On 29 April, a week after Cubbon Park made the news for its new restrictions, a group of strangers were busy getting familiarised with different types of mud in the park. The next day, a bunch of enthusiastic children explored the many bugs, butterflies and fungi there. These are among many activities heralded by scientists, teachers, and educationists across Bangalore to turn public spaces into ways to engage with the environment.
I have vivid memories of the first time I came across a ladybug while running around in a park. Perched on a half-eaten leaf, the bug reminded my nine-year-old mind of a friend’s polka dress. I remember painting the picture for my mother with a string of questions: What were the black dots? How big do the ladybugs grow? What can I feed it?
Every month, across Bangalore, different sets of people come together to discover the city a little more and open the gates to science and nature by simplifying it and making it fun. “Science is still gated and remains inaccessible to many. When people come together to understand their environment, it builds curiosity which is the building block of science,” says Dr Ipsa Jain, science communicator and illustrator.
We take a look at some of the people and communities that are working on bridging the gap between science, the environment and people across the south.
Before the pandemic changed how we interact with public spaces, Dr Ipsa Jain would organise talks at one of Bangalore’s favourite bookshops, Goobe’s, and invite her peers to discuss all things science. These talks often included engaging activities like borrowing microscopes from laboratories to look at microorganisms more closely. With these fun demonstrations, Jain was breaking barriers between science and people, and the enthusiastic response to her talks was a eureka moment for her. As the pandemic subsided, Jain took out the microscopes again, and this time, along with her students, organised nature walks, simple experiments, and ecology-related games in public spaces to bring science closer to the people.
Today, Jain, who works as a visual communicator at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, runs the project A Fistful of Mud, which organises activities that help people connect with nature and science. Last month, her students set up a series of simple science-related experiments and board games in partnership at the Cubbon Park Metro station in Bangalore. “Along with games such as ecology-related card games, there are also innovative ones such as Coherence, a board game that makes people engage in a debate respectfully. It’s an interesting game created by my student, Prabhava Kini,” Jain explains. Another game, Out of Door, created by another student Devanshi Patel, is for school-going children and curious adults and is aimed at helping them engage with their surroundings to build the habit of observation.
The team also conducts nature walks where people examine the soil in different parks to understand their differences based on colours and formation. All of these are for people who want to keep the jargon away from science and get their hands dirty while trying to understand their environment better. “One of the challenges is keeping the engagement going beyond these activities. The hope is that these activities will get people curious about different topics and they will continue to explore after going home,” Jain says.
A Fistful of Mud will soon announce nature walks or activities for May. Keep an eye on their Instagram page @fistful_of_mud
This project was founded by wildlife biologist Chetana Purushotham and writer and photographer Samuel John to share their love for nature. Through research and creative storytelling, the organisation hopes to nurture people’s relationships with nature.
From an immersive introduction to life in oceans for children to exploring butterfly species in the forests, Spiders and The Sea have innovative programs for people of all ages. Last month, in collaboration with Bangalore’s Champaca Bookstore, children explored urban wildlife, from bugs, lichen, and webs, to trees in Cubbon Park.
Theirs is a simple thought: Without forming a connection with the environment, how will people understand the responsibility that comes with it, especially during the climate crisis? They organise urban nature walks, outdoor programs as well as online programs. They are heading to Jakkur Lake in Bangalore on 13 May to watch and observe painted storks, mating spiders, weaver ant queens and more.
You can find them on Instagram at @spidersandthesea
We pass by several trees every day but how many do we really pause and observe? Seasonwatch is a citizen science project started by avid nature enthusiasts that follows the patterns of emergence and maturation of leaves, flowers and fruits on common Indian tree species to better understand the environment and climate change in the country. It was started in March 2018 and is currently headed by Geetha Ramaswami and Suhel Quader who work with the Nature Conservation Foundation.
In March, they held their first tree festival of the year, in which they encouraged people to observe 100 trees in 10 days, of at least five species with red and orange flowers, and eight deciduous species such as Teak, Indian Ash Tree and Mahua. At the end of the event, over 4,000 observations were recorded by 71 people and 63 schools and colleges.
You can find them at @seasonwatch.in on Instagram.