Who is TR Shankar Raman, the author of The Wild Heart of India? This is not a question I ask, it is a question that the author himself is confronted with as he chances upon an old essay written as a schoolboy while visiting his childhood home in Mylapore, Chennai. ‘…and who am I? Shankar, the birdwatcher-scientist walking the woods, or Sridhar, spontaneous writer…?’ As I finished reading the epilogue—, I sighed and muttered to myself, ‘He is both, and something more—an exemplary student and practitioner of philosophia naturalis, the dying art of philosophical exploration of the natural world.’ The result of this trifecta is a delightful and equally impactful book, one that for me will be a classic. The book is delightful because it perhaps is the finest natural history writing to have emerged from India in recent decades, it is impactful because rather than merely shock and horrify the reader with the appalling state of our natural world through numbers, data and statistics as most conservation writing tends to do these days, Shankar Raman goes a leap forward to engage with the underlying humanity of nature and the oft forgotten, yet omnipresent, presence of nature in humanity. He achieves this through prose that is beautifully elegant and eloquent, and yet so simple and heart-warming in its message.
October 2020, volume 44, No 10