him. He has enriched my life beyond measure. I will redouble my efforts to help secure ecosystems that support the diversity of life, especially in India. After all, as Leo Tolstoy put it, “One of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between man and nature shall not be broken.” This is so true in this year of the pandemic with the zoonotic diseases that we have begun to understand. And why is this even a story worth telling? Because somewhere in it I hope there is the same redeeming quality that describes so much of literature.

0:23:23.1 Rohini: There is the sense of a better future because it is so good to know that all of us together, actually, we have nurtured a space for a vulnerable animal like Blacky, who has to work so hard to camouflage himself from prey and predator. He has a fighting chance to live out his full life. John Muir, the founder of the US-based conservation NGO, the Sierra Club famously said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” It’s often quoted, but remains my go-to quote always. More than ever, I would love to reach out to all of you to say, please, please, immerse yourselves in your own way, in the deep mystery of this interconnectedness of all living beings. After all, Blacky, Kariya is only a symbol. We are the possibility. Thank you and Namaste.

0:24:43.9 Usha: Thank you, Rohini for taking us along on that magical, mystical journey and sharing some of your very deep personal feelings and also making the journey objective, bringing up many objective aspects of man’s interrelationship with the forest and with wild animals. So in your search for this elusive black panther which is a quirk of nature, you had the opportunity to kind of draw into yourself, you had the opportunity to forest bathe, to absorb so many other aspects of the forest. You had time to introspect. So the journey is something that came out, the kind of wonderful journey that you had, and this of course brings to mind the poem by Constantine Cavafy, that is Ithaka, that basically the… It is the journey, the adventures that you have, the delights that you find on the journey, that is the point, the point of life rather than just arriving at the destination. He says, “Hope your road is a long one. May there be many summer mornings when, with what pleasure, what joy, you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time. Keep Ithaca always in your mind. Arriving there is what you’re destined for. And don’t hurry the journey at all. Better if it lasts for years.”

0:26:26.1 Usha: So what is this… If you could tell us a little more about this elusive quest. What set you off on it and is there some kind of wish that maybe you don’t meet him at all… This is… If this is going to be a work of fiction, who would not meet? We kind of draw it out with the longing and the possibilities, but maybe the two would not meet. So would the magic be over if you met, actually met Blacky and are you actually willing yourself not to meet him?

0:27:01.2 Rohini: Thank you first of all, Usha, for being here. Thank you BIC. So we won’t dwell too much on… Because I’ve tried to speak of my journey, but thanks for reading out Ithaka, because it’s really true. It’s that whole idea of delayed gratification and prolonging, you know, prolonging that point of meeting because the journey is so important in itself. So you’re quite right. I do worry whether the magic will just break because as I said, he’s just another black cat you know. [chuckle] But on this way, and I don’t know why I have not met him, but maybe next week, who knows, that it’s always imminent and around the corner. And many people have felt this kind of thing. People have chased… I’ve met people who have chased their first tiger for 30 years, 35 years before they see their first tiger. Something makes us go after something and build a story around it and it’s really fascinating the way human beings can do that with another species all together that they don’t even understand so well.

0:28:00.2 Usha: Yes and which doesn’t know that you’re there waiting to see, which adores… Which you adore.

0:28:07.3 Rohini: Clueless. They’re usually completely clueless, though there are many fable stories. And in this journey, I’ve also been researching all this. And in fact, I’ll quote later Radhika Govindrajan’s book, which I found because it was shortlisted for The New India Foundation Prize this year, which was announced here at the festival yesterday, in fact. And I was reading this book she calls Animal Intimacies, which I read actually after I shot that video. And she talks really marvelously all across India, how people create stories around animals, the fables, their deep interrelationships with all kinds of animals, both domestic and wild. It’s really fascinating this historical interconnectedness and interrelatedness that people accept often.

0:28:58.8 Usha: Okay. We must catch up with Radhika’s book. Now, to move on to another aspect of your presentation, you brought up… Opened up another important front or a point that concerns all of us and that is there is this sense of our having confronted our own mortality. This year, the year of the pandemic, you say that you’ve had the opportunity to go so many times into the Kabini forest, but the thing is, the pandemic is not yet behind us. And this year, all of us, the whole… Everybody all over the world, we have been exposed together, so to say, to the terror of nature and we seem to have arrived at a tipping point. We have to decide to make adjustments. We have to become better eco citizens. Just this morning, there was this… The UN Chief has underscored the urgency of it. He says, “It’s time to declare climate emergency and shape greener growth after the pandemic.” So you have been involved in sustainability and conservation initiatives through Arghyam and through your various… Through your work with ATREE and other initiatives. So could you tell us something about your learnings or your reflections on the urgency of the situation? What can we as people do in our interactions with the planet, this big question.

0:30:35.5 Rohini: Yeah. Thank you for that. I’m not an expert, but I’m an enthusiast. So in my philanthropy, I support India’s marvelous NGOs who really blood, sweat, and tears is not enough. They work with communities across all the geologies, typologies, hydrologies, forest areas, deserts of this country to try and heal, heal this land, heal the water, heal our minds and hearts. And I really salute all of them and hope that more people can hear their stories. But I would say three quick things on this. It is genuinely true that all of us need to understand the level of emergency and urgency that we are facing because we have broken the connection between man and nature’s… Tolstoy points out to us, is a pre-requisite for everything. So there are 100 ways for us to reconnect, and this is a great time because we had so much time to reflect in this year on the connection between that tiny virus, the tiny virus that went from another species to us, and look, it has changed everything.

