Sanctuary's Assistant Editor Anirudh Nair reviews Swati Thiyagarajan’s Born Wild.
By Swati Thiyagarajan
Paperback, 233 pages, Rs. 496/-
Environmental reporter Swati Thiyagarajan’s words in Born Wild have the same earnestness as her voice on NDTV’s one-of-its kind, award-winning series. What she achieves brilliantly through this book, as her editor Pranoy Roy mentions in the foreword, is connecting the dots between our everyday choices and resultant ecological damage, which we view as another person’s problem. And what she reinforces and stays with you is – it is not so much the livelihood choices of the few living close to our forests, as it is the lifestyle choices of the majority living far from it that is at the root of the all-too-familiar distressing contemporary narrative of planet Earth.
Gifted with sensitivity to see all animals (including a catfish!) as individuals, the book is filled with stories of Thiyagarajan’s fascinating wild encounters, many in journalistic pursuit for her show of the same name as the book. She introduces species, occasionally individuals, across chapters, while laying bare stark realities, but doesn’t conclude before offering if not always solutions, at least ideas that spell hope. She writes about tigers, gorillas, lions, leopards, sloth bears, elephants, pelicans, Painted Storks, penguins, olive Ridleys, sharks, crocodiles, seals, reminding us of how incredibly lucky we are to share our planet with these wonderful beings and what we are set to lose if we do not take collective steps to protect them and their habitats.
Thiyagarajan goes back and forth from India to Africa, perceiving conservation issues in isolation, maintaining an informative, urgent tone, and driving points home with facts. Her extensive travels enable an objectivity that never loses sight of larger, looming environmental catastrophes. Testament to over 20 years of writing and reporting for television is her crisp prose, which makes it difficult to put down the book without finishing a chapter.
Reading about her childhood reminiscences interspersed throughout the book; one wishes for more Uncle Siddharths in our world to make us warriors for the wild in the same mould as Thiyagarajan. Remarkably revelatory and delightfully anecdotal, Born Wild is as fiercely individualistic as the title suggests.
Reviewed by Anirudh Nair
First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVII No. 10, October 2017.