The best writings on the environment by women writers from India

Who am I?

I have had an affinity for nature since my childhood, but I did not train as an ecologist. An increasing concern about the environment, and the people more adversely affected by ecological degradation, made me switch careers early. I have worked on issues around conservation, land and forest rights of indigenous communities, and on the importance of nature in cities. Today I am an educator with a responsibility to communicate not only about environmental issues, but why it is a priority for communities in India. I am proud to be a part of the community of women writers on the environment in India whose voices and experiences need to be heard.

I wrote...

Cities and Canopies: Trees in Indian Cities

By Seema Mundoli, Harini Nagendra,

Book cover of Cities and Canopies: Trees in Indian Cities

What is my book about?

What lies at the intersection of history, culture, and ecology in urban India—trees.

Native and imported, sacred and ordinary, culinary and floral, favorites of different kings and commoners over centuries, trees are the most visible signs of nature in cities. They fundamentally shape a city’s identity. Trees are storehouses of the complex origins and histories of city growth, coming as they do from different parts of the world, brought in by various local and colonial rulers. Trees in India have served, above all, as memory keepers. They are our roots: their trunks our pillars, their bark our texture, and their branches our shade. Drawing on extensive research, Cities and Canopies is a book about both the specific and the general aspects of these gentle life-giving creatures.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Nine Rupees an Hour: Disappearing Livelihoods of Tamil Nadu

Why did I love this book?

We often grapple with the balance between the traditional and the modern in our lives. There are livelihoods we may perceive as primitive, and yet the products from these livelihoods find everyday use in our lives—palm jaggery to sweeten our desserts, flowers to adorn our hair, grass mats to rest on, wooden instruments that produce music and so many more. In our cocooned city lives, we forget about the millions in the villages engaged in these livelihoods doing “exceptional—yet perfectly ordinary—things to earn a living”.

Nine Rupees an Hour chronicles the struggles and aspirations of these extraordinary men and women. I remember being unable to put the book down. Everything in this book was at once familiar and at the same time unfamiliar. I have known, and used, many of the products described in the book, but how oblivious I had been about the grueling lives of those involved in making them.

By Aparna Karthikeyan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Nine Rupees an Hour as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In a rapidly urbanising nation, rural India is being erased from the popular imagination. Through her five years of travelling across the villages of Tamil Nadu, Aparna Karthikeyan gets to know men and women who do exceptional—yet perfectly ordinary—things to earn a living. She documents, through ten of these stories, the transformations, aspirations and disruptions of the last twenty-five years. The people she meets force these questions of her, and her reader: What is the culture we seek to preserve? What will become of food security without farmers? How can ‘development’ exclude 833 million people?

Including interviews with journalist P.…

Book cover of Rivers Remember: #ChennaiRains and The Shocking Truth of a Manmade Flood

Why did I love this book?

How would you deal with surviving a disastrous flood that swallows your childhood home? Krupa Ge does this by channeling her rage and anguish into a book. Writing about the devastating floods that hit her hometown Chennai, in southern India, in 2015, she deftly weaves her own experience of being stranded in the flood, worrying about her family, into the larger narrative of state apathy and culpability. At the core, this is a book about environmental injustice. The poorest in the city were the worst affected, losing family and all their possessions. And yet it was also the poor who showed extraordinary resilience and compassion: the fishermen who rescued stranded and recovered bodies or sanitation workers themselves affected but who turned up to clean the city.

Through meticulous research, the book unravels the causes of this man-made disaster, mincing no words in holding the state responsible for what it was trying to pass off as an “act of god”. For me, the book hit home. I too was stranded in the city during the floods, when the simple act of stepping out of the house was made impossible with the floodwaters lapping at the doorstep.

By Krupa Ge,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rivers Remember as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

Walking is a Way of Knowing: In a Kadar Forest

By Madhuri Ramesh, Manish Chandi, Matthew Frame (illustrator)

Book cover of Walking is a Way of Knowing: In a Kadar Forest

Why did I love this book?

This is a small book. But in its own way, it is rich and detailed when it comes to how profoundly it draws out the relationship between the forest and the Kadars, an indigenous community residing in South India. The authors visiting the forest are researchers from the city, but here in the forest their teachers are the Kadars whose very name means “people of the forest.” With a touch of humour the book, wonderfully illustrated, is an ode to the traditional ecological knowledge, powers of observation, and story-telling skills of the Kadars. The simple activity of walking on a forest path with the Kadars is a revelation of the wealth of knowledge they possess and their relationship with the plants, animals, and even spirits. This is knowledge no ecological textbook can provide, but this knowledge is immeasurable in its value.

By Madhuri Ramesh, Manish Chandi, Matthew Frame (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Walking is a Way of Knowing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the story of a Kadar elder who takes a young urban visitor through the tangled woods that make up his ancient home. The book captures an urban nature lover's experience of learning from a forestdweller - and is beautifully illustrated to bring alive the dark richness of an lndian tropical forest.

Book cover of Animal Intimacies: Interspecies Relatedness in India's Central Himalayas

Why did I love this book?

I have two pets cats, and my relationship with them is pretty straightforward—I care for them to the point of being obsessive about meeting their every need. Unlike me, the communities described in this book have a range of relationships with the non-human species they share space with. Care of course, and kinship, but also relationships of conflict and violence. Complex themes such as animal ethics, Hindu nationalism, the politics of exclusion, conservation, and even inter-species love are written about against the backdrop of the everyday lives of the villagers. The binary of domestic cow and the wild bear and the pigs that fall in between are all a part of this narrative of the tangled relationship between humans and animals. For those of us who balk at reading anthropological works, this book is a pleasure and easy read for the relatable style of writing.

By Radhika Govindrajan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Animal Intimacies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What does -it mean to live and die in relation to other animals? Animal Intimacies posits this central question alongside the intimate--and intense--moments of care, kinship, violence, politics, indifference, and desire that occur between human and nonhuman animals. Built on extensive ethnographic fieldwork in the mountain villages of India's Central Himalayas, Radhika Govindrajan's book explores the number of ways that human and animal interact to cultivate relationships as interconnected, related beings. Whether it is through the study of the affect and ethics of ritual animal sacrifice, analysis of the right-wing political project of cow-protection, or examination of villagers' talk about…

Book cover of Patriarchy and the Pangolin: A Field Guide to Indian Men and Other Species

Why did I love this book?

Who among us has not looked at our published academic paper and felt that tinge of sadness at so much left unsaid? This book is about all that is left unsaid—an entertaining account of the many stories behind the data collected for research that does not make it into our sanitised published papers. Traversing different parts of North India, two young women carrying out conservation research encounter not just nature but also opinionated men, corrupt officials, and a bureaucracy that worked at a frustrating snail’s pace. The accounts in the book are hilarious and relatable to anyone who has done field research, ecological or otherwise in India, where data collection is interspersed with memorable and amusing everyday conversations with a range of people. This is a book I would have loved to write myself. And I hope I still can someday, in my own way.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in India, Anthrozoology, and Mumbai?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about India, Anthrozoology, and Mumbai.

India Explore 383 books about India
Anthrozoology Explore 120 books about Anthrozoology
Mumbai Explore 28 books about Mumbai

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Story of a Goat, Full Tilt, and The Life and Teaching of Naropa if you like this list.