“I wanted to encourage children to start observing birds”

In today’s world, we seldom hear someone talk about birdwatching. But New Delhi-based designer, illustrator and book maker, Devangana Dash wrote a book about it. Her motivation – to encourage more people, esp., children to listen to the world around us and enjoy the nature. The book, The Jungle Radio: Bird Songs of India, has been published by Puffin. In an interview to The Peeper Times, Dash tells us that the she plans to release the audio version of the book soon. 

What was the inspiration behind writing this book?

The beautiful birds and their songs! I believe they are extremely vibrant creatures and so full of life, and a bird always has a song to sing. And they keep getting exceptionally creative with their songs too. How beautiful is that. My fascination with these creatures led me to study them more and draw and paint them and tell their story to children. I wrote and illustrated this book hoping to nurture an audience that is aware and sensitive in its engagement with wildlife and the natural world.

How did you develop an interest in birdwatching?

My balcony at my current Delhi residence is a beautiful green space, where lots of birds pay a gracious visit. I am used to their chirp and chatter. I have spotted numerous birds on the Amla tree in front of my balcony like babblers, kites, parakeets, kingfishers, hornbills, wagtails and peacocks etc. However, I was properly introduced to the world of birds only in college, as a part of a storytelling project on the theme of environment education. That project space led me to the jungles of Bandipur, Karnataka in the monsoons. And what an adventure it was to spot birds early in the morning in the forest in the rains. The student of nature in me was fascinated with all that the forest had to offer. Soon, birdwatching became a fascinating hobby for me and I have been seeking those adventures since then. Soon, my sister took me to Chilika Lake, Odisha, to the Manglajodi birdwatching site which was a wonderland for birders. I have been observing birds ever since and finding joy in getting lost in the avian world.

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What’s the most amazing thing about this hobby?

The thrill and anticipation of discovering new birds, learning their names, habitats, sounds and other behaviour; and next time you spot them, you get to test your memory if you identify the correct species or not. There are so many species of birds, with some common ones and others that are rare to spot. Even if you don’t sight a bird, you can always hear their peculiar calls and know they are present around and identify them. The entire experience is multi-sensorial with your eyes, ears, memory and even luck at play.

Any funny/interesting incident while you were working on the book (during birdwatching) that you would like to share with our readers?

When, for the first time in my life, I saw a bird called the Asian-Fairy Bluebird (also featured in The Jungle Radio: Bird Songs of India), I was in awe of that burst of sparkling blue colours in front of my eyes. It was an unforgettable moment and I found myself enraptured by it for many weeks.

In this digital world, one simply needs to Google to know about birds, their habitat, sounds they make, and so on. How, do you suggest, we can get children interested in birdwatching?

Definitely, technology comes in so handy in education and extends knowledge and makes it so accessible and interesting. Through this book, that is exactly what I have wanted to do — get kids interested in bird watching. Once they have been introduced to the colourful and abundant world of birds, and the natural world around them, their curious minds would always find fascination.

The thrill and anticipation of discovering new birds, learning their names, habitats, sounds and other behaviour; and next time you spot them, you get to test your memory if you identify the correct species or not. The entire experience is multi-sensorial with your eyes, ears, memory and even luck at play

What message would you like to give to today’s children? Why is bird watching important?

More than just bird watching, what I have tried to do with the book is to present the world around us. Amidst so much noise in our lives, we have forgotten to pause and listen. Through this book, I have tried to package and translate the science of birds and their calls into a more accessible, easy to read and enjoyable story. My idea is to sensitise children towards the sounds of nature and transport young readers, parents and educators to the lush jungles of India, and celebrate the sounds of the wild that are too distant in our lives, and yet (still) around us – coexisitng in our city. I wanted to encourage readers to start observing birds like Gul (the young character in the book who goes scouting for bird sounds) so that they never let the songs get lost and help protect nature and its calls. Whether you are a seasoned bird-watcher or a raw one, or don’t have any clue about birds, this book has been written and designed to be accessible and enjoyed by everyone.

Your book is a nice attempt to get children interested in birds and their world. We are sure the audio version would also be more appealing. Do you plan to bring out its audio version anytime soon?

Yes, most definitely. The audio version will be coming out very soon. It will really aid the learning process and will be a lovely extension to the book. I am so looking forward to it.

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You talk about your dream library in your bio? What’s that? What books have you collected so far and what are the future plans?

I have been working on the perfect image of my dream library in my head, and been tweaking and fine-tuning that. Since years I have been collecting books by my favourite picture book artists and authors, curating books with stunning jackets (as a book designer myself, I feel that is my weakness). There are so many books in my library currently that I have hoarded only for the cover, even if the genre or subject isn’t something that I usually read. I like curating books on food, travel, and iconic stories. Apart from that, it’s not going to be anything elaborate. Just a cozy, green space (of course with a lot of storage which my house currently lacks) with all my carefully curated books arranged according to genres and colour coordinate spines.

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