Review: Two Books



Review: Two Books

By : Sucharita Sengupta
Our Toxic World: A Guide To Hazardous Substances In Our Everyday Life

Our Toxic World: A Guide To Hazardous Substances In Our Everyday Life

Aniruddha Sengupta,
Priya Kurian
SAGE Publications, 
Environment: An Illustrated Journey

Environment: An Illustrated Journey

R. Rajagopalan
Oxford University Press, 

Looming environmental problems may perhaps be the last thing on a young person’s mind on their journey of happy curiosity. Living in an age where neither information nor entertainment is hard to come by, and where the scales are easily tipped in favour of entertainment, it is quite a challenge to acquaint children and adolescents with concerns and hazards their generation will be forced to grapple with in future. Two recent books attempt to brave this territory.

Our Toxic World is based on all the information that the environmental group Toxics Link has garnered over years of advocacy and research. The book opens with arresting graphics and a story that introduces the reader to members of the Sachdeva family. Their encounters and experiences in the household, the neighbourhood and the city tell the tale of the kind of environmental dangers lurking in every nook and cranny of modern day living. From health problems to various types of pollution, toxins in everyday use products to e-waste, there is an illustrated story about all these concerns and everything in between.

The characters populating the tales are people we interact with everyday, but whose significance in the environmental chain of events is often overlooked. The domestic help, sabziwala, family friends, teachers, classmates, office colleagues, NGO activists, factory workers, doctors and farmers—all are featured here. Each story then leads the reader to one major environmental concern and its various facets. Factual information is laid out in a visually appealing manner. That apart, the book also gives out possible solutions—small actions that children can incorporate in their lives or organic and less harmful alternatives to chemical based products.

What is not entirely clear is the target age group of this book. While the graphics speak to a pre-teen/ early teen age group, some of the explanatory sentences use language that would be far more suitable in an academic text.  There is already a surfeit of information, and the dense language in parts might actually make it incomprehensible to youngsters. Moreover, the book is focused mostly on India and requires the reader to have some advance knowledge of environmental issues.

R. Rajagopalan’s book Environment: An Illustrated Journey is a wonderful book that introduces young people to the basics of environmental problems the world faces. Written in chapter-style, the book begins by placing the dilemma at the core of environmental problems—the perspective of the conservationist and that of the technologists’. It looks at the problem and its roots causes, before moving on to a richer description of the various dimensions of ecological disaster. The book deals with water scarcity and pollution, energy and climate change, loss of biological diversity, pollution in the seas, and the question of how to feed a growing population. The illustrations accompanying the text are less numerous than Our Toxic World, but far more telling. The text itself is peppered with fun facts, quiz style questions and easy-to-read charts and graphs, which make the book interactive. The author has also listed websites at the end of each segment, a very clever idea, considering young people spend far more time trawling the internet than reading books. The language is simple and straightforward.

Both the books rise to the challenge of acquainting young minds with complicated scientific, social and political realities of our day and age in a manner that they can easily understand. They go over the terrain of the broad basics as well as more specific problems and their minutiae. While Environment: An Illustrated Journey peels off the layers of modern day environmental dilemmas, Our Toxic World gives these issues a more political edge. Both books urge the reader to constantly question the world they live in, their own actions, and those of their near and dear ones from a sustainability point of view. They are a worthwhile investment towards educating and sensitizing the future generation, and therefore, highly recommended.

Sucharita Sengupta is with the Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia, and  a researcher with UPIASI, New Delhi.