A heritage chatram (rest house) near the historic Perur Patteeswarar temple lights up on a quiet evening with displays of arresting images, and conversations, all themed on wildlife and Nature. “The langurs, squirrels and caterpillars live in the magic house, the forest. How can you snatch it away from them?” asks environmental activist Bittu Sahgal at his talk while inaugurating Vaiyam, a curated display of images clicked across the world by photographers from the region.
Bittu Sahgal is among India’s pioneering conservation and environment journalists, who started the publication of Sanctuary Asia in 1981, after being involved with India’s tiger conservation efforts in the 1970s. As he peppers his talk with references to the jungle as nadhi ka maa (mother of river) and the orange black striped big cat as ‘striped water god’ revered by ancestors, he says, “We tell such stories to children during Kids for Tigers, an environmental education programme for schools that reaches out to millions of students. I want to apologise to the younger generation for handing over a wounded planet.”
The environmental activist says that his generation has tampered with the “infrastructure of Nature”, the mountains, hills, and water bodies. “Oceans have been destroyed, mountains ravaged, grasslands have vanished, and the glaciers are melting fast. It is time for artists, storytellers, performing artistes to use art to tell people what can be done to repair the planet.”
He also spoke on the ecological implications of dams constructed across rivers. “The cost benefit ratios of the existing dams have not been fulfilled but more dams are being built. Fight climate change, generate jobs, improve GDP, and repair dams that aren’t working.”
Artists have to change human ambitions towards obeying the biosphere and learning to live with Nature. “I have read poems of Wordsmith and also the Rig Veda. All our inspirations, art, dance forms, and crafts originates from Nature. Got to a forest and look at a plant, and all your troubles will go away.”
Expressing hope, he says the biosphere is a self repairing machine and the whole planet is designed to bounce back. He adds, “The ocean, corals, and the forest will restore itself if we don’t degrade it further.”
The exhibition is organised by Coimbatore Creative Collective (CCC) along with Kumaraguru College of Liberal Arts and Science. Vaiyam showcases as many as 100 photographs, from aerial shots of mammals and birds in the wild to landscapes and on animal behaviour. “With events like this, the CCC aims to put Coimbatore in the art space,” says Aakash Selvan from the collective.