Author Deepak Dalal’s two new books, one set in Lakshadweep Islands and the other on Snow Leopard Adventure in the Himalayas, create a connection between young readers and wildlife, and eventually conservation
Deepak Dalal loves the sea and is fascinated by coral islands. “My knowledge is a result of the hours I have spent scuba diving and snorkelling,” he says. In his new book, Lakshadweep Adventure (Penguin) Deepak has recreated the mysterious world of coral reefs in a tale of adventure replete with scuba diving, sharks, windsurfing, sea turtles and sabotage set in the beautiful Lakshadweep Islands.
The book is a part of his series following the adventures of schoolmates Vikram and Aditya who share a love for Nature and the great outdoors. There have been five books so far, including the latest Snow Leopard Adventure (Penguin) where the boys join a team of ecologists in search of the elusive snow leopard in the Himalayas. The previous titles in the series include Ranthambore Adventure, Andaman Adventure and Ladakh Adventure
The author gave up a career in chemical engineering to write wildlife conservation stories for children. His books include the Vikram-Aditya Adventure series (for older readers) and the Feather Tales series (for younger readers).
Excerpts from an interview:
How did you weave in the geography of the island into the story?
I owe my learning of the islands to a windsurfing expedition by the Lakshadweep administration. Their intention was to promote tourism and adventure sports. Part of the deal was that we were to train the locals on windsurfing. The time spent teaching the locals resulted in great friendships. They opened their homes to us, they took us diving in the reefs, and fishing. For a couple of weeks we lived the lives of islanders. These experiences gave me insights into the ecology and geography of the Lakshadweep Islands and into the lives of the islanders.
What are your views on conservation?
Nature fascinates me and I want to pass on my love for wilderness and wild creatures to my readers. I think this is important, particularly in the context of man-animal conflicts, which is one-sided with animals always losing. My stories attempt to create a connection between my readers and the wilderness, sensitising the younger generation, and generating a love for the wild amongst children. The heroes of the stories also display virtues of bravery, justice, honesty and clear thinking, all of which need to be passed on to readers.
How did you research coral reefs?
The most important is experience. You have to taste salt water (swallow several litres), and pit yourself against the power of the seas to be able to describe them. It is the same with mountains. You have to trek for days, cross frozen streams and descend dangerous slopes. Alongside physical experiences, reading, and text book research, I have also been lucky in reaching out to experts who provide insights.
How important was the landscape to the Snow Leopard Adventure?
In the high Himalayas, the air is thin and oxygen is scarce. Climbing requires twice the energy. However, the weather is bracing and your world is filled with magnificent panoramas. There are boulders and fast flowing rivers fed from pure glacier meltwater. There is a sense of discovery and adventure. These are experiences that can trigger the desire to travel. The story strives to draw the reader to Ladakh and the high mountains.
My friend, Dr Raghu Chundawat, is an expert on snow leopards. He hosts a yearly expedition that draws people from around the world to search for and study snow leopards. The story is a result of my expedition experience.
How were the hunters converted into conservationists?
Earlier, the locals hated snow leopards because they preyed on their sheep and livestock. Then enterprising conservationists introduced systems to insure cattle from deaths caused by snow leopards. They have converted many earlier hunters into conservationists and introduced snow leopard tourism and have helped tourists sight snow leopards. Villagers also provide homestead accommodation to tourists and the animal, once being a hated creature is now a source for earning a living.
The snow leopard is an endangered species. Today, the tide is turning at least in the Ladakh region. This is a conservation success story and I am hoping there will be many such stories in the years to come.
What is next?
There is a story on dolphins off Maharashtra’s coastline. This will be a Vikram Aditya adventure story. Also, there are many Feather Tales stories that will soon follow.