Nirupa Rao is a fervent illustrator, with a passion for all things botanical. Thanks to her talent and interest, the 26-year-old has been awarded the National Geographic Young Explorer’s Grant.
Talking about how she bagged it, Nirupa says, “I applied for the grant in 2015. The grant funds individuals aged between 18 and 25 years, who are working towards understanding and improving the natural world — from archaeologists and anthropologists, to ecologists and conservationists and anything in between. For a few years now, I’ve been pursuing the art of botanical illustration, and wanted to apply it to Indian plant species. As a medium that lies somewhere between art and science, it’s a wonderful way to draw peoples’ attention to a subject that they wouldn’t otherwise be interested in.”
Nirupa now intends to take her passion forward by creating a book that can open the minds of Indian children to the magical world of plants that exist in our own “backyard”, the Western Ghats. She will be working on the project with her botanist cousin, Siddarth Machado, her sister, Suniti Rao and award-winning photographer Prasenjeet Yadav.
“Featuring the carnivorous and the parasitic, the poisonous, the stinky and the unimaginably valuable, it aims to be the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory of the plant kingdom,” she says.
Nirupa, who hails from Bengaluru, has studied a range of subjects, from art and art history, to sociology and politics.
“I had a short stint with the Children’s Department at Bloomsbury Publishers in London — the same department that published the likes of Harry Potter and I was in awe of how they managed to make educational content so magical. Since then, I’ve longed to create such content for an Indian context,” she says.
Coming from a family of botanists and plant lovers, the illustrator also adds that the secret lives of plants are most often overlooked.