0:31:37.4 Rohini: The good news from that is that we have… Some of these myths that we used to have, “Arey, this economic model, how can we change it? How can we change a high carbon economy to a low carbon economy? How can we change to a low water economy, blah, blah, blah.” Well, we have learnt how quickly human beings can change. Though we were so scared, we can’t, right? Now, how will we sustain that possibility of change is something we’re going to have to confront, pandemic or no pandemic. What’s going to happen in India, for example, if the modeling is true, with climate change already at our door, with water, with forest, with everything, with people’s livelihoods, which is with just the health itself is not something to sneeze at. And we need our public policy to stay in tandem with the seriousness of the situation. Yes, we want economic growth but we need to be more mature to understand that the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the ecology as they say. We don’t have time to dwell on that more, so I’ll quickly come to a positive point. I think there’s a lot of hope.

0:32:41.4 Rohini: I think young people don’t want to be left with this horrible legacy that we have left for them. And I see a post-consumption generation rising, who are much counting their carbon, who are understanding the relationship between their future and the environment. And I’m very hopeful that that is going to create many creative energies that are going to get unleashed to rewrite our relationship with both animals and the environment in general. So last point, everyone can get involved, even if it means you don’t forget to squeeze out the last part of your toothpaste. That thing will probably still land up in the ocean, but at least your journey of mindfulness will have begun. So sorry to be preachy on that, but we have no choice left. Honestly, we don’t.

0:33:28.0 Usha: Right. Yes, that did come through. No, the connections came through in your presentation. It was fun, and you’re chasing something, an animal, and then you bring all these other aspects into it. And I’m glad you mentioned young people and that they are going to inherit the planet that after we have finished with it. Now, this black panther, he’s called Blacky, Kariya. That it’s very matter of fact, it is so literal. There is a kind of child-like simplicity about the way this… They make no bones about it whoever has named this animal. So now, you are an established author of children’s books. Your Sringeri Srinivas stories that you’ve written for Pratham Books have been translated into several languages. And you have now ventured on a… With a for-profit publisher, the Juggernaut and you have The Hungry Little Sky Monster. You are also associated with Pratham, you are the founder chairperson, and which…

0:34:39.5 Rohini: Of Pratham, of Pratham Books.

0:34:41.4 Usha: Yeah, of Pratham Books, yeah, sorry. I don’t know what I said. Yes, Pratham Books. And you have been involved with it. It is a non-profit and you have emphasized the fact that there should be a book in every child’s hands. Now, if you were to spin Blacky, Kariya’s story out for children and you have all the other concerns also that you mentioned in this talk, this journey that you took us on, how would you play it out for children, for small children or even young adults because it’s so important… Since they are going to inherit the planet, it’s so important that they be made aware of things. But at the same time, it has to be fun, you know you can’t sermonize, and it’s important that we catch their imagination, and we carry them along with us. So would you like to talk about that? How would you write it for children?

0:35:41.1 Rohini: Well, thanks Usha. I’m actually hoping to convert this into something for children, because it’s so important and… You know, this. It’s very hard to write for children without being preachy, oversimplistic, talking down to them, in all kinds of things. You really have to find a child in yourself, and you often don’t succeed at all. You still publish your books, but you don’t succeed. So it’s going to take a long time, but I do wish to write it. But that leads me to say, Usha, as you know, and maybe you can help me write it, but… Because after all, you wrote in Monkey-Man. You wrote a lot about this… You wrote about how the relationship… Those monkeys, which came out in Delhi, and how you brought it out beautifully in your book too. How the mystery, and you know… That’s how it needs to be written, so I’m gonna come to you only. But it’s true that we need much more literature, Usha, for young children. Lots is happening, okay, in the last 20 years, amazing, not just Pratham Books, which by the way I left five years ago, and Suzy and the team have taken it to newer and greater heights, marvelous. But many more publishers have also come in. Juggernaut’s first children’s line is out. So lot’s of exciting…

0:36:49.0 Usha: Lots of writing for children, that’s right. There’s a lot of Indians writing… Indian writing for children that’s coming out.

0:36:55.7 Rohini: So much more. And it’s so important that young children today, we need a reading nation. That’s what helps people to do critical analysis and to really understand the 100 million shades that exist between black and white, right? That is what literature can do for children like it did for us when we were growing up. So I really hope that festivals like this, the Bangalore Literature Festival, and others, now there are children’s literature festivals, it’s really important that we continue this journey today. There’s a… This year there’s a profusion of Indian authors, which I read a lot of. So things are looking good. We need to become a nation of readers no matter if there are other distractions of technology. And I’m sure you agree with that. You’re an author who has written so many great books.

0:37:41.2 Usha: Thank you. Well, thank you, Rohini, for this lovely, unusual interaction. And despite your not being present here, I think you made a very pointed and…

0:37:55.8 Rohini: Sorry, I can’t hear that. I can’t hear that.

0:37:56.3 Usha: Or excellent, engaging, delightful presentation.

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