Bangalore Wilderness

The Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore occupies a very special place in the academic landscape of India. Famous, and justly so, it is one of those institutions in our country that one can be proud of, one can rely upon for a certain basic standard and quality, and one that we can hold up to the rest of the world as an example of what is possible in India...

The IISc (known locally as the Tata Institute) occupies a huge tract of land near Malleswaram in Bangalore. The campus is a fairly unique place that has been protected from the rapid development which the rest of the city of Bangalore has seen. Having been a visitor to that campus innumerable times in the past forty or so years, I have spotted the occasional scorpion, the odd chameleon, the unusual bird...Even today, it retains some wild spaces and native vegetation. Its plant community has been modified and added to over the years, fostering an unusual diversity in both plants and animals.

One of their recent Ph D students, Natasha Mhatre, took full advantage of this diversity. An avid and superb photographer, she stalked the wild (and not so wild) life that inhabits the campus as she pursued her research ... The spectacular result is "Secret Lives: Biodiversity of the Indian Institute of Science campus", a book of photographs of the campus wildlife.

"But the photographs are only the beginning. The book is also a quick whistle-stop tour of many ideas in ecology and evolutionary biology. Unlike other books on biodiversity, Secret Lives does not contain lists of all the birds, animals, insects or plants on campus. The book instead has chapters that read like a list of the bare necessities of life, 'Habitat', 'Food', 'Water', 'Sex' , 'Babies', etc. They describe the ideas that biologists have had through the years about these different aspects of life, why and how these ideas came to be as they are; the general theories in biology."

Dr Mhatre's academic research is on crickets, the sounds they make, and how that influences behaviour. Her credentials as a photographer are impressive. She was winner of the National Wildlife Federation Photo Awards 2007, and the Ecotone & GNAPE Living Light Photography competition, and placed third as Sanctuary Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2006.

No mean achievements, any of these. And the book speaks for itself. In our Natural History section. Hardcover, 230 pages. Rs 1500.

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