British Posts

Humayun’s Tomb: World Heritage Site by Aga Khan Trust for Culture

The incredibly beautiful Mughal monument, Humayun’s Tomb, was recently restored by the Aga Khan Trust. The project was carried out in partnership with the Archaeological Survey of India, and supported by the TATA Trusts has not only conserved the monument, but has also aided in the revival of traditional building skills, materials, and techniques. It took many years ( 2008 – 2015) was done with great care under the supervision of Ratish Nanda. Now a book has been published by Mapin India for AKTC documenting the magnificent work done in restoring the monument, a blueprint for the Taj Mahal. Here is a short video and a Facebook clip on the restoration. Discovery Channel and National Geographic too showed a documentary on this path-breaking project. According to the book description:

The Humayun’s Tomb-Nizamuddin area, inhabited by a vibrant local community, is visited by millions of tourists and pilgrims each year. Conservation works being undertaken on the monuments in this area have aimed to re-define standard conservation practice in India by setting benchmarks in using a craft-based approach, setting documentation standards, using a participatory and multi-disciplinary approach, and using the conservation initiative as a tool towards improving quality of life for local communities. This book aims to inform the general public about the discipline of conservation and the rationale behind the successful conservation initiative and makes an argument for change in conservation approach in India: from isolated monuments to an urban approach that includes concern for the setting; from a ‘tender-based’ approach to a quality-concerned method; amongst other factors. Founded and guided by His Highness the Aga Khan, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture projects promote the conservation and re-use of buildings and public spaces in historic cities in ways that can spur social, economic and cultural development.

Ratish Nanda has led the multi-disciplinary team implementing the Nizamuddin Urban Renewal Initiative since the project’s inception in 2006. Prior to this, he was responsible for the Bagh-e-Babur restoration and the Humayun’s Tomb garden restoration, also at AKTC.

I interviewed Ratish Nanda ( via email). Here are the excerpts.

  1. Do you think the 1923 Conservation Manual principles need to be updated? For instance “repairs are carried out, no effort should be spared to save as many parts of the original as possible, since it is to the authenticity of the old parts that practically all the interest attaching to the new will owe itself. Broken or half decayed original work is of infinitely more value than the smartest and most perfect new work.’

Though updates are continuously expected and have been done with the National Conservation Policy notified in 2014 by the Archaeological Survey of India, Many of the principles of the 1923 manual remain valid – and these have been highlighted in the book. The quote you provide is one such quote the validity of which remains and as such during the Humayun’s Tomb conservation effort every effort was made to ensure that original – Mughal material is retained. For instance the section on tile work illustrates where even tiles that had lost their glaze were retained. As the book explains repeatedly, what was in fact removed were inappropriate 20th century repairs causing damage to the building – such as cement plaster and cement concrete on the roof. This happened because craftsmen were no longer involved as the British replaced them with engineers, architects and archaeologists and nobody knew better.

  1. Are there any new principles you would wish to add to the conservation manual? For instance the dos and dont’s of using technology in conservation processes or different ways of documenting? Or do you think the 1923 guidelines are valid even now ? 

I think the new National Conservation Policy already addresses new issues such as use of digital technology to document the entire process of conservation. It should be documented prior to, during and after conservation in maps, drawings, photographs, digital records and field notes so as to create records of interventions. The documentation should capture various stages of intervention and all relevant details. This will be useful from the point of view of understanding all past and current interventions in the future. The revised policy also encourages public private partnership in heritage conservation and management. The restoration of the Humayun’s Tomb is a good example of this as it is a collaboration between AKTC, ASI & TATA Trusts.

  1. How long did this book take to write?

The project has taken over a decade; the book is an attempt to put the project learnings in the public domain as well as explain to interested stakeholders what the conservation process was. This is shared with the belief that both conservation professionals as well as officials, administrators, donors, students (history, architecture, conservation, and archaeology) could use this as a case study/ model and more such projects could be undertaken.

  1. You have worked on conservation of other historical sites including in Kabul. Why was Humayun’s Tomb singled out for this detailed documentation?

Kabul has also been published. Detailed documentation of the conservation process is best practice. These significant sites belong to the people and its important that anyone interested has access to information on what has been done and how. For instance in Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme: Strategies for Urban Regeneration.

  1. What is a unique aspect in the conservation of this tomb as opposed to the other monuments you are associated with?

All monuments where conservation works have been undertaken have been treated with the same level of attention. What we have demonstrated is a truly Indian model for conservation based on utilising traditional building crafts, materials and master craftsmen as well as a multi-disciplinary team. This is the first instance in India of a private agency undertaking conservation works which are cofounded by a another private agency – the TATA Trusts

  1. Are there are conservation techniques that you had to rediscover and have now revived? For instance making of the blue tiles in Nizammudin where you made more than 20,000 samples before selecting the one definite process. Do you think this process of making blue tiles will be revived or exist only as long as the tomb needs it?

