Science and Practice #3: Stories of a chronicler with Arati Kumar Rao

In this episode, Hita and Michael speak with Arati Kumar Rao who describes herself as a chronicler of landscapes – of both biodiversity as well as livelihoods using all the storytelling tools she has at her disposal – from photographs to writing to sketching. She is based out of Bengaluru, India.  We speak about her enduring love for literature, writing, photography, and drawing and how that love translated into the work she does today. We talk of some of the stories from her experiences of chronicling landscape change across India and elsewhere that have stayed with her, and given her a sense of hope or despair as she navigates her own personal identity against those of the people she talks about. We speak of a particular historically practised form of rainwater harvesting in the deep Thar desert – the Khadeen – that is over 700 years old, and is intimately connected to agrarian practices in the region. We discuss the need to break down silos that exist across different disciplines or practice and to speak both to and across the social as well as the scientific stories of a landscape and how they need to be inclusive of the people that live and experience those stories in their daily lives. We speak about feeling the land with all of one’s senses and how that is different from zooming across it in a vehicle, linking those ideas to the privilege that comes from being an ‘other’ who studies people and livelihoods with the freedom of leaving that landscape and going back to the privilege we came from. Yet with the notion that we are not separate from what’s happening around us. We end with a discussion on the multi-layered and deep rooted patriarchy that a woman encounters when leading a traveller’s lifestyle, both from within the communities she engages with, as well as the community she comes back to. 

Arati’s website:

In Arati’s own words, here is the story of the Khadeen:

She is also to found documenting stories of change on her Instagram handle: @aratikumarrao