September 14, 2004
S. Rangaswami - The Naturalist: A Tribute
It gives me much pleasure to pay tribute to Mr. Rangaswami and his many decades of selfless work at the Rishi Valley Education Centre. Mr. Rangaswami’s tall ramrod straight figure, with binocular strung around his neck is now eighty-four years old, but looks much younger – a living example of Salim Ali’s observation that those who watch birds need not age. Though Mr. Rangaswami’s range of interests is very wide: teaching children about nature, admonishing their parents against the use of plastics, creating a national course on conservation and ornithology, bending over to remove parthenium weeds, planting trees, working with gardeners, creating compost pits, conducting systematic surveys of the local flora and fauna, ministering to a flycatcher’s broken wing, devouring works on philosophy and nature, writing books and letters to the editors of newspaper, lecturing to diverse audiences and drawing eminent naturalists to the School — all these come within the compass of his vision. It is birds that stand at the centre of that vision.
It is in
I became closely associated with Mr. Rangaswami in 1990, when, after an absence of almost 12 years, he returned to the Valley. He came this time without any specific designation, but with a well-defined purpose — to create an officially recognized sanctuary for birds, and to continue his field ornithology work along scientific lines. His survey indicated that the number of species in the Valley had more than doubled — earlier years of conservation seemed to have paid off. (The most recent bird count taken in December, 2001 stands at 201). In 1994, Mr. Rangaswami celebrated these events with a book, Birds of
In April1997, Mr. Rangaswami’s established a Department of Bird Studies as part of
Mr. Rangaswami won the Sanctuary ABN Amro Green Teacher Award for 2001. The citation described him as ‘an educationist first and last, he represents the emergence of a powerful new force for nature conservation — teachers.’
In February 2002, Professor M. S. Swaminathan invited Mr. Rangaswami to become Visiting Professor of the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation. He is to guide the Foundation in developing an Educational Tourism Programme in the
Rangaswami’s main proposals in the Report he wrote, namely, to establish an Institute for Bird Studies in the Gulf.
Mr. Rangaswami’s presence at
October 1, 2003
Mr S Rangaswami’s
In the course of seventeen years that Mr. Rangaswami has
spent at the
• On the national level, Mr. Rangaswami has created a Home Studies Course in Ornithology that attracts students from Nagaland to Gujarat and
• As author, he wrote Birds of
• On the regional level, he has helped enthuse nearby villagers who play host to painted storks and other migratory birds that visit the region. The aim of this grassroots work is ‘To monitor the status of nearby wetlands and ensure protection of the avifauna including migrants which depend on these water bodies for sustenance and survival.’
• Mr. Rangaswami is Advisor and Visiting Professor to the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, with a brief to develop an Educational Tourism Programme in the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve area.
• Mr. Rangaswami’s proposal to establish a Centre for Bird Studies in the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere area was approved by the Hon. Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Dr. J. Jayalalithaa.
• As a hands on activist, he has built several small ponds and lakes for the birds and animals of the region and helped nurture many rare species of plants, shrubs and trees, including those with medicinal uses. His interest in creating sacred groves has led to the planting of trees with religious associations, like the banyan, peepal and bilva all over the Rishi Valley Campus. In 1992, he was the instrumental in declaring
• With the help of the students of the school, he made a detailed checklist of the birds of the valley and its immediate environment. Several generations of students have been taught to record breeding patterns, behaviour and distribution of birds in a scientific manner. Mr. Rangaswami received the Green Teacher Award in 2001, granted by Sanctuary Magazine and ABN-AMRO Bank. He was cited as representing ‘the emergence of a powerful new force for nature conservation — teachers.
Excerpts from Letters of
Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, Chairman,
M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai - 600 113
My dear Shri Rangaswami,
Meeting and hearing you inperson about the ecological “miracle” which has taken place in
Many thanks for a copy of your wonderful book written with S. Sridhar. Also, thanks for the article of Robert Kaplan. The following quote from you cited by Kaplan needs to be included in every school text book in our country in bold letters.
“Birds are the litmus test. The return of the Yellow throated Bulbul to
This is a simple biological indicator of supreme significance in measuring the relationship of humans and nature.
I wish you many more years of active, healthy and happy life, so that you can spread the joy of true living to numerous young girls and boys.
(18th January 1999)
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I particularly thank and congratulate you on initiating the
Home study course in ornithology. I find this course most interesting and timely
since it not only fosters a culture of love and care of birds, but also serves
as a course in environmental education. The study material for this course is
very user friendly. No wonder many candidates from all parts of our country have
enrolled for this course.
