Please write a bit about your background.
I grew up in south India in the cities of Madras (as it was known then), and Bangalore. Until I reached Law School at 17, I was educated in a line of all-girls catholic schools run by nuns, which led to some decidedly warped notions that I had to shake off when I left, but also instilled a strong work ethic. I went on to study at the National Law School of India in Bangalore. NLS, as it is known, was at the time still in the first decade of its existence, and yet to become the leading institution it is now. My five years in Law School were transformational. I discovered a love of the law for its own sake as well as for its ability to drive social change. I also found a way to combine my passion for environmental causes with my fascination with the minutiae of the law. I went on to study for the BCL at Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship. At the time, the BCL did not have an option on environmental law, let alone international environmental law. So, while I enjoyed the BCL for its academic rigor, I felt the need for more specialized learning, which I received at Yale on the LL.M. I studied environmental law, international law, justice and feminist legal theory for a year, and came back to Oxford to pursue a D.Phil. in the field of international environmental law. I went on to teach in Cambridge, before heading back to Delhi for personal reasons. After more than a decade in academia in India, and despairing of the levels of pollution in Delhi, I moved back to what I’ve always considered my home away from home, Oxford.
What led you to a career in academia?
I’ve always enjoyed reading, writing, exploring, connecting the dots, and ferreting out solutions to complex polycentric problems. Academia seemed the obvious choice.
What are your research interests and why have you chosen those particular areas?
I work in the area of international environmental law, in particular international climate change law. I grew up passionate about environmental causes. I volunteered at animal shelters, and brought stray animals of all sorts, including cows, home, much to my mother’s annoyance. I turned vegetarian at 16 for ethical reasons, and am gradually turning vegan. At Law School, I gravitated towards environmental law, and found international law fascinating. From there, to a career in international environmental law, where I believed there to be scope for impact, was a seamless move. My academic work is closely intertwined with policy practice. I’ve worked with governments, the UN, and inter-governmental organizations. I worked on the Paris Agreement as part of the UN Climate Secretariat’s core drafting and advisory group - that experience brought home to me the power of law in shaping policy and engineering real change.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on several books and articles. The most exciting is a piece of work I’m engaged in with a team of brilliant social science modelers. We use the principled framework of international environmental law to determine in quantitative terms the ‘fair shares’ of states in mitigating climate change. This work responds to a need identified by climate litigators and courts, and we are hopeful that it will feed into ongoing climate change litigation in national and regional courts.
I’ve also just finalized, with Jackie Peel, Melbourne, the 2nd edition of the Oxford Handbook of International Environmental Law. The Handbook contains 67 chapters with over 70 authors, took four years to bring to completion, and is we hope a field-defining work. It will be in print in June.
What is the best thing about living/working in Oxford?
There are many things about living and working in Oxford that I enjoy. The intellectual companionship of briliant and congenial colleagues, the wider community that is as diverse as it is warm and welcoming, and the interactions with some of the best young minds of their generation. But, what I enjoy the most, is the proximity to nature - the ability to take long restorative walks and cycle rides along the canal, in the meadows, and across the fields, and to breathe clean oxygen-filled air. I loved living in Delhi for its people, food, culture and vibe. But, living in one of the most polluted cities in the world for over a decade has made me cherish every breath I take here.
Who inspires you or has inspired you in the past?
I come from and have been inspired by a line of strong professional women. My great grandmother was the first Post-Mistress of her local post-office. She lost her husband, and brought up seven children by herself, while working full time. My grandmother was an Inspectress of Schools, and my mother retired as the Chief Commissioner of Income Tax. All of them shattered various glass ceilings and were the ‘first’ to do many of the things they did. They were also to varying degrees, particularly my mother, immensely loving, nurturing and generous. I am conscious, now that I am a parent, of how much selflessness, grit, tireless hard work and multi-tasking it requires to balance professional and parental commitments, and I am grateful to have had such brilliant role-models.