A wise man sees not the same tree a fool sees

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: At the top of the supplement meant for little children in this morning’s paper, I saw a quote by the poet William Blake that says, “A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.”

I could not help feeling how intensely true it is.

We see nature all around us and yet it is only a microscopic few of us who ponder over and try to understand what we see. There are dozens of trees, birds, animals, spiders and bees all around us but we hardly wonder over what roles they play in our lives.

It may seem like an overstatement but it is indeed true that there may not be more than a dozen school children in our city—or any City—who can correctly identify and tell us something about a dozen of our commonest butterflies that frequent our gardens and parks.

While most of the voluminous and often very drab textbooks that our youngsters lug around and study rather painfully, contain much pure science, it is sad that they have very little content that helps them to connect it to their daily lives meaningfully. The subject of studying our natural environment that surrounds us throughout our lives has been largely ignored in our school curriculum.

Right from their most formative years in school till they become fully integrated with and absorbed into the daily grind of their professional lives, most of our children never get a chance to develop an interest, let alone an insight, into nature.

It is a sad state of affairs today that many of our “toppers” who make our school and college managements and their parents proud do not have the slightest bit of essential general knowledge that many of their ‘not so bright’ class mates may have.

Another painful discovery that I have made is that in their enforced race to stay ahead of others, most of our brightest youngsters end up looking so dull and worn out, having missed out on all the extracurricular and leisure activities that they should have enjoyed to ensure overall development of their personalities.

Most of our schools, even the ones which call themselves elite and charge hefty fees, never have any provision to encourage activities like bird-watching, amateur astronomy, trekking and camping which are the ones that stimulate a sense of wonder and awareness in our youngsters.

It is perhaps an unusual coincidence that I have been spending the last two weekends in the lap of nature at two of the wildlife sanctuaries near our City as I often do and have been during the weekdays reading two very interesting books that deal a lot with nature.

The first book which I am actually re-reading as it is immensely readable is Down Memory Lane, the autobiography of our former minister and parliamentarian M.Y. Ghorpade whom most people with any interest in nature know better as an accomplished wildlife photographer and naturalist than as a capable politician.

The book describes the natural richness of Sandur, his home town in present day Bellary district and how it was by itself a pristine micro-ecosystem that is now being ravaged by our senseless exploitation of its mineral wealth. The book also throws much light on the rich wildlife in the area and the sense of values and virtues that prevailed in our society even in the not very distant past.

The second is a recently published book called The sprint of the Blackbuck by S. Theodore Baskaran which is actually a collection of the most readable essays picked up from Blackbuck, the official journal of the Madras Naturalists’ Society which has been published to mark the completion of 25 years of its existence.

It is a beautiful account of our varied fauna and flora with particular reference to South India with many anecdotes included which make it interesting even to youngsters.

The book effectively destroys many firmly ingrained myths about our “most dangerous” animals and throws much light on their role in maintaining the delicate ecological balance in our immediate environment. It begins with an introduction which recounts how the MNS with its 180 permanent members was able to help establish nature clubs in about 300 schools in Madras.

I feel that clubs like these must be made a mandatory requirement in all our schools to get children interested in ecology and natural history which will eventually make them better citizens with a heightened interest in conservation issues.

It will cost us next to nothing beyond a few teachers with the right kind of motivation and commitment. But the dividends are bound to be very rich as we would be awakening the sense of awe in our children when it is most likely to latch on and stay for the rest of their lives.

The move would be so welcome that I am sure sponsorship will flow generously if schools approach business houses and philanthropists with their proposals.

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News