Category: Lifestyle

Nature in the City – Book review

Nature in the City

It’s not often that one comes across a non-fictional book that defies easy categorisation. Harini Nagendra’s ‘Nature in the City: Bengaluru in the Past, Present and Future‘ is one such book.

Yes, as the title suggests, the book is about Nature. But, unlike most books about Nature that look at Nature in a natural, untouched by human activities setting, this book is about how Nature is adopted within a highly urban area. Yes, there are quite a few books about trees in cities, but this is possibly one of the first attempts to analyse Nature as a whole within an urban setting.

As you start reading it, you realise that the book goes much beyond Nature. It looks at such varied topics as history, geography, religion, culture and entertainment within an urban setting, all keeping the context of Nature in mind.

The book draws primarily on the author’s extensive research in this space. Professor Nagendra is Professor of Sustainability at Azim Premji University, Bangalore and has authored multiple papers and books on this topic.

There is always the worry with books on such topics that it could drift into a drab, scientific exercise. It is to the author’s credit that this book avoids that trap and manages to retain a very human, familiar feel. The way the extensive material has been broken down into chapters also makes for an easy reading.

I would love to see similar books for other Indian cities as well.

 

How Much (or how little) Do We Really Know?

Globe and Ocean
Photo by Kenneth Carpina on Pexels.com

I know the title might sound very grandiose, but the idea of this article came about due to one of those interesting occurrences that happen occasionally and surprise and fascinate you. In this case, it was two fascinating visualisations that I came across yesterday.

I wrote about the first one yesterday. It’s a visualisation about the vastness of space and how infinitesimally small we are in the grand scheme of things.

Just a couple of hours after I wrote about this, I came across another visualisation. This one described the weird and almost unbelievable world that, some would say, we know less about than even space. These are the oceans that make up 70% of our planet and the amazing animals that live in its depths.

I did not know that Sperm whales could dive up to a kilometre below the surface of the ocean, or that there is a species of shark that spend their day at a depth of over 1.5 kilometres below the surface. Elephant seals can dive up to an incredible 2,400 metres below sea level. But the record holder is the Cuvier’s Beaked Whale that can dive up to a scarcely believable depth of 3 kilometres!

But that’s not the only fascinating trivia that you can find in this incredible visualisation. Around 6 kilometres below the surface of the ocean is where the Hadal Zone starts. And it’s humbling to read that more people have been to the moon than the Hadal Zone!

These two visualisations just made me realise how little we, as humans, know of the world immediately beyond the surface of our planet. It will be fascinating to learn more about these vast spaces as and when we gather more information. There is still so much to study and understand!

 

Western Art and Art Galleries

The Louvre
The Louvre

I gained an appreciation of art, especially visual art or paintings, from my time spent living abroad. For this, I will remain forever indebted to the fantastic Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. It was here that my wife and I had our first taste of ‘Western Art’ and we were hooked. Not only do they have a good permanent collection housed in a fabulous building in an idyllic setting, but they organise wonderful exhibitions periodically that are well worth the cost of admission. Most importantly, admission to the general galleries is free.

We were also lucky, while living in Australia, to get the chance to see some of the greatest European paintings at an exhibition organised by the National Gallery of Art, Canberra. I still vividly remember standing in front of Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Nights’ and being moved by the intensity of the painting (fair to say I was Starry Eyed!). It was at this ‘Masterpieces from Paris‘ exhibition that I was really exposed to and intrigued by the works of Impressionist artists such as Monet, Seurat as well as others such as Degas and Gauguin.

While on a short trip to Chicago, I managed to take some time off to visit the Art Institute of Chicago where I was able admire more works from masters such as Van Gogh and Picasso.

We then moved to London where we visited The National Gallery. Unfortunately, I only visited once, not enough to form any lasting impressions.

The next highlight on our Art exposure was a visit to Paris. Yes, of course, we visited The Louvre and got a chance to admire Mona Lisa without any major crowds. What stood out for me though was the sheer scale of the museum. I would have loved to spend days there, but we only had a few days to see Paris and we had to move on to other sights.

The Musee d’Orsay is a wonderful museum. It’s of a size that does not overwhelm and sees far fewer crowds than the Louvre. Which means that one can admire its unbeatable collection of Impressionist paintings in peace and at leisure. And, of course, we saw the famous Clock.

One of the highlights of our time in Paris was definitely the visit to Musee de l’Orangerie and seeing Monet’s Water Lilies collection in the Oval rooms. An unforgettable experience.

 

A South Indian Wedding Feast

Wedding Sadya
Looked and tasted delicious!

I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the wedding of a distant relative recently. Though it involved waking up early on a Sunday to make the trek right across town, it was worth it as we got to meet some family whom we have not met in a few years and, of course, to meet the couple and pass on our best wishes.

One of the highlights of any Indian wedding is definitely the wedding feast. And it was no different in this wedding either. The wedding was a Tamilian affair. But, as the bride’s family were from the state of Karnataka, the lunch turned out to be more of the Kannadiga style than the standard Tamilian sadya. So, while it did involve eating out of a banana leaf and lots of rice, there were quite a few other items on the menu that I did not recognise.

But that is not to say that it was not delicious. It most definitely was! In fact, as typically happens during a wedding lunch, I ended up eating so much that I was almost in a stupor afterwards! It was not helped by the fact that there were not less than three sweet items on the menu! The image above captures only a small portion of the food that was finally served (and consumed with relish :-)).

So a big thanks to my family members for kindly inviting us to the wedding!

 

The 21st century race to map India

atlas close up dark dirty
Photo by Aaditya Arora on Pexels.com

I have borrowed the title from an article published recently on Livemint. It’s not often that one comes across an article on maps in a mainstream publication, so I thought it warranted an article.

I have enjoyed ‘reading’ maps since my childhood days. Geography was one of my favourite subjects in school. I have not really thought about what is it that grabs my attention when it comes to maps. Is it the thrill of locating places on Earth, tracing the convoluted lines that demarcate nations or gaining perspective about the topography of our planet? I don’t know, but the pleasure I get by poring over a map has not diminished, though these days it’s mostly digital maps that I peruse.

One of the positives of this digital age is that maps have become so accessible these days? Almost everyone with a smartphone, I believe, will be accessing maps in some form – be it for their ride sharing service, food delivery, or just for locating the nearest restaurant. I wonder, though, if this increased exposure to maps would lead to greater interest in cartography. I recollect reading a book some time ago about the great exercise of mapping India undertaken in the 19th Century. I believe the book was John Keay’s ‘The Great Arc’ and it detailed the tremendous effort put in to create a more accurate map of the vast subcontinent.

Interestingly, I was looking for a word that describes someone who loves maps, but such a word does not seem to exist. If any of you know such a word, please do drop a comment!