‘Till 1993-94, before I was sucked into hundreds of committees of the government, I had a happy life… I took photographs of tigers and wrote books. After that life became hell.’ That was Valmik Thapar in a 2007 interview to a website.
Thapar’s latest book, Tigers: My Life is a 400-page heavyweight that captures all that and more of his exciting life that changed one night when he decided to leave Delhi and take a deluxe train to Sawai Madhopur, the base station for visiting the Ranthambhore National Park. Thapar was then only 21. It was in Ranthambhore that Thapar met the man who became his “tiger guru” and “best buddy”: former chief wildlife warden of the park, Fateh Singh Rathore. Sadly, Rathore passed away before this book could be completed.
While the book is about the gorgeous park, its watering holes and the mighty fort that Mughal emperor Akbar captured in the 16th century, it has informative chapters on the importance of Ranthambhore in India’s political history. Other chapters deal with India’s chequered government-led conservation practices, man versus animal conflicts and presents field notes on nearly 150 different tigers, spread over 35 years.
Like every Thapar book, this, too, is a visual treat. For the first time, readers are treated to black and white photographs from the mid-1970s, latter-day colour transparencies and contemporary digital images. The spread includes 1,200 photographs taken by Rathore.
But the book is not only about the tigers. Because this park — or any tiger park — is not just about tigers but also about an entire habitat that includes sambhars, dragonflies, scorpions, snakes and crocodiles.
And yet, everything else becomes a backdrop to the tiger story. There is, after all, no animal as majestic as this one.