Beautiful & brutal
Baljit Singh

Wild tales from the wild
by Saad Bin Jung. Roli Books. Pages 203.

The two defining moments in Indiaís resolve to conserve its wildlife and associated habitats occurred in the 1970s. The first was the launch of Project Tiger and the other, the promulgation of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. While Project Tiger signified a paradigm shift from hunting wildlife for sport to conserving it as a heritage for posterity, the Act provided legislation for the management of wildlife as a national asset.

Over a period of time, Project Tiger led to the concept of "Umbrella species," implying that in order to save the tiger we would need to care for the total ecology. The tourism industry was quick to step under that umbrella as eco-tourism.

Saad Bin Jungís is perhaps the first wholesome account of an entrepreneurís experience about eco-tourism. His narrative leaves little doubt that eco-tourism is an effective tool to conserve nature. Jung succeeds admirably in show-casing both the beautiful and the brutal face of wildlife. His narrative makes a convincing case of eco-tourism as another blue collar, honourable vocation in life with prospects of financial security and a reasonably uncomplicated life in an unpolluted environ. Is that not a lot for one life?

Altogether the book makes absorbing reading, had Jung avoided the temptation to narrate his entire experience and limited the book to about 150 pages, it would have been hard to put it down. If the tonal quality and composition of photographs included in the book were as good as the authorís portrait on the back-cover, the overall appeal could have been much more. The only map leaves one puzzled as it is difficult to relate it to the narrative. And who corrupted Kailash Sankhlaís excellent portrait of the Tiger from Ranthambhore (on the front cover) by obliterating the reflection of the tigerís face in the pool with that of the authorís?

Encounters with wildlife are mostly momentary and always when they are the least expected. And at that instant, the predominant instinct both with man and animal is invariably to break contact. With superior genetic impulses in self-preservation, mostly it is the animal which, in a flash of a second, simply melts away into his surroundings. That is the first moment when man regains his composure, becomes conscious of the rush of adrenalin, the tremor in his legs, heart-beat drumming in his temples and in some cases even cold sweat. The narration of the encounter is then a product of fact, fiction and fantasy. Jungís encounters with animals in the wilderness have an authentic ring barring a few melodramatic pranks like patting an incensed elephant or rescuing his friend from a leopard by driving a motor cycle towards the animal.

The book brings out the authorís deep understanding of animals and their traits and behaviour.

For instance, there is the absorbing episode of the birth of an elephant calf. The herd collectively prepares a cushioned pad of leaves for the expectant cow to lie upon, just before the excruciating labour pain sets in. The matriarch assists with the delivery initially by nudging the cow on the sides and once the head protrudes, she gently pulls out the baby with her trunk. The rest of the herd which had cordoned the site from predators now trumpet in unison. The baby is then lifted by the matriarch and assisted to take the first few strides. It is guided to the water where it is washed up, then brought to the doting mother and finally guided to her udder to suckle his first nourishment.

Then there is the story of the gory death of a young elephant. The grief of the mother and of the head is so palpable and the poignancy of the burial ceremony so intense that it brings tears to your eyes no matter how many times you re-read it.

The litmus test of a good book of yarns is if a few of them leave an impact on you. A few of Jungís tales certainly will.