i couldn’t do it…write a tribute to Fatji…this is a feeble attempt to try and explain this wonderful, delightful, person..so committed to tigers. A friend, mentor, guide, guru.

Those who say, ‘what difference can I make, I am only one person’, haven’t had the good fortune to know Fateh Singh Rathore: who created Ranthambhore, put it and its tigers on the world map, gave the tigers space, and the star status they enjoy today… and most importantly inspired and nurtured an army of tiger aficionados who fight for its cause today.

Fateh Singh Rathore embodied the Power of One. He changed the world of the tiger… if the tiger lives today, in Ranthambhore, and in our hearts, we owe it to him.

It is a task impossible to encapsulate a man’s life in limited wordage… how do you quantify his contribution, or capture his joie de vivre, his work, his commitment, his passion?

Let’s get the basics first: TigerMan Fateh was a man of modest education and feudal upbringing and went through a series of jobs—all ending in a bit of disaster (“I was the disaster”, he would chortle) before he was appointed as a ranger in the forest department. In the early days, it wasn’t the forests or its denizens that held his interest, it was his Royal Enfield motorbike, and he recalls the time when he scampered—trembling—up a tree when a tiger, curious about the roar of the bike, came investigating!

That changed. And the fear… turned to love.

Perhaps, the first indication of Fateh’s change of heart was his growing resentment of shikar (those were pre-protection days). When he spotted yet another pair of shkar’s tying a machan he decided to act. As the hunters waited at night, ght, bait in place, rifles in hand for the ‘doomed’ tiger, Fateh spoiled the party, leading a loud procession beating drums, singing bhajans. The Americans went, disgruntled, and the tiger, was spared. This was vintage Fateh, always game for a gag, and fiercely protective of his tigers, and Ranthambhore… a passion and commitment that continued to his dying day. It never wavered-even when he was beaten up, almost to death, in 1981 when trying to protect the forest from grazing; or when, post retirement, he was barred from entering his beloved park by the state, for speaking out the truth that Ranthambhore, and its tigers were dying.

‘Mr Ranthambhore’devoted his life to the park: he walked the forest with his band of men, laid out the network of dirt roads to facilitate protection, took on poachers, bureaucrats and politicians, patiently won the trust of villagers, persuading and coaxing them to relocate from the park. He cried with the people, sharing their grief as they walked away from their ancestral home. Months later, he brought in the headman, who delighted in seeing the tiger walk across what was once their village. The tiger..had come home.

Under his vigilant, caring eye, the tigers flourished, and shed their fear of man… opening their world, sharing their secrets giving the park the fame and stature it enjoys today. Ranthambhore today is a hub around the tiger—with NGOs, a school, a multi-specialty hospital, a thriving tourism industry, the famous Ranthambhore school of Art that has trained local artists, a hostel for the poachers’ children to educate them, owing largely to the vision of one man.

But for Fateh it was not what he did for the tiger, but what the tiger did for him. “I owe the tiger everything”, he would say, “they made me world-famous.”

Fateh loved tigers, he had an instinct–almost a spiritual connection. He could feel their presence. ‘Tigers,’ he announced on my first visit to the park with him, as I peered at a landscape devoid of cat… and sure enough within minutes, our Gypsy was surrounded by four tigers. A mother, and three sub-adults, who arranged themselves around the vehicle, effectively blocking our path for over an hour. No, I did not know fear. I had another tiger in the Gypsy with me!

Fatji–as many of us knew him, was larger than life, full of exuberance, warm, childlike, generous to a fault and took to heart all who loved his forest.

On March 1, ‘Mr Ranthambhore’ left us, losing the battle to cancer. The tigers knew they had lost their friend-and champion. At 4 am the next day, hours before the funeral, a tiger appeared behind his house, roaring thrice-maybe in final farewell, maybe to pay his last respects but I like to think, to reassure that the spirit of the tiger rested within him, forever.

There cannot be Ranthambhore without Fatji, but there must, for it is there that he lives on. There will always be a Ranthambhore flush with tigers, it is the only way we can serve the memory of the man who lived for it.

Published in The Sunday Guardian, March 13, 2011