Updates from Assam | Mudita Pasari, MA’17, Art + Design Education
Not so long ago, my grandparents house had a fully functioning vegetable and fruit garden in the middle of a city. My parents home, even now shares a boundary wall with the State Zoo (it has a larger breeding space inaccessible to visitors)- which means spotting elephant, deer, monkeys and birds from their home windows. When I moved from there, I went to a design school built in the heart of yet another bustling city, which was a pit stop for migratory birds, had its own resident dogs, monkeys, snakes, peacocks and a turtle which would slowly make its journey from one end of the campus to another.
I take the time to write all this because it illustrates a permeable relationship between developed settlements and their natural surroundings. To me, there seemed to never be a need for a boundary. But now that I look objectively, the idea of demarcating human territory has been growing all around me. To further understand and explore these ways of co-existence, after all these years, I moved back to Guwahati. Now that I am settled here, let me take you through a bit of my research so far.
To make one slightly familiar with the structure of the city, here’s a map of Guwahati, with the varying population density, it’s mighty river, islands and other green patches.
I am two and half weeks into the fellowship and under my supervisor’s guidance I have been moving around the city, documenting locations where certain fauna can be spotted. I was super excited to do this, as inspite of having lived in the city, I did not know about most of these animals and birds living in the same space as me.
Here’s another map to help put this in context. Most green patches here are hills, which have preserved much of the habitat for the proliferation of urban fauna.
But this proliferation is not without it’s difficulties. In the past two weeks I have learned to look up at trees and spot nesting birds, to critically look at temple ponds which lack enough land surface for turtles to lay eggs, or even surprisingly come across the Greater Adjutant Stock, the most endangered species of its kind (only 1200 grown individuals are estimated to exist worldwide, 800 of which are said to exist in Assam).
As I saw one fly across the sky, two of them were perched on a rooftop near a small dump-site (in the current rainy season, resembling a swamp); because large trees nears any swamp like bodies (providing food for these scavengers) have all been felled. As I gazed at them, someone standing next to me softly said, “this is patience towards us.”
On a more positive note below is an image of a temple pond being altered through the efforts of the organization I am working with, Help Earth, to create some accessible soft ground for turtles to lay their eggs (this is marked as the turtle pond in the map above).
After extensive surveys, local experts suggest that this pond houses 10 species of turtles, including the Assam Roofted Turtle and the Black Soft-shell Turtle (which has until recently been considered extinct in the wild). This effort does not suggest any hindrance to spatial development, but simply a request to include nature as a part of the built human environment; not as an afterthought but woven within the very fabric of it.
While the above is a parallel project I am getting to learn from as my supervisor works on it, I have been myself working on a taxonomy book on Amphibians of Guwahati and getting my head cracking on ways to entice the local government into starting a campaign revolving around the conservation of local urban biodiversity. Between designing t-shirts and posters, my supervisor has also given me the freedom of working on an educational project of my own choice and design.
For the initial week, he imagined me working on an activity book for school students to increase awareness and conversation. But eventually when he saw some of the work that I have done so far, he was intrigued by my idea of a Museum in a Box. I offered to create a Museum of Local Urban Biodiversity which pops out of a small box. Having played with this concept earlier at RISD, I am super excited to take this idea forward.
The idea has been brewing for sometime, I have been creating prototypes and content simultaneously and look forward to sharing it here in the coming weeks. More visual content with some urban fauna of Assam coming in next time as well. Until then, let us all learn to look up once in a while to spot these creatures who share our cities with us.