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HindustanTimes Tue,16 Sep 2014

About India's original tigerwallah

Prerna Bindra   December 21, 2012
First Published: 23:35 IST(21/12/2012) | Last Updated: 12:42 IST(22/12/2012)

Tiger Warrior: Fateh Singh Rathore
Soonoo Taraporewala
Penguin
Rs. 499 pp 230

Evidently, there is more than an element of favouritism when reviewing Tiger Warrior: Fateh Singh Rathore. Can it be any other way?

Not just because Fatji, as I and many others knew him, gave me my first big story as a budding journalist and showed me my first tigers (four of them in one go), but mostly for the fact that we owe him Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, as we know and love it today.

It is difficult to pin down the irrepressible Fateh Singh Rathore, the dashing, flamboyant Rajput, well-known for his fierce devotion to tigers, so much so that he almost died - he was beaten to a pulp - for protecting them.

The author, who had years of association with Fatji, has done a remarkable - albeit almost impossible - job of encapsulating in her book this extraordinary man, not just tracing his history, detailing his life and his unflagging battle for the tiger, but has captured his joie de vivre, his generosity of spirit, remarkable sense of humour, zest for life...

Fatji devoted his life to the park: he walked the forest with his band of men, laid out the network of forest roads to facilitate protection, took on poachers, bureaucrats and politicians, patiently won the trust of villagers, coaxing them to relocate from the park.

He cried with the people, sharing their grief as they walked away from their ancestral homes. Months later, he brought in the headman, who delighted in seeing the tiger walk across what was once their village...

The Tiger Warrior is a valuable documentation of the struggles and sacrifice - of what  it takes to keep the tiger alive, to save it from extinction - and is a must read for the current breed of tiger enthusiasts largely engaged in saving the tiger through Facebook petitions.

It is a fascinating account, with amazing tiger encounters and insights into their behaviour observed by India's original tigerwallah, as he spent many days, and nights with the big cat.

The book is also peppered with Mr Ranthambhore's - the moniker given by US President Bill Clinton to Fatji - encounters with the rich and famous. I am personally fascinated by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's passionate interest in wildlife (he and his family spent a week in the park).

If only our current leadership shared the same... The Tiger Warrior (both the man, and the book) is inspirational. It shows us the Power of One.

Prerna Bindra is a member of the National Board of Wildlife


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