We are still making tiles – they are required on at least 40 monuments in the Nizamuddin area as well as several more countrywide. Furthermore it is hoped that the craftsmen will be able to make tiles for the souvenir market as well. The tile-making craft had died in India; its revival has cost a fortune and it is hoped some of the youth will have the initiative to make an industry out of it as there is a significant demand for these tiles – from both conservation purposes and growing demand from the market.

  1. Is conservation of historical monuments only to be done via brick-and-mortar routine using specialists or does it involve sensitisation programmes particularly among school children? For instance organising workshops, historic walks, screening of documentaries, writing / painting competitions etc. 

Awareness is extremely important and this book is one tool towards it. During the conservation effort we have produced other publications – such as the children’s book of which 60,000 copies have been sold till date. Youth from Nizamuddin basti usually walk through 6-7000 school children each year. There is also a very active Facebook page.

  1. Why is it that the Humayun’s Tomb has produced two books — children and adults and none of the other monuments? 

We hope to produce more such technical books to serve as case studies. Our objective is to share the knowledge we have generated as part of the project.

  1. What was the most exciting and most challenging moments in this conservation exercise?

Undertaking India’s first privately undertaken conservation effort has been a challenge as many suspicions have to be addressed and a proper conservation process established. By far the most exciting outcome has been the recent expansion of the Humayun’s Tomb World Heritage site to include 11 additional monuments on which Aga Khan Trust for Culture undertook conservation.

  1. Were there any portions of the building that were irreparable and beyond conservation? 

There are portions of the building where the original treatment had been lost – such as the tomb chamber – where until the mid-20th century the walls were tiled and the dome gilded – here, with the lack of evidence, conservation effort could not restore the original builders intention. Also the lack of historical accounts that either document or hint at this process are not enough to justify restoration. Conservationists need in-situ or clear photographic evidence to emulate the processes.

  1. What are the learnings from this conservation programme? Are any of these applicable in other conservation projects in India and rest of the world? 

The book lists all the learnings – established that craftsmen need to be in the centre of the conservation effort; conservation is as much responsibility of the private sector as of government; conservation decisions should be based on an understanding of the site and its significance. The conservation process established – including repeated independent peer reviews – is replicable for any project, anywhere in the country or beyond. Also, we must document all such efforts and explain the rationale for these in a written statement. Something that will explain the condition of the monument, the rational for conservation works and outlines the process followed.  

  1. What next? 

We remain available to assist the Government of India wherever they would like us to support an urban conservation effort.

11 April 2017 

 

Literati – “On translations” ( 7 June 2015)

Jaya Bhattacharji RoseMy monthly column, Literati, in the Hindu Literary Review was published online ( 6 June 2015) and will be in print ( 7 June 2015). Here is the url http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/a-look-at-the-world-of-books-publishing-and-writers/article7286177.ece. I am also c&p the text below. 

Reading two travelogues about Afghanistan in the 1920s — when the reformist King Amanullah tried to steer his country towards modernity by encouraging education for girls — is an enriching experience. Both Desh Bideshe by Syed Mujtaba Ali (translated from Bengali as In a Land Far from Home: A Bengali in Afghanistan by Nazes Afroz, Speaking Tiger Books) and All the Roads are Open: The Afghan Journey by Annermarie Schwarzenbach (translated from German by Isabel Fargo Cole, Seagull Books) offer an absorbing account of Afghan society. The writers had access across various strata of society; a privilege they did not abuse but handled with dignity. 

 

Texts translated competently into the destination language give the reader an intimate

KRASZNAHORKAI_AP_2_2430230faccess to a new culture. Many of the new translations are usually in English — a language of socio-political, economic and legal importance. Even literary prizes recognise the significance. For instance, Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai won the 2015 Man Booker International Prize, which is awarded once in two years. Lauding his translators — George Szirtes and Ottilie Mulzet — Krasznahorkai said, “In each language, the relationship is different.” He uses unusually long sentences and admits, “The task was to somehow find a new Krasznahorkai English”. He continues, “In China once, I was speaking at a university about my books and said that, unfortunately, you couldn’t read them there, and someone in the audience put their hand up and said that there was a translation of Satantango on the net that had been done chapter by chapter by people who loved it. Of course, I was delighted.” (http://bit.ly/1Kx4R1g )

Readers matter

At BookExpo America 2015, New York, Michael Bhasker, Publishing Director, Canelo Digital Publishing said, “Readers are the power brokers who matter most. Readers are the primary filters.” This is immediately discernible on social media platforms — extraordinarily powerful in disseminating information, raising profiles of authors, creating individual brands rapidly circumventing geo-political boundaries, transcending linguistic hurdles and straddling diverse cultures. According to Kannan Sundaram, Publisher, Kalachuvadu, “Indian language writers are as good as or often better than their contemporaries writing in English. Often they are not proficient in English and savvy in handling social media, limiting their exposure on the national and international stage and media. I represent many such writers in Tamil like Salma and Perumal Murugan and have managed to get many of their works published in English, Indian and world languages.”

