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The Western Ghats

Mohan Pai’s The Western Ghats is an attempt to fill the gap in the current literature available on the Sahyadris.
Through it, Pai tries to capture a more holistic view of these mountain ranges, exploring their many dimensions: historical, ecological, geological and anthropological amongst others.
A slightly run-of-the-mill looking book, its dull cover and relative slimness can be deceptive.

Inside, Pai has jammed in a library-load of information. He has travelled the length and breadth of the range not only physically but through time. The book begins with an exposition of the geological beginnings of the Western Ghats. Although not considered to be true mountains but instead the ‘faulted edge of an upraised plateau’, they are much older than the Himalaya. Created by the domal uplift caused by subterranean volcanic heat, the underlying rock in parts is 2,000 million years old.

It is precisely this antiquity and mystique that fascinate Pai. He blends geology with myth and religion, tracing the legends of the Gods and avatars who have shaped the Ghats and can still be found today in the numerous temples that dot the mountain landscape. But Pai does not linger long over history. His intention is to capture the essence of these mountains and so he is compelled to be concise. He soon moves on to topography and geography, flits over the human history (from as far back as the Palaeolithic age) of the tribes who still call the Sahyadris their home, and finally lands feet firmly planted in the wilderness.

The reader is taken on a whirlwind voyage down the rivers of the Western Ghats before slowing down to catch his/her breath while exploring its vegetation, forests and Protected Areas, and wildlife. Pai is concerned about the environmental degradation that is being steadily inflicted on this range and conveys this by talking at length about the value and diversity of what will be lost if such damage continues. To drive home his point, he ends his work with an ecology primer for beginners.

The book’s biggest drawback is its production. Although the book is filled with photographs, maps, diagrams and topographic profiles, they have not been reproduced well and look lacklustre and unclear. Many of Pai’s photographs, taken on his travels along the Sahyadris, may have been breathtaking if the print quality had done true justice to them. And if the book is considered overpriced and discourages a few prospective buyers along the way, it will simply be for this reason. It is a perfect example of the old axiom: ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’

Reviewed by Bidisha Basu
By Mohan Pai, Published by: M/s Narcinva Damodar, Hardcover price Rs. 475/-

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