Sanctuary Asia’s Cara Tejpal, head of Mud on Boots project, reviews The Vanishing by Prerna Singh Bindra.
By Prerna Singh Bindra
Published by Penguin Random House India
Hardwork; 313 pages;
Price: Rs. 599/-
I could sum up The Vanishing with a single line from within its pages, but I fear my editor would deem this lazy rather than succinct. It’s just as well then that I promised author Prerna Singh Bindra a studied review.
As a wildlife conservationist and writer, Bindra has made a name for herself as much for her fearless journalism as for wearing her heart on her sleeve, pointedly ignoring the stoic “only science, no emotions, madame” attitude of conservation’s old boys club. Thus, the cocktail of wonder, fury and science inherent in The Vanishing is expected, signature Bindra, and grants fresh impetus to India’s struggling conservation movement.
Through the 300 odd pages of the book, Bindra uses the decline of charismatic keystone species such as the tiger, elephant, gharial and Great Indian Bustard as the pivot from which to detail the annihilation of diverse habitats across the country. The truth about a million and one scams and suspicious green clearances are liberally littered across every chapter, informed by Bindra’s own tenure as an independent member of the Standing Committee of the National (or as she calls it, “Notional”) Board for Wildlife. We learn how wildlife clearance for the proposed 800 MW Kol Dam that would submerge parts of the Majathal Wildlife Sanctuary was rejected again and again, but a site visit revealed that more than 50 per cent of the dam had already been constructed, hundreds of trees felled and thousands of crores sunk. We balk at the audacity of the government to translocate tigers to the Panna Tiger Reserve and then decide to drown it under the Ken-Betwa River Linking Project. A project for which the Environment Impact Analysis report claimed only 32,900 trees would be cut, but upon questioning, the figure was revised to 13.96 lakh trees! We cringe with the knowledge that our beloved Goa refuses to accept the presence of tigers in its forests because it could jeopardise the gains of mining companies. We wonder at the hypocrisy that has compelled Rajasthan to name the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard its state bird, even as it labels its habitat as wastelands. And yes, public ignorance is as shameful as political treachery. So we weep for the elephant that died in agony in a field in Assam, and upon its death had the words “Dhan Chor Bin Laden” – Paddy Thief (Osama) Bin Laden – scribbled onto its body; and for the terrified leopard that was charred to a crisp – doused in kerosene and set ablaze in Uttarakhand, even as forest guards tried to control the mob. It is true that this is not a happy book, a great sense of grief infuses its pages, but heartache is the price one must pay to see the reality of what we are wreaking on our natural world.
While Bindra’s work is meticulous and detailed – even investigative, I have a bone to pick with her publisher who hasn’t exercised the same talents. The book has an irritating number of typos and errors. So many that I double-checked to ensure I wasn’t reading a pre-release copy for review. A little editing wouldn’t be amiss either, just enough to make those meandering sentences easier to digest and allow for the lovely bits of prose to be appreciated.
As I turned the last page of The Vanishing, I came to the conclusion that this is, above all else, a brave book. Bindra doesn’t hold her punches, nor does she shirk the burden of carrying a nation’s environmental blunders upon her back. No, I don’t think many people will have the stomach for the reality check this book delivers, but that isn’t going to stop me from recommending it. Oh! And the single line review I alluded to in the beginning, here it is: “If it weren’t heartbreakingly tragic, it would be rip-roaringly funny.”
Reviewed by Cara Tejpal, First publshed in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVIII No. 12, December 2018.