Friday, May 4, 2018

On authoring the first popular science article

My research project during Post Graduation produced five scientific papers. I could see my name in print for the first time. Name at the top of a publication, tagged with my Professor- Basanta Kumar Behura and his Research Assistant- (Dr) Murari Mohan Dash. In those days only Professor and Head were doing almost all of research.

That didn’t make me a popular science writer. It was a long journey, a dream from school days to materialize.  

Science Magazines out of Pocket Money:
I was a regular purchaser of ‘Science Reporter’ from my school days. In many afternoons I used to go out of home for a long walk meandering through the road passing in front of railway station, then sea beach, then the Jagannath temple and finally to Banaraswallah serving south Indian dosha near Srikrishna Cinema. Outside the hotel there was a book stall from where I enquire about arrival of the issue of Science Reporter for the month. The suggestion for purchasing the magazine and developing a search instinct was given to me by my biology teacher Mr Baishnab Raul in school, while preparing a school project on water imbibation by gram seeds and possible recommendation for micro-irrigation.

My interest in the magazine was to find out if there was an article that appeared familiar or was related to my syllabus. During Graduation studies I started taking note of the names of authors and their addresses. I admired the authors who wrote in the magazine. I also had high esteem for the subject and authors in another science magazine, ‘Science Today’ which I had started purchasing. Gradually I developed a wish to see my own name as an author at least in Science Reporter, the CSIR publication.

Dream to see the Name as a Writer:
In our Zoology BSc Honours curriculum at SCS College, Puri we were required to deliver at least one talk in a year in the seminar hall. In the second year I wrote and presented a talk on ‘inheritance of acquired characters’. That was liked by everybody. Major D. K. Nanda, our Head of the Department gave a pat on my back.

I thought, the time had come to emerge as an author of Science Reporter. When I properly read the ‘Information for Contributors’, I thought becoming an author will remain unattainable for some more years.

Years kept passing. After MSc in Zoology I joined the Crocodile Conservation Project of Government of India/ State Government of Odissa as a Research Scholar to work on Gharial crocodiles with headquarters at Tikarpada on the banks of river Mahanadi.

Tikarpada was isolated in those years. No assured bus communication round-the-year, no electricity, no telephone, no drinking water. Our staffs from the Range Office often go to the nearest town Angul, some 58 km away, by cycle. Also there were officers from the raw material division of the Titaghur Paper Mills. All of them used to help me in getting the stuffs I wanted from Angul. It had to be a very modest list including names of both the science magazines.

So I continued to get both the science magazines from the nearest town, Angul—at that time under Dhenkanal district, now a fast growing district itself. Most of the copies of these two science magazines are still with me for some kind of strange attachment in spite of a clear knowledge that information search through internet were dust-proof, allergy proof, and taking over such printed information very fast. Every time I shifted my residence I used to realize that some copies were lost to termites or other problems. Now these are safe in my home but I have started feeling the space crunch.

Names in Print- the first time: An author’s Dream-come-true experience
After a few months of work at Tikarpada, Dr Bustard, the FAO Consultant for Crocodiles who also lived at Tikerpada in another FRH adjoining mine, wanted me to write a letter to the Editors, ‘Science Today’ (Bombay)1 and ‘Tiger Paper’ (Bangkok) 2 about the ongoing programme on crocodile conservation and research in India, and at Tikarpada in particular. ‘Tiger Paper’ being an FAO publication and the Crocodile Project being their project with UNDP, we were getting copies by post. Those were the first publications where I could see my name in print. But that was not the target of becoming an author. These two communications, however, gave me the needed stimulation. In two days, on both occasions, I must have turned the pages over a hundred times to see where my name was in print. That was a very different type of satisfaction.

I read an article in SR written by Professor Basanta Kumar Behura about Garpike fishes. There were certain elements about the development of long snout in aquatic animals, which I thought I could expand with the snout of Gharial crocodile. I referred the article and wrote a letter about evolution of morphological character in the fish-eating gharial. That was immediately accepted and got published by Science Reporter as a short communication3, and they wanted me to write an article on crocodile conservation. It was an honour. Immediately I wrote ‘Save the Crocodiles’4 and gave some cartoons that were liked by my friends and their students at Ravenshaw College, about which I learnt after many years.

Dr Bustard took note of these popular writings and he issued a letter to all researchers working with crocodile conservation programme—to make it a target to write at least 2-3 popular articles every year, apart from the scientific papers. My pocket book and pen, the binocular and camera, the measuring tape and compass gradually became permanent parts of my field dress.

The journey for writing popular articles had started for me. They trickled at different rates in different years, had to be adjusted with thesis work, technical publications and family setbacks. When I was really running low in my spirit, first the Zoos’ Print magazine from 1980s, then features in Pragativadi News paper, the request from Chandi Pustakalaya of Cuttack for Odia book for Raja Ramomohan Ray Library, and the job every year to publish books on wildlife activities in Odisha kept my flow of writing. Most recently, it is a revival with the publication of book “Gharial is a Fish-eating Crocodile: Its Ecology, Behaviour and Conservation”.   I thank my friends, well wishers and ‘task-masters’ who kept me and my passion living to this stage.

1Singh, L. A. K. (1976): Crocodile Research in India. Science Today, 10(8): 6
2Singh, L. A. K. (1976): Hatching Gharials in Orissa. Tiger Paper, F.A.O., Thailand. 111(2) : 20-21.
3Singh, L. A. K. (1976): Gars and Gharials. Science Reporter, 13(8): 497- 498.
4Singh, L. A. K. (1976): Save the Crocodiles. Science Reporter, 13(9): 539-542.
Singh, L. A. K. (1976): What drives Turtles toward water Science Reporter, 15 (1):50-52.
5Singh, L. A. K. and Behura, B. K. (1977) :  Echolocation in animals.  Science Reporter, 14(10): 655-657.
6Singh, L. A. K. (1979): To change is chameleon.  Science Reporter, 16 (1) : 59-61.
7Singh, L. A. K. (1984): Male or female in reptiles--a conservation enigma. Science Reporter, 21(2) : 80-81.

There are only seven articles in Science Reporte, my magazine of dreams from school days. But these were stimulant enough to keep the flow coming. Now it is a different feeling when I see other writers mentioning my work on Tiger Colour in the pages of Science Reporter.