Theodore Baskaran

Lifetime Service Award 2020

Conservation writer, historian, naturalist and veteran activist

S. Theodore Baskaran was born in 1940 to parents who were school teachers. He joined the Indian Postal Service in 1964, later retiring as the Chief Postmaster General of Tamil Nadu. His childhood in Dharapuram village and his time at the Madras Christian College sparked his love for nature, particularly birdwatching. Mentored by Dr. Gift Siromoney, head of the college’s Statistics Department, he went on to nurse a passion for nature. He and his wife trained in a wildlife educator’s course held at Mudumalai by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Together, they began hosting nature camps for children. This led to a long-term association with WWF-India, where he later served two terms as a trustee.

In 1969, Baskaran began to write on nature for The Hindu, going on to pen evocative articles for several publications. He also authored five books in English, including The Dance of the Sarus: Essays of a Wandering Naturalist (1999); The Book of Indian Dogs (2017) and more recently, in 2020, A Day with the Shama: Essays on Nature. Baskaran was one of the inspirations behind the founding of the Madras Naturalists’ Society in 1978, one of Chennai’s oldest community conservation and activism groups. He also edited Sprint of the Blackbuck, a compilation of the Society’s periodical, during its 25th anniversary.

In 1980, he was motivated to work on Tamil language writings on conservation, including eight books. He believes that for conservation to be a people’s movement, the discourse has to be in Tamil (the local language). He had a regular column in the Tamil magazine Uyirmmai and a fortnightly column on wildlife in The Hindu Tamil. His latest Tamil book The Residual Earth, has been well received. He is fascinated by how indigenous communities record their knowledge of nature around them in their mother-tongues and through folklore. For his Tamil writings, he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Toronto-based Canada Literary Garden in 2014 at Toronto.

He has served as the South Indian Representative for the International Primate Protection League (IPPL), and also served as Honorary Wildlife Warden in the 90s while he lived in Chennai. Now residing in Bengaluru, Baskaran continues to provide commentary on India’s environmental movement. He nurtures myriad interests, such as Art History and Film Studies and has a keen affection for Indian breeds of dogs.