How do you describe the importance of fishing so as to not overfishing the rivers and seas? In communities living in wary coexistence with dangerous and deadly animals, whose livelihoods depend on harvesting forest produce, how do you convey the importance of ecological preservation? How do you impress upon the need for sustainable logging practices and forest management, to prevent the denudation of forests on the mountains from where rivers flow? In short, how do you convey the actionable ideas of science such that they dictate the behaviours of the community and the individual?
Through myths and legends, fables and folktales, stories have been important mediums used by ancient cultures to communicate complex ideas and scientific principles. As Nalini Ramachandran, in her book Gods, Giants & the Geography of India, writes, ‘there is a fair amount of scientific truth hidden in these tales…they describe how certain geographical events occurred years ago or how specific places came to exist.’ She picks myths and folktales from across the country to showcase its diverse landscape, cultural beliefs, and how the stories were used to convey important messages on creation, preservation and destruction. Each chapter begins with a rendition of a myth local to a community or region, which is followed by a section on ‘Connecting the dots’, where the messages of the story are contextualized to traditions, cultures and the language of modern science. In discussing the messages of these ancient tales, she also calls attention to issues the modern world faces such as environmental degradation and climate change. Communities would use stories and traditions tied to cultural norms and divine interventions to pass messages of science, evolution, sustainable practices and conservation down generations. Reconnecting with these stories provides not just a way for young readers to engage with culture and history, but also a way to understand how communities have interacted with their environment.