1931 - A time when most women were aspiring to become a successful wife, mother or daughter, Dr. E.K. Janaki Ammal was already setting an example by being an early Indian woman doctorate in basic sciences from the University of Michigan. A competent botanist and geneticist, her seminal work on sugarcane varieties and genetics of flowering plants are recognised to this day. She was a fierce environmental activist and taught Botany at the Women’s Christian College, Chennai. In recognition of her contributions to the field of botany, she was elected as a Fellow of the Indian National Science Academy in 1957, was awarded the Padmashri in 1977, and was herself a founding Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences in 1935.She also served as the Director General of the Botanical Survey of India, and even has a flower named after her -- Magnolia Kobus Janaki Ammal! She was indeed a symbol of inspiration to many girls and women of her age.
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“Where are house sparrows these days? They have just become extinct!”, is a common rhetoric we hear these days in the cities. Yet, it is impossible to scientifically assert that they are dwindling in numbers, since there has not been any systematic observation or data gathered about them.
The case of the ‘vanishing’ sparrows in cities like Bengaluru throws light on an important issue associated with biodiversity – the lack of data. Old-timers across the city are able to recall a time when sparrows were ubiquitous and also observe them diminish by the day. To add to this, there has been significant drop in the tree cover and the number of insects and birds in our neighbourhood. But, to objectively answer any questions like the change in the numbers of any species, the total number of species present and the effects of a vanishing species on an ecosystem, rigorous observations, documentation and research is a necessity. In the lack of these, it is simply impossible to infer or conclude that there has been a change, let alone the decline or disappearance of certain species. This drives us to reconsider the strategies of understanding biodiversity.