What we need urgently are opportunities for the economically and socially underprivileged sections of our society to participate in this fascinating programme. I hope you will be able to get adequate financial support for establishing a corpus fund and for awarding scholarships to the needy. I wish this timely and well-planned Home Study Course in Ornithology great success.
(26th February 2001)
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Meeting and spending some time with you help to restore and rekindle my faith in the ultimate human destiny - harmony with Nature and with each other. The citation for the Green Teacher Award given to you has rightly stressed that you are a “Teachers’ Teacher”; your passion and dedication for the cause of creating reverence and love for all the inhabitants of planet earth are contagious and have helped to breed a new generation of youth committed to the care of birds and trees. The message you gave me under the Banyan tree will always remain with me and I shall do my best to follow it.
You have demonstrated that the songs of birds and bees are the best indicators of the health of an ecosystem.
(28th January 2002)
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You are a role model for all of us. In my lectures now to the younger generation I quote your words “the songs of birds and humming of bees are reliable indicators of the health of an ecosystem”. I was recently in Thiruvannamalai and saw the wanton destruction of the unique Arunachala Ecosystem. I mentioned to them that they should invite you some time to take your guidance on achieving the dream of Bhagwan Ramana that Arunachala should be preserved for posterity in its pristine purity.
(24th September 2002)
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Mr. S. Rangaswami,
RISHI VALLEY DECLARATION - July 1991
A landmark in the ecological history of
We solemnly declare that
We undertake to offer our co-operation for promoting increasing understanding of
We shall always endeavour to promote a high degree of environmental awareness among all Residents of Rishi Valley and to encourage Bird Study and Birdwatching on scientific lines-among students and others elsewhere.
Signed this Twenty Seventh day of July 1991 at
Dr. Radhika Herzberger, Prof. Hans Herzberger,
S. Theodore Baskaran,
Planeta HUMANO No.18 - August 1999
“Ideas That Change The World”
(Translated from Spanish)
Mr. Rangaswami could be a character from a Garcia Marquez novel - his life is pure magical realism. He is a sage who speaks with birds and trees. Each afternoon, he goes out walking, with binoculars around his neck, to talk with his creatures…… Rangaswami is full of enthusiam, overflowing with energy, and he has never lost the capacity for amazement. His themes of conversation run from imitating the love-songs of birds to talking about Socrates and Schopenhauer. He is an expert on birds and also supervises the gardeners. His sense of design and feeling for beauty has been instrumental in the greening of the school campus…
We go walking with him, his forehead high and his white hair brushed back. He is a very tall man wearing a polo sweater, the colour of red earth. We make our way through the lianas of a banana plantation in a late afternoon air scented with warmth and serenity. Suddenly his eyes open wide: “Look! - a beautiful kingfisher”. He peers through the binoculars. “And over there the white egret has returned. He had to come back here.”…
We walk among st calendulas, bougainvillea, hibiscus and sandalwood trees. Then he stops and says, “My enthusiasm in my eightieth year is the same as when I was a boy. I still have the same love of life, the same curiosity. My mind is intact and that’s a blessing. There is so much work I still want to do at
In Rangaswami’s house we find fresh limes scattered on the table amidst a chaos of papers and books. “Forgive the mess. It’s because I live alone’, he apologises. There is also a large photo of a lady with a sweet expression looking compassionately at the disorder in which Rangaswami lives. He becomes quietly sad when looking at that photograph, of his late wife. “What have I learned in this life? Always look with your inner eye — that’s what I have learned” is his refrain.
THE ENDS OF THE EARTH-
A Journey at the Dawn of the 21st Century by Robert D. Kaplan
(Part VI, Chapter 24,
The Naturalist, Mr. Rangaswami, binoculars dangling from his graceful, six-foot-plus frame, ambled out of the woods and began talking, sweeping me along with his commentary for a brief forty-five minutes: It was the overture to my valley experience.
“Birds are the litmus test,” Mr. Rangaswami declared. “The return of the Yellow throated Bulbul to
Mr. Rangaswami went on about solar panels, organic vegetable gardens and replacing butane with the gas released by cow dung, while at the same time pointing out parakeets and a group of owlets. With his winglike arms constantly in motion, his plume of iron-gray hair and lilting Indian voice, he seemed to be one of the “150 species of returned migratory birds” he so loved. Especially as he had never really introduced himself but, rather, had swept down into my presence. Suddenly, he stopped his lecture and put his finger over his lips, admonishing me to keep silent as though I were the one who had been talking. “No, that’s only a white egret”…
Mr. Rangaswami, in his seventies… discovered his true vocation in
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