As a child Dr Boman Chhapgar was smitten by the marine inhabitants of the fish tank at his home. It wasn't a passing phase as, since then, he dedicated his life and career to studying the underwater world.
Now 83 years old, this veteran marine biologist released his 12th book at the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) last week. Simply titled Understanding the Sea, the book has already been registered by the Mumbai university as 'required reading' for the marine biology subject as part of the zoology course for the next academic year.
“My first book sold only 400 copies in 55 years. After so many years, I realised that it was too technical and, if I wanted to share the knowledge I have gathered of the marine world, all I had to do was write more simply. This book covers all one wants to know about the sea and how it works in simple language,” he said.
The chapters race through a number of engrossing topics, covering the history of marine biology, regions of the sea, waves, sounds, life forms and various intriguing phenomena, such as bio-luminescence (creatures that produce their own light). The book is being jointly published by BNHS and Oxford University Press.
Chhapgar, who spent a lot of time at the Taraporewala aquarium as a youngster, later went on to become curator for the same in 1959. After that, he became research officer-in-charge of the aquarium’s biological station in 1973.
“My interest in fishes was greatly influenced by the curator of the aquarium at that time. He would spend hours answering my never-ending questions and passed his passion on to me. When I became curator, the first advice I got was to respect the fishermen and keep my feet on the ground, because the day they didn’t bring fish, the aquarium would see its end,” reminisced Chhapgar, who has lost most of his vision due to old age and won't be writing any more books after the 13th, which he is in the process of dictating to a writer.
His portrait hangs in the Smithsonian museum in Washington DC for discovering six new species of crustaceans and fish. He is also a Life Fellow of the International Oceanographic Foundation, Miami, and has been on board two research expeditions of the Indian and the US Navy.