Happy Under The Open Sky

The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be ignited.

– Plutarch

These lines top the resume of educationist, naturalist, environmentalist and artist, Pintueli Gajjar (56). She believes curiosity is the beginning of all education but passion keeps it going.

Gajjar developed a love for nature as a child, when she would spend several hours admiring birds that nested in the neighbourhood trees. Life for Gajjar truly began in 1988, after her marriage fell apart. The feisty woman decided to piece together the fragments and start life afresh. “I could not do a lot of things due to commitments at home but now I am making up for it,” she said adding, “I have changed for the better”.

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For many years, she taught but later switched to holding sessions for students and training programmes for teachers and education counsellors on nature education and environmental awarenessin collaboration with the Rajkot Zoological Park, Wildlife Conservation Trust and Gujarat Forest Department. In 2006, she was part of the first batch of Green Teachers, a distance education course with CEE, Ahmedabad, earning a gold medal.

Gajjar has now stopped the workshops on nature and embarked on a self-education journey on bird life and conservation of their habitats. At present, she and her partner, ace photographer Dipak Joshi, are trying to educate people living around a lake infested with water hyacinth, that is draining the lake of all nutrients. This adversely affects the delicate marine ecosystem and impacts avians too. They have printed some pamphlets on the ravages of the plant and also how it would benefit the farmers, who live in the vicinity of the lake.

Gajjar never considered age to be a detriment and continued with her first passion, riding a bike, even at the age of 50. She found mention in the Limca National Records for Gujarat Coastal Marine Pollution Awareness Bike Expedition in January 2011 for being a co-rider along with 45 men, across 49 villages and towns, 9 ports and the Gir forest covering a total of 1650 kms. She is also a member of India’s first official female bikers’ association Bikerni. Biking has, unfortunately, taken a pillion seat for the moment, as she is concentrating on the conservation project for now.

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“Travel gives me an opportunity to experience the culture of a place, learn about the traditions of people and study the local flora/fauna. I am an easy traveller and am happiest with the stars above my head and the earth beneath my feet,” says the feisty exemplar.

“It is the supreme duty of a teacher not only to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge but also to teach ‘not to contradict and confute, nor to believe and take for granted but to weigh and consider.’ This, I aim to do by guiding without dictating and participating without dominating,” said Gajjar.

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Apart from volunteering and leading several nature camps and treks, she had also participated in several social service activities like the earthquake relief with NGO Nav Nirman Abhiyaan in Bhuj, Kutch in 2001 and during the Uttarakhand floods in 2012, volunteering for Goonj, in Uttarkashi. Her other hobbies include reading, writing, gardening, cooking, astronomy, sketching and watercolour painting. She dabbles in all forms of arts and crafts, especially producing utility products from waste material. She also catches and rehabilitates small animals, birds, snakes and other reptiles from urban areas.

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In sports, she enjoys swimming, brisk walks, handball, badminton, volleyball and hiking/ trekking as outdoor sports and plays chess, carom, scrabble and puzzles as indoor games – lately, Sudoku & Mahjong.

“One has to aim at self-improvement. I am still a learner,” she said adding, “That is the best way to discover life.”

Achievements:

  • Gajjar has completed several vocational education courses like wildlife conservation and management course from Nature Conservation Society and P.G. department of zoology, S.G.B Amravati University in 2010, advanced programme in draping/ pattern making from NIFT in 1988, fashion illustration/ apparel design from NIFT in 1988 and interior design from J J School of Art in Mumbai in 1979.
  • She held freelance workshops on nature and environment education and participated in bird census. In February 2013, she recorded data from Diu island for global bird species count – Big Bird Day and held a wildlife workshop for teachers and schppl cluster councillors as part of wildlife week in Rajkot in October 2012 in association with Wildlife Conservation Trust, Gujarat forest department and Rajkot zoological park. Another wildlife workshop was organised by the Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan in Rajkot in October 2011.
  • A nature education workshop was held in a village school in Palia, Dudhwa tiger reserve in November 2010.
  • She participated in the Great Himalayan Bird Count held by Action and Research for Conservation in Himalayas, Dehradun in October 2010.
Resident of a once-sleepy, upcoming town called Navi Mumbai, Falguni Banerjee always wished to study in Pune, the cultural capital of Maharashtra. She studied journalism from Pune University and began her career in the media industry there. She later worked with top media houses in Mumbai and Nagpur and has been felicitated for her work. Falguni is multi-linguistic and enjoys painting in her free time. A voracious reader, she boasts of a personal collection of an odd-2000 books!

Readers can write to her at pinksworth.com@gmail.com

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