Unearthed: An Environmental History of Independent India


There couldn’t be a better audience than the youngsters for a book on the environment. If the youth are the harbingers of change, it is they who will have to care more about the earth and the environment. This new book on India’s environmental history is a commendable work simply for the reason that it is written for children.

 ‘Unearthed: An Environmental History of Independent India’ by Meghaa Gupta chronicles the country’s historic movements and important green missions since 1947. From the Green Revolution to the National Action Plan on Climate Change, the book’s timing too is apposite. Coming as it is at the time of a pandemic, the paperback meets the need for a rudimentary look on India’s environmental journey since independence.

As the blurb says, ‘protesting against dams, protecting tigers, hugging trees, saving seeds, making room for elephants, battling mountains of waste, fighting air pollution, coping with soaring temperatures-India and its people have shared a remarkable relationship with the environment.’ That connection is what Meghaa explores so vividly in the two hundred plus page book.

Meghaa Gupta’s rendezvous with environmentalism began in 2013 when she was commissioned to compile a book on environmental courses and careers for students in India. From passionate teachers and students to eminent professionals, this journey exposed her to the fascinating work being done in this field. Besides contributing to WWF-India’s One Planet Academy, her writings have also appeared in TerraGreenCareers360 and The Hindu.

Deeply interested in exploring how young people relate to the natural world, the book begins with Cyril Radcliffe’s’ portrayal of the dividing line between India and Pakistan. Then she picks up some landmark movements we have been witness to.

Interspersed with piles of trivia, tales of eco-heroes, and amusing cartoons, this easy-to-read account uncovers the story of a past with the optimism that, someday or other, we will rewrite India’s future. Carefully researched and lucidly written, Meghaa’s book covers a wide range of theme -forests, agriculture, and air and water pollution. The narrative is balanced and conclusive.  ‘Unearthed’ is a book for all ages and particularly those who want an impression of India’s environmental challenges.

Tracing key events in India’s environmental history, the book talks about the environmental impact of the events in the countryside. Be it the Green Revolution, or Bhopal Gas Tragedy or the water crisis in Chennai, the book is sequential documentation of the incidents. Complete with illustrations and profiles of those working in the domains with years of expertise, there is a bit for everyone in the book.

Bittu Sehgal, one of India’s foremost environmentalists and editor of Sanctuary Asia magazine, says in the foreword: “the book should be essential reading not only for children but also our political and corporate leaders. Understanding the history of this country post-Independence is vital. We cannot blame our current environmental crisis on our colonial past alone. An acknowledgment and deeper understanding of where we have gone wrong will hopefully help us forge a new chapter in our country’s environmental path – one in which we opt for small and micro-hydel schemes instead of large dams, one that relies on sustainable land-use practices to improve agriculture, one that appreciates the immense biodiversity values of our wildernesses, one that chooses to develop ‘nature capital’ rather than exhaust it”.

Children being the most powerful agents of change, they could only transform and undertake the task of reversing the ecological deterioration. This book is a guide to such tasks.Meghaa Gupta’s book (Puffin Books) has done a tremendous job of capturing complex history in easily readable language. Plentiful and strident illustrations by Aditi Shastry makes the book even more gorgeous.

While the book’s object readership is the teens, even the adults will be shocked how little they know about various facets of India’s encounter with its environmentalism. The beauty of the book is that it manages to cover several aspects like the milk revolution, the green revolution, and the nuclear debate. It offers multiple perspectives – historical, economic, business challenges, engagement, political clumsiness, and more.

The book escorts readers on how to perceive a historic ecological movement like the Sardar Sarovar agitation from various angles. What it basically achieves is it make the readers know and appreciate about immense sacrifices of activists who have given up plush careers to take on powerful political and business lobbies in their fight for Nature and justice for people affected by it.

‘Unearthed’ should be made a mandatory textbook in high schools in India so that the gen-next can fathom the severity of the situation. The need of the hour is to keep abreast of the challenges on the environment front and books like this can certainly become handy.

 ‘Unearthed: An Environmental History of Independent India’

Meghaa Gupta

Puffin Books/Penguin Random House



Rs 299

 Bhaskar Parichha is a journalist



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