‘Cities and Canopies’, a book on trees in urban India, released

‘Cities and Canopies' explores the science, history, culture and imaginations around trees in our cities.

Azim Premji University (APU) and Penguin Random House India released the book ‘Cities and Canopies: Trees in Indian Cities’ on June 20th, at Alliance Francaise. The book is available in bookstores across India, and on websites such as Amazon and Flipkart.

The book is authored by Harini Nagendra and Seema Mundoli, faculty at APU. Grounded in extensive research, the book offers a fascinating journey on trees in Indian cities, exploring science, history, culture and imaginations around trees.

Native and imported, sacred and ordinary, culinary and floral, favourites of kings and commoners over the centuries – trees are the most visible signs of nature in cities, fundamentally shaping their identities. From the tree planted by Sarojini Naidu at Dehradun’s clock tower to those planted by Sher Shah Suri and Jahangir on Grand Trunk Road, trees in India have served, above all, as memory-keepers, nature’s own museums.

Keeping with the innovative theme of the book, the book release was also designed differently. All attendees got tree-colouring booklets, and postcards with artwork from the book, produced by artist Alisha Dutt Islam.

S Giridhar, COO of Azim Premji University, inaugurated the event. “‘Cities and Canopies’ is the result of extensive research by my colleagues Harini and Seema. Their work in the area of urban sustainability is significant. But when they convert their study into such delightful books, they perform an important public service,” he remarked. Arjun Jayadev then gave a short introduction to the research done at APU.

This was followed by a quiz for children and adults. Ravi Mundoli asked questions on trees in Indian cities, and book-themed prizes were given away for correct answers.

Prof Raghavendra Gadagkar, DST Year of Science Chair Professor at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, released the book. With high praise for the research behind the book and its unique style of science communication, Prof Gadagkar outlined a roadmap for using such books as textbooks in our schools and colleges. This, in conjunction with internet access, would make education an enjoyable student-driven process of active learning rather than a teacher-driven process of passive teaching, he said.

Harini and Seema then read out short excerpts from the book. This was followed by a conversation between the authors and Prof Gadagkar, and a discussion with the audience. Speaking to the audience on what inspired them to write the book, Harini described her sadness at the loss of tree cover and the increase in heat and pollution in cities.

She said, “As scientists and educators, we need to make sure we communicate the latest advances in research to a wide range of people. At the same time, as individuals we have related to trees in so many ways – through food, culture, games, and folktales. We wanted to share with our readers the same sense of excitement and passion we have for trees, while also taking them on a journey of discovery.”

Seema added, “We have shared our own memories and stories that helped us connect to trees. It translated into a love for nature, persisting well into our adulthood. Keeping this in mind, we have focused on a positive and joyful narrative around trees, hoping that the book inspires encounters with trees that will do the same for children today.”

The event concluded with a lucky draw on ‘tree memories’. A drop box was provided, in which attendees could drop a note on their favourite memory of trees – a childhood memory, a recipe using tree parts, a game with trees, or anything else they liked to share. A copy of the book was given to one lucky writer, selected at random.

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