“Dreaming in Calcutta and Channel Islands”– Shubhobroto Ghosh - 14ᵗʰ January 2016

The lecture was about the book, ‘Dreaming In Calcutta and Channel Islands’ by Shubhobroto Ghosh.  The book is a story of a young, absent-minded student’s fantasy about animals, zoos and Gerald Durrell. It is a critique of rote learning and other conventions fostered in Indian schools versus educational systems abroad; a fundamental exploration of existential problems facing man and animals; and a young man’s inward journey in search of his own character, mirroring his travels from tradition-bound Indian societies in Kolkata and the North-East to western societies represented by Jersey Island and England.

The author placed the book in the context of keeping wild animals in captivity with a presentation titled - ‘Zoos : Preserves or Prisons?’, that examined the incarceration of wild animal captivity, starting from the historical origins of menageries to current zoos. He provided examples of incidents at zoos of Copenhagen, Jersey, London, Bronx, Toronto, Calcutta and Bombay and the Calcutta Snake Park to give a perspective on the ongoing debate on keeping wild animals in captivity.

The historical and cultural context of zoos was discussed, including the captivity of Ota Benga, a Pygmy human from Congo who was exhibited in Bronx Zoo in New York in 1906. Conservation, education and recreational aspects of zoos were spoken of and controversial management practices in zoos were put forward. Examples of best practices and worst practices with respect to captive animal management were provided and pioneering figures in the zoo debate such as Gerald Durrell, Billy Arjan Singh, Carl Sagan and Virginia McKenna were alluded to.

The presentation included two films – a video trailer of the book and a short film examining the pros and cons of Indian zoos.

The presentation was followed by a question and answer session on zoos and the exploitation of animals by humans for fashion and clothing.

About the Author:

Shubhobroto Ghosh was formerly a journalist at the Telegraph newspaper, whose work has also been published in Times of India, The New York Times, The Statesman, Asian Age, and The Hindu. Ghosh has been active in animal protection issues since the early nineties and has been a member and supporter of several animal protection organizations, among them Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Born Free Foundation, WWF and Beauty Without Cruelty. He has worked at the Wildlife Trust of India, was project coordinator for the Indian Zoo Inquiry sponsored by Zoocheck Canada, and did his Masters thesis on British zoos. He is a contributor to two books, 5 Elephants by Rob Laidlaw and a tribute to Jane Goodall entitled The Jane Effect, edited by Marc Bekoff and Dale Peterson.  Ghosh currently works as Senior Programme Officer at TRAFFIC India in New Delhi.