Picture-rich book brings Nilgiris life to the fore

In ‘Soul of the Nilgiris’, Ramya makes out a case for indigenous people and their age-old wisdom.

Ramya Reddy (left) and Rohini Nilekani at Bangalore International Centre on Tuesday. Ramya says research was the most difficult part of writing the book.

The audience sat in rapt attention as carefully-curated images and the author’s skilful narration transported them to the misty peaks of the Nilgiris. From images of lush green foliage, blue skies, enchanting waterfalls, tribal women and men going about their lives and cooked food in clay pots to folklore, real stories and creative prose — Ramya Reddy’s book ‘Soul of the Nilgiris’ had it all.

The recently published book is a photographic anthology that showcases various aspects of the ‘Blue Mountain’ range deep in the Western Ghats of Southern India. An event, held at Bangalore International Centre on Tuesday, saw Ramya and Rohini Nilekani engage in deep discussion about the book and its message, with the latter eliciting laughs from the audience for her witty observations.

Researched, photographed by and written by Ramya Reddy, the book took almost seven years to come to life. Ramya, who stayed in the Nilgiris for some years while studying photography, says that the photo series began a decade ago but the trajectory took a complete turn when she met indigenous people of the region.

So apart from chronicling the endemic and endangered species of flora and fauna, it also explores the region’s cultural and spiritual traditions and has personal stories of members of the indigenous community staying there and the author’s interactions with them.

One of the unique characteristics of the book is that the spine of each copy has a strip of Toda Embroidery. It is an artwork done by the Toda pastoral people of Nilgiris.

Ramya said that she commissioned it from the women who are the characters in the book and it took them two years to sew all the covers. 

As pictures played on the screen, she went on to talk about the 70-year-old tribal grandmother who was sewing a funerary cloak for herself and determined to make it the most beautiful garment, a Kurumba artist who made paintings with ingredients sourced from the forest, an old tribal midwife and healer who was now a reporter with a local Adivasi paper but still clung to her secret healing methods and tribal men who would scale and suspend from impossible heights on hills with the help of tree vine ladders to collect honey.

Later on, Rohini and Ramya talked about how city-dwellers could help preserve indigenous culture and ancient wisdom. 

Highlighting the need to stop the exoticising and patronising of tribals, Ramya said that indigenous knowledge should be taught in schools, especially tribal ones, and there should be a platform for adivasis to be able to sell their rural produce. 

The floor was later opened to the audience who could ask questions. While Ramya’s grandfather praised her hard work, others spoke about issues ranging from climate change, exploitation of tribes and religious conversion to the recent SC ruling. 

All proceeds from the sale of the book will go to Keystone Foundation in Nilgiris.

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Picture-rich book brings Nilgiris life to the fore

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