By Soonoo Taraporewala
(Viking, Rs 499)
A Reverent Gaze
The title of this book is an evocative one. With the Rajput references and the many elements of machismo, it carries echoes of clanging metal, hints of tales of valour, images of a brave fighter wiping blood and sweat over hard fought battles. You will find all those elements in this book—only, the landscape isn’t the ramparts of some historical fort but the open grasses of a national park, and the battleground is tiger conservation in India.
The story of Fateh Singh Rathore—the man who carved out Ranthambhore National Park and worked tirelessly to create a safe haven for tigers—is tremendously inspiring. An exceptional naturalist, Fateh Singh was almost empathetic in his knowledge of tiger behaviour, “to such an extent,” the author tells us, “that he himself was like a tiger as it is possible for any human to be.” As a long standing friend, Taraporewala manages to bring to life many facets of this brave man, and the events of his long undulating career as a forest official and conservationist—his family background, his almost random-seeming appointment in the Forest Department, and his subsequent dedication to the tiger cause. Also, there is great insight into the larger operations of the Indian Forest Service and the Government.
The book holds, however, more due to the drama in the life of its subject—which the writer reports earnestly—than to the style of prose. The technique is more ‘tell’ than ‘show’. Barring a fervent foreword by Valmik Thapar, who grew to be a close friend of Fateh Singh’s, we get no voices but Taraporewala’s, not many quotes, no very interesting interviews or opinions, no commentary from the subject’s family or friends. The assortment of pictures is disappointing as well—a mere eight pages and not one image of Jogi Mahal, the beautiful forest resthouse in Ranthambhore that Fateh Singh restored and rebuilt.
For all that though, this is a book that both rouses and disheartens. We see the efforts that a single man is capable of, the fruit that can be brought to bear if the will exists but, equally, the heartbreak that comes from a world too mediocre to receive such dedication with gratitude or grace.
This was published in Outlook Traveller, January 2013. The link is here.