If I had to choose between my books and my farm, I would definitely choose the farm. I think. But I wouldn’t be able to stop whining about it, so it’s lucky that I can have both. Since I discovered permaculture at a Navadarshanam workshop, I have been reading up on natural farming and permaculture, and flora and fauna in our area. We have a tiny, but growing, library of books on these subjects.
And this is the best place to read them in: my zero-gravity chair under the honge tree. This tree (Latin name: millettia pinnata/ pongamia pinnata) looked like a small shrub when we selected the site for our house. The builder asked us if he should remove it, and of course we said no. But by the time the house was built, it had grown into a small tree, and now it threatens to block access to the house! But we just love the honge! Not only is it a leguminous tree, providing shade, leaf litter, and nitrogen in a barren place where it’s sorely needed, it’s also beautiful!
To get back to my ‘library’: here is a partial list of the books I’ve been reading this year. I will keep adding to this list as I go along, so please check back!
NATURAL FARMING/ PERMACULTURE
The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka. The classic starting point for natural/ organic farming. Read my review here.
The Vision of Natural Farming by Bharat Mansata. A favourite of mine. Here’s my review.
Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway. My go-to book, partly because it’s so beautiful, and partly because it’s a very systematic and accessible manual of all things permaculture. Review here.
Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Philosophy by Masanobu Fukuoka: Intriguing and interesting! Intriguing because I read this before One Straw Revolution first — my local bookshops didn’t have it. So this was my first exposure to Fukuoka. And interesting, because it just is! An eye opener, and more thrilling than any thriller!
Permaculture One by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren: Still reading. A slow read, and specific to Australia. But a rewarding one! And it’s thrilling to see the origins of permaculture. The book opens with a poem, Three Voices – a cross between T. S. Eliot and a ballad, beginning: There are two kinds of men/ That seems quite clear/ One sees bamboo as grass/ And one as spear.
The Road Back to Nature: Regaining the Paradise Lost by Masanobu Fukuoka, Frederic P. Metreaud: Can’t remember much about this, as it’s all mixed up in my head with the other two Fukuokas.
The Penguin Book of Gardening in India by Meera Uberoi: My first gardening book, bought in 2002. Love this book, with its practical tips, snippets of poetry, anecdotes and recipes. I used to drool over the Persian garden and the Zen garden, still do when I think about them!
The Gardener’s Companion, Vicky Bamforth (Ed), A Think Book, Robson Books. An amusing little companion, packed with gardening trivia, stories, poems, jokes, riddles and puzzles. I picked this up on the pavement somewhere, and never expected it would give me so much pleasure! Just right for dipping into when you want a break from digging.
Herb Gardens, Royal Horticulture Society Practical Guides. Okayish, more about the aesthetics of the garden than about the plants themselves.
Gangamma’s Gharial by Shalini Srinivasan, Puffin India. Okay, this is fiction – children’s fantasy to be precise – but I had to put it in because it’s about a 79 year old gardener, Gangamma. And because I love it! Here’s my review.
BOTANY AND ECOLOGY
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson: Still reading. This was a ground-breaking book when it came out in 1962, acquainting the unsuspecting public with the perils of pesticides. It became an instant classic, and is one of the corner stones of the organic farming movement. But it’s a depressing read, because so little has changed – except for the worse – in mainstream agriculture, in all these years.
The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird: Still reading. This is a strange and fascinating mixture of scientific fact, history, and what I tend to think of as mumbo-jumbo. (Sorry, Tompkins and Bird! But one must be honest in a review.) I love the story of how Jagdish Chandra Bose and Tagore didn’t meet!
Common Indian Wild Flowers by Isaac Kehimkar: Good reference book, but not enough coverage of South Indian flowers.
Wild Flowers of India by Nimret Handa: Ditto. Why doesn’t anyone care about our humble south Indian weeds?
Flora of the Southern Western Ghats and Palnis: A Field Guide by Pippa Mukherjee, Niyogi Books.
Nature’s Events: A Notebook of the Unfolding Seasons by John Serrao. Nice concept, lovely drawings, but doesn’t really grip.
GEOGRAPHY, GEOLOGY AND NATURAL HISTORY
Indica: A Deep Natural History of the Indian Subcontinent by Pranay Lal, Penguin Random House India. Still reading. A breathtaking book, a feast for the eyes and the mind!
Forest Trees of Western Ghats (includes Eastern Ghats and Deccan Plateau) by S G Neginhal; and City Trees and Urban Planning (Urban Forestry) by S G Neginhal: Amazing reference books. S G Neginhal is an 80-something year old retired forest officer. And he’s still writing! His love of forests and trees is infectious.
Jungle Trees of Central India: A Field Guide for Tree Spotters by Pradeep Kishen, Penguin. A lavish, wonderful book with superb illustrations and a detailed, lively and affectionate portrait of each tree covered. Sample this description of the sompadal or oroxylum indicum, aka the midnight horror: “Sompadal is only a small tree that eschews modesty in all its parts. Its foliage is by far the largest of any C. Inddian tree and its scabbard like fruit can reach 12 cm. The flowers are not outsize, but they grow in extravagant clusters at the top of very long, hollow stalks hoisted high above the crown… The nocturnal flowers open around 10 p.m, parting their velvetty, wrinkled lips to emit a musty stink that attracts bats…”
Heritage Trees by Vijay Thiruvady, Bangalore Environment Trust. Good reference book and general dipping in if you live in/ are visiting Bangalore. Also good grist for your mill if you love moaning about how the Garden City is being destroyed.
The Book of Indian Trees by K C Sahni, BNHS/Oxford.
BIRDS AND ANIMALS
The Book of Indian Birds by Salim Ali, 13th edition, BNHS/Oxford. The grandfather of ornithology in India!
The Book of Indian Reptiles and Amphibians by J C Daniels, BNHS/Oxford.
Birds of the Indian Subcontinent by Grimmett, Inskipp and Inskipp, 2nd edition, Oxford Helm Field Guides.
Birds of Banni Grassland by Mukesh H Koladiya, et al, Gujarat Institute of Desert Ecology.
Voices in the Wilderness: Contemporary Wildlife Writings, Ed. Prerna Singh Bindra
Indian Mammals: A Field Guide by Vivek Menon, Hachette-IFAW.
150 Animals of IIT Madras
Wildlife and Biodiversity @ ICRISAT