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A pioneering book gives children a peep into the world of birds

Birds are a miracle because they prove to us there is a finer, simpler state of being which we may strive to attain. This is the opening quote by Douglas Coupland in Familiar Birds of Sanawar.

FAMILIAR BIRDS OF SANAWAR

Authored by: Students of the Lawrence School, Sanawar

Published by: Sanawar Nature Club

This book, brought out by the Sanawar Nature Club, includes a significant contribution by students of the Lawrence School, Sanawar. The school, situated in the lap of nature in the lower Himalayan Region of Himachal Pradesh, is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year. As Headmaster Himmat S. Dhillon has stated in his introductory remarks, the school, arguably the oldest co-educational boarding school in Asia (if not the world) takes pride in the highly diverse flora and fauna on its premises, and the book is a reflection of this. The involvement of students in such a venture over a period of several months brought them closer to the world of birds. The children’s contribution includes beautiful art work and sketches of birds.

As many as 62 birds are described in this colourful and beautifully produced book. Two pages are devoted to each bird. A physical description and notes on habitat, range and call are included. Each entry is illustrated by beautiful photographs and sketches. Lawrence School fosters a close and abiding relationship with its alumni (some of whom also contributed recently to a tree-planting drive) and they have drawn from their memories of the school and its surroundings to contribute to the book too. Teachers and other staff members have also added to its richness.

The environmental harm to the Himalayan Region is a matter of concern, particularly as such harm is largely avoidable – a very large number of trees have been axed to widen the Parwanoo-Dharampur highway (part of the Parwanoo-Shimla highway) which is often used by students. People in nearby villages tell distressing stories of how their lives have been adversely affected by the loss of tree cover and consequent landslides. Each tree lost also means loss of shelter to several birds. It is important to understand the link between the losses suffered by rural communities and by birds.

The use of pesticides has also affected birdlife badly. Rachael Carson voiced grim and evidence-based warnings regarding the harm caused to birds in her classic book, The Silent Spring, and the situation has only worsened, not just in relation to birds, but also to other important pollinators like bees and butterflies. Guidelines are needed on how to minimise the harm to nature in the next edition of The Familiar Birds of Sanwar.

The Lawrence School already has rich experience in serving rural communities in diverse ways and recently received an award for helping stranded migrant workers and other distressed persons in the early phase of the pandemic. It is hoped that this pioneering work will encourage students to be more conscious of the need to protect birds and nature in general. Such efforts will bear even more fruit if farmers, women and elders in nearby rural communities are motivated to learn more about local birds and about biodiversity.

(Reviewed by Bharat Dogra.)

October – December 2022

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