Atulya Misra’s book Oxygen Manifesto makes a case for environmental issues

IAS officer Atulya Misra puts the marginal under the spotlight in this book

You would expect a book titled Oxygen Manifesto: A Battle for the Environment (Rupa Publications) to hit the ground running with climate change statistics and species endangerment episodes. But, for a long portion of his early pages, IAS officer-turned author Atulya Misra talks about people. About island tribes in the Andamans and temple festivals in Tamil Nadu, fishing communities in Manipur and vegan lifestyles on the move, and a man in Manipur they call Thatha.

This was a deliberate decision by the author, not to draw the reader in to make the cause relatable, but to put the marginal under a spotlight. “Environmental issues themselves are marginal issues, in the current political scenario,” he points out, “My idea was to take everything from the margins to the centre.” Moreover, he adds, “The environment cannot be seen in isolation. It has to have a social context, a political context…the philosophy of life and the general culture of the nation is associated with it.” So the book describes these real, lesser-known lives and philosophies, but through the eyes of fictional protagonists. The story itself is fictional, but is peppered with hundreds of intriguing little facts about various Indian communities and their relationship with land and Nature.

Atulya Misra’s book Oxygen Manifesto makes a case for environmental issues

Take, for instance, the character called Thatha, based on the family history of a friend of Misra’s daughter. “When I asked him how he knew not only Hindi, but a number of other North Indian languages quite well, he told me that his father, though Tamilian, was from Manipur. He told me of a district there, called More, which had a significant Tamil population. I later found out that about 6 lakh people from various parts of Tamil Nadu are settled in that district. That is how the character of Thatha was created. There is a bit of Sunderlal Bahuguna in him. There are people like him around us, actively trying to plant trees and preserve Nature against disaster, out of sheer affection and possessiveness for their surroundings. But their stories are confined to the regions they belong to.” This character is Atulya’s way of giving such regional heroes their due.

Oxygen Manifesto: A Battle for the Environment is available at all major bookstores and online on Amazon and Flipkart.

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