Agasthya 6.2 Tales from wilderness
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Centre for Excellence in Conservation Science
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A social science researcher in a forest is essentially working with people rather than looking at plants and animals. Thus, personal conduct, especially with young women, becomes important if the researcher is male. All this while during fieldwork I had kept in mind Gandhi's advice to R.K. Narayan's protagonist in Waiting for the Mahatma. This was to the effect that in order to keep the senses in control one should lower one's eyes to the ground at the sight of an attractive woman. This was always a source of personal dejection. But this visit, I hoped, would be different. Since I was supposed to be observing plant-animal interactions instead of asking pesky questions of people, I felt I could be bolder.

Soon, however, I realised that ecology fieldwork is a lonesome exercise. For the first couple of days, the only women I saw were my female course-mates and course instructor. On the third day, I desperately hoped to espy some demure belle bathing in one of the forest streams. Determined to look looks, I felt like a martyr for a grand cause. Tragically though, despite craning my neck 360-degrees all day along the forest trail, the only thing I attracted was leeches in the dozens. In the end, I rested content with the picturesque butterflies in the KMTR field- guide, many of whose local names ended in azhagi (= beautiful woman). After prevaricating between Pon azhagi (Southern Birdwing) and Mayil azhagi (Common Banded Peacock), I eventually pledged my loyalty to the grand-sounding Naattu neela kannaadi azhagi (Common blue bottle) .

By this time, however, KMTR had me smitten. The thick forests and limpid waters sat as easily with the regimen of the tea plantations as with the mythological distinction of the Podhigai hills - the cradle of the Tamil language and the legendary Tamirabarani river. Academically, the trip was an occasion for valuable disciplinary integration. I began to recognise a different dimension of human interactions with the natural world, one that I had hitherto remained oblivious of. I can see the transition occurring in my thought- process, and hope it will reflect in the work that I intend to do in the future.

I do hope to go back to KMTR again. For plant-animal interactions and more. After all, hope springs eternal in the human breast!


Editorial Team
Editor: Allwin Jesudasan
Associate editor: Rajkamal Goswami
Editorial Review: R. Ganesan, M. Soubadra Devy, T. Ganesh
Design and presentation: Kiran Salagame

Volume 6,  Issue 2
      April 2012

A S H O K A   T R U S T   F O R   R E S E A R C H   I N   E C O L O G Y   A N D   T H E   E N V I R O N M E N T

Tales from wilderness
A Renegade Anthropologist in the Podhigai Hills
- R. Venkat Ramanujam
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