|This rock formation is 3.5 billion years old.|
In his search to capture the grand story of the formation of India, Pranay Lal leaves the reader bedazzled with details about why rocks in one place are different from those elsewhere, why forest diversity is distinct across regions, and why majority of peninsular rivers flow west to east. As one treads through the picture-littered pages of this journey, one realizes that there is more to everything than that meets the eye. No surprise, therefore, that the book makes a compelling case for revisiting many such places that one may have visited without getting a deeper sense of their outward appearances, as also for their contemporary relevance.
It goes to the credit of Pranay Lal for digging out essential lessons in contemporariness from the country’s rich natural history. It is for this reason that one should visit the 30-foot statue of Lord Vishnu, the Preserver, reclining peacefully beside a pool in the Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh. More than the statue, it is the green cover on the pool that holds special message. The top few inches of water is dominated by cyanobacteria, the oxygen producing bacteria that made complex life possible over several millennia. The fact that these bacteria produce 60 per cent of the world’s oxygen even today are reason enough for us to protect all ponds and lakes such that more of such bacteria thrive, making Vishnu rest in peace.
Spread over eleven chapters, Indica concludes the 4 billion years long journey of the planet with the arrival of Homo sapiens on the banks of the Indus. But it took another 50,000 years before the first human civilization arose along its banks. From then on, humans have only tried to lay control over nature and natural processes. That is indeed so, but in the story of evolution none of the living beings, including humans, have had any clear destiny or direction. Had natural processes not wiped out our competitors and predators, none of us and our ancestors would have been there. After all, humans are the most recent entrant in the evolutionary scene.
Eloquently written and profusely illustrated, the book offers a multi-disciplinary narrative on India’s deep natural history. The enthusiasm with which the author has shared his two decades of tireless pursuit can make a lay person connect with it as easily as a discerning reader. The easy-to-read text offers a lucid and accessible account of the complex science of evolution that is as much insightful as gripping. Indica has the potential to trigger renewed interest in geology and paleontology, the subjects that have long lost their sheen due to overt specialization. Pranay Lal has succeeded in demystifying the complexities of natural science much like what legendary David Attenborough did with his Life on Earth book series. Indica rightfully deserves a place on each book shelf.
Indica: A deep natural history of the Indian subcontinent
by Pranay Lal
Penguin/Allen Lane, New Delhi
Extent: 468, Price: Rs 999
First published in BLink, weekend supplement of BusinessLine on June 3, 2017