In conversation with Sadhana Ramchander
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Intro: In our previous episode, we spoke to the fab duo Sadhana Ramchander and Kobita Dass Kolli who curate the Hyderabad Tree Enthusiasts group. Over the years they’ve been taking people on tree walks to various parks of Hyderabad and have also expanded into short exploratory trips around the city. They do all of this pro bono with no agenda except curiosity, joy and a deep abiding love for nature.
What we discovered during the conversation was that this group was an outcome in some ways of an exploration that began in an alternate school called Vidyaranya where both Sadhana and Kobita’s kids studied. With the simple idea of introducing urban children to the natural world, they undertook nature appreciation classes for different age groups. Considering how childhood in urban spaces is becoming increasingly oriented to the indoors – we thought we’d do a short FAQ with Sadhana on how they went about speaking and working with children to expand their horizons.
Arpita: So Sadhana – where does one begin? How did you introduce the school kids to the idea of being present in and more engaged with nature?
Sadhana: Many of the children, especially because they’re growing up in a city, they have no place for gardening, most of them have just balconies, and they don’t want to get their hands dirty. They don’t want to put their hands in the earth or dig and we make them do digging. We’d make them do all kinds of things, handle soil and all that. So they would be very reluctant: no teacher, I have allergies, I can’t put my – so the first thing we would tell them is it’s good to feel the earth, it’s very good to be connected to the earth.
So very slowly we started you know, telling them these kinds of things and we could see how they slowly changed and we.. not only gardening, but we used to show them some birds up in the trees. You know, things happening in nature, different times, different trees flower – so we make it a point to show them. Then we take them to parks and show them various flowering trees. So we could see that slowly, their minds were opening up, and we had kind of planted a seed in their minds. Definitely, there’s a change in them.
Arpita: What were your initial observations on how the kids responded? Did they take to the new idea immediately or was there some cajoling and added conversation involved?
Sadhana: Children these days are very smart. But unfortunately, it’s a lot of city stuff. It is a lot of machines, a lot of cell phones and screen time. So they are very smart in those aspects. And their information too. I mean, they have a lot of information in their heads. And they also have Google at their disposal. But then the kind of things that we taught them really they didn’t know and some something as simple as – before sowing coriander, we need to split the seeds – they wouldn’t know that and we have to keep asking why we need to do that. So we will tell them that you know, the top of the dhaniya seed is actually a seed coat that has to be broken, otherwise it will not sprout. So these kinds of small things really made a difference to them and they would be like okay teacher, and they themselves started observing things in nature and coming and excitedly telling us then. They would see.. spot some tree and come and ask, ask us, what is this tree? And so yes, that curiosity definitely.
Arpita: So while working alongside children through these past years, if you were to share with our listeners one vital tip on how to get children interested in the world around them, what would that be?
Sadhana: So what works is, I think is very is a practical approach. You can’t stand and talk theory with them. They find it very boring, you lose them in one minute. So I’ll give you an example. What we showed show them around the school they are near has some 28 varieties of trees. So our intention is to make them familiar with these 28 varieties of trees. So now we do that in about four different ways. One is to take them repeatedly on tree walks in this school and explain about the trees. The second thing we do is we make them play a game. You know, it’s like a treasure hunt. It’s a treasure hunt. So initially, we used to keep a little, some kind of a small, tree shaped little cardboard piece near the trees and we would give them the name of the tree we would label the trees and that labeling also, the labels are made by the children. So when they are doing the labels, they become familiar with the names. Because not all names have, you know, they know they don’t know all the trees, like something like S-, they wouldn’t have heard that. So they write, then they colour it, they make the labels, then we put the labels up, then we make them play this game. So once again, there’s engagement with all these trees.
So at the end of the whole year, we make them do a quiz. In the quiz, also, we asked them various questions about the trees. So this kind of repeated engagement really helps. And if you come to the class, when we do the quiz, you’ll be really surprised because how well they learn. And that is because of constant engagement.
Outro: Rabindranath Tagore once wrote: “The thin shrill cry of the high-ﬂying kite in the blazing sun of a dazed Indian midday sent to a solitary boy the signal of a dumb distant kinship. The few coconut palms growing by the boundary wall of our house, like some war captives from an older army of invaders of this earth, spoke to me of the eternal companionship which the great brotherhood of trees have ever offered to man.”
It comes as no surprise that nature and experiential learning played a vital role in his imagination of future education. Even then he warned that we must not behave ‘like miners, digging only for things’ and instead become ‘like the tillers of the earth whose work is a perfect collaboration with nature’. In these times of the climate crisis when it is vital for us and our children to re-educate ourselves in the rhythms of nature – Sadhana and Kobita – have provided a simple peek into a path of reconnection. If you’ve found yourself hooked you can find them both on Instagram or explore this theme further at http://www.thecuriocitycollective.org.
Outro: In the coming month as we explore the connection between cities and wild green spaces we chat with the lovely Zai Whitaker, co-founder of the Madras Crocodile Bank. We speak about everything from her love for crocs, snakes and books to how we can begin to unpack and heal man animal conflicts. Do listen in!
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This podcast was created by Srinidhi Raghavan, Deepika Khatri and Arpita Joshi. The sound editing was by Vijay Chawla.