Two news items in today’s Hindu have provoked much argh, though one more than the other.

I caught sight of an article putting Sachin Tendulkar and Shah Rukh Khan in the same boat as being intrinsic to Indian culture. Now, I’m not arguing with the importance of film to pop culture in India (and surely they refer to pop cultura, not that I’m dissing pop culture either), but even to such a cricket non-enthusiast as me the idea of putting them on the same platform is a titch ridiculous. I can’t stand SRK, but putting that aside, the man has some talent and a REALLY good sales pitch. He knows how to read the audience and give them exactly what they want. And let’s not forget the PR. Sachin, on the other hand, is mindbogglingly talented and has honed that talent to such blistering skill that it leaves me fair gasping – and I don’t even LIKE cricket! Subject them, I say, to the radio test. If we had no TV and only radio, would SRK be as much as a celebrity as he is? Would Sachin?

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The second item was a heartbreaking piece on the planned and apparently now confirmed reintroduction of cheetahs into central India. The horror.

Now, any sort of environmental conservation effort should be viewed optimistically, because we are a country with limited resources and far more pressing demands, like poverty and education and so on. However, it pays to turn the occasional jaundiced eye on our efforts. There was the wonderful idea of reforesting Karnataka with eucalyptus, which isn’t native, doesn’t really provide much protection from erosion, and drains the groundwater so much that remaining native vegetation dies. That was stopped, mercifully.

The latest brilliant idea is this cheetah one. I’ll leave the dissection of Mr. Jairam Ramesh’s masterful articulation of WHY this needs to be done for later. Has it not occurred to anyone anywhere that reintroducing a powerful predator that was on the decline for several years before it finally gave up the ghost into regions that have now evolved without it might upset things a bit?

Secondly, why the North African cheetah? If you’re going to spend Rs. 300 crore on a project, how about investing in some breeding pairs and trying to do something in captivity before introducing a similar yes distinct subspecies into the wild? Or maybe even do it parallel? Existing wildlife sanctuaries in India struggle terribly with poaching, and less dramatically, the spilling over of humans and livestock into sanctuary areas and of protected species into buffer areas. Why not use that Rs. 300 crore to rehabilitate people and establish a more enduring system of reserves? From what I can tell, Kanha is one of the few that succeeds and even they see some serious trouble with poachers.
(Feel free to yell at me if I’m talking through my hat.)

And now, of course, we come to the gem that emerges from the sainted lips of His Pompousness Mr. Ramesh:

“It is important to bring cheetah back to our country. This is perhaps the only mammal whose name has been derived from Sanskrit language. It comes from the word chitraku which means spots. The way tiger restores forest ecosystem, snow leopard restores mountain ecosystem, Gangetic dolphin restores waters in the rivers, the cheetah will restore grasslands of the country.”

I’m not going into the epileptic fit that grammar induced in me, and am going to lay the blame, probably rightly, at The Hindu’s door. But really? We must bring the chetah back because it’s name comes from Sanskrit? REALLY? THAT’S what we should base our conservation efforts on?

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