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Review by: Tania Kamath
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THE CROAK is a weekly environmental newsletter put out by the eCoexist team. It is the voice of the environment on its last legs, the final croak that can either be a plea for attention or a call of triumph as the frogs jump out of the well of ignorance and denial. Read more..
SAVING THE DALAI LAMA'S CRANES
'White crane lend me your wings.
I will not fly far.
From Lithang I shall return.'


Tsangyang Gyatso
The sixth Dalai Lama
The Black necked crane is considered to be an embodiment of the sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, by the Monpa community of Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh. The poem he wrote above, is considered to have given indication of his reincarnation and was used as a guide to find the next Dalai Lama. This migratory bird, is sacred to the Monpas and they look forward to its return every year as an auspicious sign. The cultural significance of the bird is so important to the Monpas that they have fought to protect it...from the impacts of large dams and sand mining. 
This weeks newsletter is a review of a childrens story book written by Neeraj Vagholikar, a Pune based environmentalist with over two decades of experience in the field of conservation. Neeraj started out life as an engineer, but his love for Nature and his exposure to environmentalism convinced him that a change of career was in order.
Neeraj has worked on the impact created by large dams in North East India, as an active member of the Kalpavriksh Environment Action Group. Lately he has been studying Buddhism at the University of Pune. 
Article: The Cranes Come Home Again to the Pangchen Valley!
About the book
For a ten year old growing up in a bustling city, who may have not yet traveled to the Himalayas and beyond , Arunachal Pradesh seems like a far away dreamland. In the imagination of a child, paradise may seem like a blessed place, where nothing ever goes wrong, but the community here has real problems and faces real threats to its environment. 
How is a child involved in confronting such issues? Can children have a say in what the adult world does to the future of their home? 
'Writing for children gives me a new medium of communication,' says Neeraj Vagholikar about his first childrens book. 'The story is fictional', he insists, 'even though it is inspired by real life events. While the idea to the write the book was incidental, it was the support I received from the Kalpavriksh team that encouraged me to try this. It is currently being translated into Tibetan and Kannada and is also available at the Tawang monastery.' 
'The book is meant for all children, not just those in Arunachal Pradesh', says Neeraj.'While we environmentalists frame issues in terms of our own concerns for biodiversity and natural resources, the cranes of Tawang are also historically and culturally important to the monks of Tawang who fight to protect their habitat because they consider them sacred. '
The water colours by Niloufer Wadia create excellent visuals to illustrate the story.
Book Review
There’s high drama up in the hills of Arunachal Pradesh. A company plans to build a dam which will destroy the winter home of the black-necked cranes forever. A young wildlife biologist, Tara, stumbles upon vital information that could stop the building of the dam. Her friend, a young monk, Tenzin decides to take a bold step. Along with another friend, Pema, they give their best shot at protecting their beloved river and birds.
As their adventure unfolds, we are transported to verdant mountains and valleys. One gets glimpses of the other wildlife of the region - otters, martens, squirrels, gorals. The familiar government guest-house caretaker too makes an appearance, complete with his muffler and brandy.

One sees how wildlife is revered and deeply embedded in local culture through religious beliefs, folk songs and stories.Encountering words of the local language, Monpa in the text gives the narrative a special flavour. There’s even a little Tibetan poem on the blacknecked crane, with an explanation.  

The book brings out the corruption that is often involved in development projects. It also presents the moral dilemma the young monk faces. One can empathise with his internal conflict and rejoice in the courage that comes from a well-considered decision.The actions of the young protagonists create a ripple effect of community support. The press, the villagers, senior monks from an ancient monastery, an elected political representative, all become involved in their cause.
The illustrations have a natural palette, and are realistic. They gently bring to life the landscape, the animals and the people. The details of the local costumes, the prayer flags, the cat dozing on the steps, the sturdy boots worn with the monk robes, the river flowing over stones, and the characteristic houses lined along the hill slope provide a lovely visual context for the story.

A glossary of terms explains the words of the Monpa language as spoken in the Nyamjang Chu Valley. After the story ends, one is ready to digest the couple of pages of deeper analysis that follow - about rivers, dams and choices.

The author keeps the language simple, and the situations ‘real’. This could be a story about ourselves – the relatability makes it easy for the concern to flow. It encourages reflection about the ‘black-necked cranes’ around us, and how we can get involved.
I would recommend this thoughtfully made eco thriller as a super read and great gift!
This book review was put together for us by Tania Kamath. Tania was a management consultant before moving on to work in the space of creativity and learning for children and adults. She runs the Watering Can Foundation that co-creates illustrated heritage books and other content alongwith the community. 

Contacts:
Neeraj Vagholikar: nvagho@gmail.com
Tania Kamath: tania@thewateringcan.in
 
Buy the book on Amazon
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The Croak is a weekly environmental newsletter put out by the eCoexist team. It is the voice of the environment on its last legs, the final croak that can either be a plea for attention or a call of triumph as the frogs jump out of the well of ignorance and denial. Satirical, urgent and wise the newsletter brings to your attention, topics of global environmental relevance as well as emerging encouraging alternatives. Put together by a team of passionate Nature lovers, The Croak hopes to look at the environmental crisis in its face. It is a tool to reconnect readers to Nature, through questioning and self reflection. To understand the outer environment as a reflection of our own inner state, individually and as a species. And to take responsibility for enabling change.
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