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Verse and versatility


Only when you do what you like and enjoy, you blossom: Theodore Baskaran

Nothing quite like nature!

This former Chief Postmaster General of Tamil Nadu had two dreams as a youngster. To write a book and to groom a dog that wins the trophy at the dog show. Today, Theodore Baskaran is a content man having written three books in English and two in Tamil, and seeing his Fox Terrier (named Paari, after the Tamil legendary King Paari Vallal) become the champion. His passion for environment and wildlife conservation is evident in his book The Dance of the Sarus: Essays of a Wandering Naturalist, published in 1999. He believes that only the local language can help win the support of people for conservation efforts. He has been developing tools for this, such as a glossary and dictionary of terms relating to the subject. Eight of his photographs on nature have been featured on stamps. A noted historian of Tamil Cinema, he was awarded the Swarna Kamal in 1997 for his book The Eye of the Serpent. His other book — the one that he calls his favourite — The Message Bearers is a standard reference work on early South Indian cinema and theatre. The book he has edited containing Tamil writings on wildlife, titled Mazhaikalamum Kuyilosaiyum (The Monsoon and the Call of the Koel), was released recently. At present, he is an honorary wildlife warden and the South India representative of the International Primate Protection League.

Childhood memories

My parents were teachers in a school in the village where we lived. We were poor, yet lacked nothing. There was no want. My childhood was very enjoyable and fulfilling in terms of love and relationships. I have four siblings — an elder brother and sister, also a younger brother and younger sister. Our house was by a river. There were lot of trees around and a vast expanse of land surrounding our house. We were always out in the woods or on top of trees. Our parents did not instil fear in us. During moonlit nights, we used to climb up trees and sit there for as long as we liked. When we were outdoors — be it rain or shine, out in the dark woods and down by the river — our parents knew where we were. We had lot of friends, some with whom we are still in touch. The abundant wealth around us — the river, fruit trees and sand — enabled us to have a close relationship with nature. We became conscious of the external world — constantly interacting, noticing and enjoying it.

The most memorable time was the water festival when there would be floods in the river. We used to watch the event wide-eyed and sometimes end up playing in the water for hours.

The school that we studied in had the poorest of the poor students, but the teachers were authoritarian. I am glad I went to such a school for one got to know society and people much better. Though small, the school encouraged a lot of camaraderie. There was practically no pressure on us to score marks. Only before the exams, we will pick up the books, and even that not because our parents wanted us to. Today, both my children study in Central School where they get to mingle with the postman's daughter as well as the Brigadier's daughter. I studied all my subjects in school in Tamil. It was only in college that I started learning and studying in English. My flair for Tamil and the knowledge of the language have enabled me to understand our culture, and this I value a great deal. Tamil is a strong reminder that I am a part of this country. My father, after I finished school, asked me what I would like to study. History, was my instant reply. I went to St. John's College, Palayamkottai, to do history. When I went in to register, I found my name in the Science group. I rushed to the Principal and told him about it. He said, "I know that. You have good marks. I'm sure you will do well in science." I told him that it was history that I wanted, and there began my journey to explore.

Why civil services

Those days — in the 1960s — opportunities were not many. To get into companies, one must have family connections. The Civil Services seemed fair. I joined the Indian Postal Service in 1964. I was happy because I did not have to do anything that I did not want to do. I got all the freedom and security I wanted from my profession. My career as a civil servant gave me ample time to pursue my interests — history and nature. I worked all over India and visited many sanctuaries. I worked in Africa for two months on a UN assignment during which time I toured in the Kenyan wild. Mauritius is another fascinating place with myriad fauna.

Be yourself

You have to find out and understand your own nature before taking up a career. What you decide to become should depend on what you are. The important thing is to be happy. You have to be a happy human-being. March to your own drums. Only when you do what you like and enjoy, you blossom. Instead of being a third-rated doctor or a second-rated engineer, you can be a master of what you are good at — whatever it be. Life has so many things to offer — the blue sky, flowers, rivers, mountains, literature, arts and craft, sports... train yourself to respond to that.

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