The Jungle Books

The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) is a venerable institution. Through their various books and journals, they have done much to encourage enthusiasts and scholars to study Indian fauna. Started in 1883 by a group of eight members who met occasionally to exchange notes and "exhibit interesting specimens", the decision to "otherwise encourage one another" has borne spectacular fruit!

One of the main objectives of the BNHS is conservation, and in the "125 years of its existence, its commitment has been, and continues to be, the conservation of India's natural wealth, protection of the environment and sustainable use of natural resources for a balanced and healthy development for future generations. The Society's guiding principle has always been that conservation must be based on scientific research - a tradition exemplified by its late president, Dr. Sálim Ali."

They have a vibrant publication program, with a range of books that are both useful and important. Many of these are already listed on the Scholars websit, as for instance the Book of Indian Butterflies by Isaac Kehimkar, Salim Ali's Book of Indian Birds and so on...

Next month will see the launch of Living Jewels from the Indian Jungle by Ashok Kothari and Boman Chhapgar. The book of 204 pages includes 90 rare paintings and sketches of Indian flora and fauna and descriptions of India's wildlife heritage published during the early 19th century. This a compilation of articles on topics like tigers in Mumbai, in localities like Malabar Hill, Mahim, Byculla, Kurla and Mazgaon, lions near Delhi in Haryana and elephants in the forests of south Gujarat.

The Mumbai newspaper DNA had this to report:

Speaking about the book, Dr Kothari said, "This book is dedicated to the memory of the many beautiful animals of India like pink-headed duck that are now extinct. It is important that at least the remaining wildlife is preserved." In one of the articles, Valley of Deyra Doon, Captain Mundy describes the valley and the denizens of an unspoiled forest in 1822.

Among other articles and real life adventures are discovery of Amhertia Nobilis by N Wallich, article on glory lily by Lt Col Kanhoba Ranchhoddas Kirtikar, man-eating tigers of Nagpore, Vansda and Toongareshwer and wildlife around Mumbai. The book also talks about the traditional g
reen culture of India wherein there are temples dedicated to deities like Tiger God. The pictorial book also reveals the pristine beauty of Bhor (Khandala) Ghat and Mount Abu 200 years ago. The prints are from Plantae Asiatic Rariores by Nathaniel Wallich (1786-1854), Illustrations of Botany by Forbes Royle (1799-1858), Illustrations of Himalayan Plants by J D Hooker (1817-1911), Illustrations of Indian Ornithology by T C Jerdon (1811-1872), Oriental Memoirs by James Forbes (1812-13), Scenery Costumes and Architecture on the Western Side of India by Captain Robert Melville Grindlay (1826), Oriental Field Sports by Thomas Williamson (1808), Curry and Rice by Captain George Atkinson and from old issues of BNHS journals.

The rare paintings and sketches, whose colours are still intact, are the work of nearly thirty artists including J P Irani, Gorachand, Vishnupersaud, Rungiah, Captain Grindlay, John Clark, J F Cathcart, J B Hogarth, James Forbes, Captain Mundy, William Griffith, William Kuhnert, William Westall and O F Tassart. The oldest painting is from Oriental Memoires and was painted in 1779.

Kothari and Chhapgar's earlier historical book of Natural History is Treasures of Indian Wildlife. "This book brings together articles, drawings, and paintings from valuable old books, journals, and gazetteers in the collection of the Bombay Natural History Society. The historical writings of wildlife and bird enthusiasts of the past paint a vivid picture of India's rich flora and fauna, in urgent need of protection today. Paintings, mostly of birds, and lithographs and sketches of animals and trees, scenery and monuments, many of which are recognized as classics of their type, are mainly the work of eminent European wildlife artists of the 19th and early 20th centuries. In a substantial section at the end of the book, gleanings from the miscellaneous notes section of early issues of the Journal of the BNHS provide lively snippets of information on species as wide-ranging as red ants, mongoose, minitor lizard, python, cobra, cheetah, and darter. With the descriptive text and stunning visuals, this volume, like its predecessor Sálim Ali's India, will be a prized possession for anyone with an interest in India and its natural history."

  In hardcover, 216 pages, Rs 1900. ISBN: 978019567728.