Pradip Krishen is the author-photographer of a celebrated new book titled Trees of Delhi – A Field Guide. He also directed the critically acclaimed films Massey Sahib, In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones and Electric Moon. He and his wife Arundhati Roy lives in New Delhi.
[This is the first of the three-part interview series he gave to Mayank Austen Soofi.]
Welcome Mr. Krishen. Your book has received gushing reviews. Author Khushwant Singh conferred upon you the "status of a Brahmin priest of the community of tree-lovers." Another Delhi-based author, Vikram Seth, credits your "deep scholarship and delight in nature." Can it be that I'm sitting in front of Dr. Salim Ali of Trees?
Nooo, I wouldn’t invite any such comparison, you really shouldn’t even speak of us in the same breath. Salim Ali was a very great man, a dedicated scientist with decades of scholarship and fieldwork behind him. I’m just an upstart!
But I’ll tell you something – in my ‘20s and ‘30s I would take Salim Ali’s Book of Indian Birds with me everywhere, on holiday or visiting some new place. And I remember thinking way back then, “What a fantastic thing to do – to write a book that gives so many people so much pleasure”! Salim Ali set a superb example but it is a very tough act to follow. I’m not in the same league, not at all.
To most visitors, Delhi seems like a polluted, barren concrete jungle. How did you come up with the idea of compiling the trees of a city that receives merely 60 cm of rain each year?
For a city sitting at the edge of the desert, Delhi is quite a remarkable city for the sheer number and diversity of trees it has. When I first started asking the question “What is this tree?”, it was just self-education. I was just practising something I had been doing in the jungle. But it slowly began to dawn on me that this dry, dusty city actually harboured a remarkable number of tree species - 252 species is a very large number. New York, for example, has only something like 130 species. You would expect this number (250 plus) in a rainforest, or in an equatorial town.