He plods through the plains of Maharashtra on a Kinetic scooter. “I prefer a non-gear scooter“, says geographer, educationist and antiplagiarism activist, VG Amrite, “since I can shoot at sight. His weapon, a simple camera.“Why, I ask him, is this cross-country travel so important in this day and age of apps and Google maps? He replies,“You cannot understand water scarcity in Marathwada without maps. There is a water divide in Maharashtra on either side of the Sayadharis. If we grasp the nature of water surplus and water deficit, we can provide water to all.“

This is Amrite’s credo: geography is nothing but application. Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Ritter are considered to be the fathers of geography. Like them, and his gurus, CD Deshmukh and CB Joshi, Amrite believes geography is an applied discipline to solve societal problems. His latest project is: creating a bi-lingual Gujarat atlas in Gujarati and English.He says,“There is no map awareness among the lay people.“

Born in Bordi, he says, he would have been a farmer. Even today, the family owns 20 acres of land which grows chikoo and peru. One of the early influences in his life was his father, a Gandhian, who taught Hindi in the balwadis of Dahanu taluka. “Father was an atheist, but a member of all the temple trusts because the people of the region trusted him.“

Besides “trust“, Amrite has inherited many things from his father, who lived till the age of 95. “The tenets of Nayi Taleem under the trees and the creation of the Prayogsheel Shaala as well as Gyan Rachna Wada (constructivism education), where we felt one must be a facilitator of ideas and not a mere teacher. It was not bookish education but exploring the world through the paddy fields, carpentry, weaving, observing trees and the birds.“

That is how the importance of children’s education was drilled into Amrite.

Education, remains Amrite’s passion. He has headed many committees including the Bal Bharti textbook board in Maharashtra. The aim has been simple: “create good, informative books and ensure the language is simple and accessible.“ Even today, he tries to “correct the many wrongs that bedevil our education“ for a salary of Rs 1.

He has created more than 75 booklets and maps of all shapes and hues. That’s why his students refer to him as “the SP Chatterjee of Maharashtra“ -a polymath who believes geography cannot afford to fade from our collective memory. Like Chatterjee, he is curious about everything, be it, wielding the harmonium or a flute; or being a shishya to Vasant Dev (lyricist and translator) in the formative years of his life. His interdisciplinary approach puts paid to the absurd notion that geography and the arts are separate entities.

As I descend the stairs and open the gate, Raga Yaman is being rendered on a flute.VG Amrite hopes that one day, his geogra phy lessons will be musical, lyricalal and hummable and not so easily pigeon-holed.

-(Ramu Ramanathan is a playwright, editor of PrintWeek and a Mumbaikar. )

Short takes

What is the best place in Mumbai?
The home of Jhunnarkar, a retired teacher from Paranjpe School, is an adda. All geographers from Mumbai meet regularly at his home near Shivaji Park to admire the models he has collected on his various trips in India and overseas.

A day in Mumbai which you shall never forget?
I was delivering a lecture in a city college in Byculla about monsoon cycles, when the 1992 riots broke out. As I was returning home, I thought to myself how geography can be a unifying factor.

One event in Mumbai which cast an everlasting impression on you?
CB Joshi was the head at Ruparel College. When he shifted to Parle College to set up the geography department, everyone migrated with him. The teaching staff and the office staff, with our teaching tools plus the minerals and rocks in our pocket. It was a juloos from Dadar to Parle.