Wildbuzz: Making merry in the moon’s shadow | punjab$regional takes | Hindustan Times
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Wildbuzz: Making merry in the moon’s shadow

The administration is determined to shut down night life in the City Beautiful by midnight, but that is the time when the borders and the peripheral jungles come alive with stag parties.

punjab Updated: Apr 18, 2016 12:39 IST
Neelgais feed on crops adjacent to the IRB campus, Sarangpur, past midnight.
Neelgais feed on crops adjacent to the IRB campus, Sarangpur, past midnight.(VIKRAM JIT SINGH)

The administration is determined to shut down night life in the City Beautiful by midnight, but that is the time when the borders and the peripheral jungles come alive with stag parties.

A drive of 30 minutes past midnight from the heart of Chandigarh to Perch dam nestling in the Shivaliks purchased us spectacles of diverse wild species. It started as we took a right turn just short of Mullanpur to the IRB Campus of Sarangpur. A lone wild boar stood by the side of the four laned road munching offerings left by people for ants.

Then came a Rufous-tailed hare, which typically ran in front of us in the headlights before breaking off into the shrubs. We took a left turn from the IRB campus and came across neelgais feasting calmly on crops, 30 yards off the road. The snoring farmer would doubtless spew the most vile Punjabi abuses upon dawn’s expose of the neelgais’ formidable gluttony.

As we drove through slumbering Perch village, a female boar with nine piglets dashed across the road from a garbage dump followed by sambars breaching fields barricaded with thorn. Upon reaching the dam’s perimeter gates, the headlights picked a Brown fish owl sipping from a perennial stream.

Large-tailed nightjars regaled us with their repetitive calls and graceful glides. Fireflies were aflutter as the weather had warmed. As we looked heavenwards, aircraft with blinking lights and shooting stars tiptoed across twinkling cosmic flowers. They appeared just like fireflies wandering among shadowy lantana and bougainvillea blooms on the dam’s embankment.


Aerial photography of a brick kiln in the Punjab countryside. (THAKUR DALIP SINGH)

The news that the estranged scion of the Namdhari sect, Thakur Dalip Singh, was alleged to be behind the murder of the reigning matriarch, Mata Chand Kaur, shook me to the core. My mind retreated to the 1980s and 1990s when Singh would arrive at our house in Chandigarh, and later Delhi, in crisp, flowing robes and armed with a portfolio of exotic bird pictures he wanted to show my late father. Singh’s memorable pictures included the last of the Siberian cranes visiting Bharatpur, and what intrigued me most as a child were peacocks he had captured artfully as reflections in dew drops.

The current murder allegations against him are the subject matter of an ongoing criminal investigation and besiege public perception. When I spoke to him last week after more than two decades, I found his tone despondent and weary. But what cannot be belittled is Singh’s contribution towards showcasing the natural wonders of India and the West. Singh’s photographs grace many books — Bharatpur: Bird Paradise, A Photographic Guide to Birds of Sri Lanka & India, Handbook of Birds of India & Nepal, Kaziranga Inheritance and Karnataka Wildlife — and he has bagged national/ international awards. Singh’s aerial photography of landscapes, natural disasters, canals and gurdwaras is unique. All those who have never had the privilege of zooming in a private jet, and seeing what the mundane earth looks like from just a few hundred metres above, will doubtless be charmed by Singh’s soaring lens.


The Purdey once owned by Prince Frederick Duleep Singh and later by Eric Clapton. (Holt’s auctioneers)

What on earth could possibly connect Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s dynastic rump that settled in England after the AngloSikh Wars to Eric Clapton, guitarist and singer of such hits as ‘I shot the Sheriff ’, ‘Wonderful tonight’ and others? The common thread is a passion for collecting fine British sporting guns regarded for firing prowess, balance/light weight, gunsmithing and engraved art. Clapton, the ‘God of guitars’, collects, fires and sells fine guns. Rock royalties afford Clapton the same measure of princely indulgences that the Maharaja’s anglicised offspring once flaunted in Victorian England.

“It is following the same pattern as when I collected guitars — I get obsessed, then engulfed and finally narrow the collection down,” Clapton was quoted during a sale of 13 of his guns through Holt’s Auctioneers of Norfolk that fetched 4,43,000 English pounds. Among the firearms auctioned was a .12 bore shotgun custom-built by James Purdey & Sons of London for Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, the second son of Maharaja Duleep Singh and grandson of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. With the withering away of the Duleep dynasty, this Purdey had over time and with change of ownerships came to be acquired by Clapton. It was originally completed in 1896 for Prince Frederick as a matched No. 3 gun for the pair of guns, serial nos. 15211 / 2, which he had ordered in 1895.

Holt’s Auctioneers’ media manager Andrew Orr informed this writer that Prince Frederick’s Purdey was sold for 13,750 English pounds on behalf of Clapton on December 13, 2007. The gun was accompanied by a signed ‘Game Book’ belonging to Prince Frederick and covered shoots with British nobles from August 1, 1894, to December 15, 1898, with an overall tally of 39,155 killed game.

Clapton hunts driven partridge and pheasant on England’s shooting estates, along with rock stars, Roger Waters and Steve Winwood, and uses pricey guns, some even sporting an engraving of himself strumming a guitar on the butt’s side plate!