Saturday, August 15, 2009

Madras Week: Trees and the evolution of man





There couldn’t have been a better start to Madras Week. Sri Parvati Gallery on Eldams Road was packed and more chairs had to be brought in to accommodate visitors. A few had to stand. On display were some fantastic pictures of trees of Madras that is Chennai, pictures taken by Rod Hudson with help from his friend K Srinivasan, one of the founding members of the Madras Naturalist’s Society.

A Londoner who has worked as a teacher and journalist, Rod took up photography 30 years ago. He has been concentrating full-time on his passion for creating images in south India, where has now been living for the past seven years. Rod has had several exhibitions of photographs in Madras. The past year, he has been creating images for his forthcoming book, provisionally titled ‘Trees of Madras’ and it is some of those images that are displayed at the gallery (open to the public till April 23).

However, the morning belonged to well-known botanist Professor Dayanandan, whose brilliant presentation provided a broad sweep, from Darwin and Lincoln to Charles Lyell, Alfred Wallace and Joseph Dalton Hooker, all scientists of repute whose research on flora and fauna have made an everlasting impact on humanity. Profesor Dayanandan dwelt how Darwin drew the first evolutionary tree in scientific history, about the latter’s Beagle journey and the existence of trading ports 2,000 years ago. He said that plant life was so vast, there were so many species that even those like himself who had spent a lifetime researching on flora on the western ghats, and in the south of India and the northeast, had traversed only a small part of that universe. According to him, 600 million species of animal life have been lost over thousands of years.

Pointing to the difference in cultures between countries, Professor Dayanandan provided the Darwin example. Darwin’s book, ‘The Origin of Species’ sold out in London the day it was released, he said. That sort thing might never happen in India, he added, because “our cultural ethos has not developed to that extent”.

500 human genes are shared with all living beings, Professor Dayanandan pointed out, adding that the onus is on us to consider trees as our relative and care for them.

Pictures show Gita (an artist), K. Srinivasan (who is helping Rod with the book) and Rod; a view of Rod Hudson's paintings on display; Professor Dayanandan talking to T. K. Ram Kumar (an advocate and social activist); and the professor making his presentation.

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