Rose in a garden

View from India: A lesson from nature's bounty

Image credit: Dreamstime

Conservation of Mother Earth and respect to nature form the crux of documentaries that were showcased recently at the FutureFantastic AI and Arts Festival.

The Indian region of Ladakh conjures up images of picturesque landscapes, clear skies, highest mountain passes, adventure activities and ancient Buddhist monasteries. A sum of all this could be Ladakh for most of us but, like most things, there’s an exception; in this case Nordan, a Ladakhi teenager, could be singled out for his deep insight into the region. The documentary is an engaging story but what makes it compelling is that Nordan goes beyond the obvious. His curiosity about the place makes us feel as if we were there. He gives us a microscopic view of the area. From afar the Himalayas are lofty; in this film, one gets a close-up of the mountains along with their varied surfaces.

Coming to nature’s bounty, flowers seem to float along the clouds. We’re made aware that it takes a fistful of seeds to germinate into a plant; that which comes out of the earth goes back to the earth. What is taken for granted has turned out to be a visual delight. Beyond that, the film draws our attention to the smaller and even explored facets of nature. It is a sort of passage that connects people with nature and takes them to a higher realm. Naturally, this documentary came to be known as 'The Boy Who Saw More'. Nordan has probably set an example which could be emulated in other parts of the country. Where technology fits in is that this can be documented digitally; the data emerging from it can throw light on place, its habitation and even ecosystem. It can also be used as an educational tool for children to learn to protect nature and become sensitive to it.

The documentary ‘I am Here’ could change our perspective of animals that roam in the forests. This is an audio journey of some of the rarest sounds in the animal kingdom. In 15 minutes, the documentary packs in quite a few sounds. Each distinct, but commonly asking to be heard through sounds such as hoots and howls, chirrups and cackles, songs and snarls. Whether it’s the night parrot or the gibbon, they gently cajole us to hear them. In the stillness of the jungle, their sound stands out. There’s more to it: the title itself is evocative. 'I Am Here' is a message for people not to interfere with animal habitat. It is a call to humankind to put an end to cruelty towards animals and make us socially responsible.    

‘An Offering’ is a tender floral story of rosarian MS Viraraghavan and his wife, Girija Viraraghavan. As rose breeders, they’ve nurtured thousands of varieties of roses, rhododendrons, magnolias, camellias and fuchsias. Their delicate hues have attracted visitors from far and wide to their heritage home in Kodaikanal. It’s a labour of love. Viraraghavan, who grew up in Chennai, became an Indian Administrative Service officer after his Masters in Chemistry. He occupied various postings across districts of Andhra Pradesh, before settling down in Kodaikanal in 1980. The hill station in Tamil Nadu is suitable for breeding roses. Hybrid roses of several kinds, shapes and sizes are being nurtured by Viraraghavan and wife Girija, granddaughter of Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the first Vice President and the second President of India.

Rose thickets are spread over two acres and hybridising soft, creamy, or full bloom roses has been a journey of exploration. They have arrived at a rose without thorns, christened as Ahimsa or 'non violence'. Interesting tales reminiscent of the British Raj unfold. Sir George Watt (1851-1930), a surgeon with botanical interests, came to India and found R. gigantea, a wild rose in north-east India which resembled yellow magnolias. Around the same time, Sir Henry Collett (1835-1901) also found the same species in the Shan Hills in Burma. Sir Henry served the British Indian Army in Bengal, and fought in the first Anglo-Afghan war. He was also a botanist. Decades later, the couple distilled the essence of their expertise to create two large hybrid gigantea climbers, named after Sir George and Sir Henry. 

Roses are ornamental, their fragrance wafts through homes. Rose garlands are offered to deities in places of worship. There’s much more to these endearing petals. Roses aid biodiversity, they are food for insects and shelter for small mammals; roses enable birds with nesting sites and for certain bird species rose hips provide food during the autumn-winter months. Roses are bee friendly.  

All the documentaries have been made by Pankaj Singh, co-founder of Faraway Originals. “I’d like to share with people the way I see things and soak in experiences. This happens through the films. For instance, the night parrot is a rare bird found in Australia. I felt I could give it a voice to portray its beauty through the film,” said the filmmaker, who was present at the screening. Considering the bird was thought to be extinct for nearly a century, this could be a means for people to know about this cryptic species.

Singh has been working with the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust in Ladakh for many years. The exploration for the elusive animal went on for some time until he spotted it, followed by an insight into the landscape. Everything fell into place with Nordan; in whose voice we learn about snow leopards, along with a fresh perspective of Ladakh.

These films have been showcased at FutureFantastic AI and Arts Festival, conceptualised by BeFantastic in partnership with FutureEverything (UK). It is supported by The British Council’s India/UK Together Season of Culture and Rohini & Nandan Nilekani Philanthropies. The festival was held at the Infosys Science Foundation.

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