A Life With Wildlife: From Princely India to the Present

Author: M.K. Ranjitsinh

Publisher: Harper Collins, 380 pages, Rs 799

A Life with Wildlife is  a sweeping record of  India’s wildlife from the Princely era to the cusp of independence and after- the Nehru years followed by Indira’s rule, under the succession of political powers thereafter and into the current times. The author is the link between royal and contemporary India and writes, with a lucid pen of the transition and how history and culture shaped our view and governance of wildlife. If I were to take this further, the bard himself is a product of the history and has played his role in shaping it. MK Ranjitsinh’s memoirs are unlike many penned by bureaucrats. It is about a man’s passion for wildlife rooted in his boyhood in the princely state of Wankaner (Gujarat) from the time he spent in the hide—not merely watching animals but something quite extraordinary.  The hide had a detachable wooden roof over which kills were placed attracting resident leopards. The roof was removed and writes the author “my greatest thrill was to have Father raise me up to the glass–the only thing separating human from cat—panel so that I could put my hands under the leopards’ belly and feel the warmth through…”

Remarkable, even from an era where gramophones were used to train leopards for the pleasure of a royal sighting! Such intriguing vignettes aside, what’s striking, and significant, is the abundance of wildlife then, and the vacuum that exists in places now emptied of them.  The sorry fate of the Great Indian Bustard illustrates the slide best: Ranjitsinh counted 28 in a compact two km in Jambudiya, also in Gujarat, in 1952. All that remains now are about a dozen in the state, of a 100 in India, and the world.

The author does not mince words, which may be the way of the retired bureaucratic freed of his diplomatic shackles.  Nor does he aim to please, taking unequivocal stands on contentious issues  notably the Forest Rights Act “as the most harmful Act in relation to the forests in the history of India”.

The canvas of ‘A Life…’ is vast   speaking of his involvement with conservation of the unique wildlife of Kashmir, travelogues into Bhutan and other wild places and amazing  encounters with the rarest of the world’s wildlife.  It is an educative, evocative read,  a worthy account of a wildlife warrior who soldiers on well into his 80s.

It is a life well-lived and its story well-told.

Read the full review here: http://www.hindustantimes.com/books/review-a-life-with-wildlife-by-mk-ranjitsinh/story-zJCzcX1q8PEpL6v31UUo2O.html