‘India@Digital.Bharat’, a report by BCG and IAMAI, forecasts India becoming a $200 billion Internet economy by 2018. The use of vernacular content online is estimated to increase from 45 per cent in 2013 to more than 60 per cent in 2018. (http://bit.ly/1Kx9ZCv). Osama Manzar, Founder, Digital Empowerment Foundation says, “The Internet is English centric by its invention, character and culture. It has been growing virally and openly because it is brutally democratic and open. Yet, it is highly driven through the medium of writing as means of participation, a challenge for Indians who are more at ease with oral communication than written. Plus, they are fascinated by English as a language. More so, responsiveness and real-time dynamism of various applications is making people join the Internet even if they don’t know the language of prevailing practices. And because of multi-diversity oriented people joining the Internet, application providers are turning their apps and web multilingual to grab the eyeballs of people and their active participation.”

Writer and technologist Anshumani Ruddra asks pointedly, “If India is to hit 550 Million Internet users by 2018, where are the vernacular apps for more than 350 million (non-English speaking) users?” (http://bit.ly/1Kxa4Gx ) Venkatesh Hariharan, Director, Alchemy Business Solutions LLP, adds “the time is right for Indian language computing using Unicode, especially since the government of India is actively promoting e-governance”.

A constructive engagement across linguistic and cultural boundaries is essential. An international funder once told me supporting writers is a cost-effective way of fostering international bilateral relations. It is easier, in the long run, to negotiate business partnerships as the two nations would already be familiar with each other culturally via literary cross-pollination programmes.

EXCLUSIVE: OxyGene Films (U.K.) has announced a film project based on Tabish Khair’s recent novel, How to Fight Islamist Terror from the Missionary Position. Details of the Danish-British collaboration, with possible Bollywood connections, are to be announced later.

13 June 2015

Gandhi

Gandhi

DK Eyewitness GandhiMohandas Karamchand Gandhi or Mahatma Gandhi ( 2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948) was a lawyer who turned to politics after experiencing apartheid in South Africa. He returned to India and became a leader of the Indian struggle for Independence. His unique style of resisting the British colonial rulers was through non-cooperation and other peaceful means. He did not believe in violent opposition. There are many, many accounts available about “Father of the Nation” as he is fondly referred to in India.  Mahatma Gandhi inspired political leaders in other countries, most notably, Martin Luther King.Gandhi 2
Puffin Lives, M K GandhiScholastic, GandhiRecently there have been a some books published for younger readers, introducing Mahatma Gandhi to children who have been born four generations after Independence. So the stories about the freedom struggle and this incredible man are no longer a part of living history, but relegated to dry textbooks. Two biographies were published by Puffin India and Scholastic India. The Puffin Lives edition has been written by noted historian and award-winning children’s writer, Subhadra Sen Gupta. The Scholastic India edition is by Lushin Dubey. But the latest book to join these two is a heavily illustrated account of Gandhi’s life and his involvement with the freedom movement. Given how profusely illustrated the book is, with photographs, documents, sketches etc, it is quite reasonably priced at INR 299.  This is the first in a local programme announced by the DK India. It is a welcome addition in the fortieth year of Dorling Kindersley’s establishment.

Juhi Saklani DK Eyewitness Gandhi DK, London, 2014. Pb. RS. 299

 

Kamila Shamsie, ” A God in Every Stone”

Kamila Shamsie, ” A God in Every Stone”

Kamila Shamsie, A God in Every StoneA God in Every Stone is Kamila Shamsie’s fifth novel.  It is set at the time of World War I and before the partition of the Indian sub-continent into India and Pakistan. It is about an Englishwoman archaeologist, Vivian Rose Spencer, and her meeting with her discovery of the Temple of Zeus and Ypres war veteran, twenty-two-year-old Qayyum Gul who is returning home to Peshawar. But the story is much, much more than that.

A God in Every Stone will be classified as “Pakistani Literature”. It may have been written by Kamila Shamsie but it could even work as literature of the subcontinent or South Asian literature, with sufficient sprinkling of historical facts that makes it intriguing and interesting for a global audience. It is so clearly positioned in a time of history that it is sufficiently far removed from the present times for the writer to be able to present, analyse, teach and comment–uninhibited. Placing the story during World War 1 and in undivided India is fascinating. It is a story based on some historical facts like the massacre of Qissa Khawani Bazaar (the Storytellers Market) on 23 April 1930, the Khudai Khidmatgars and of the freedom fighter, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. More importantly I liked the placing of it in a time of history when people of undivided India are shown fighting together against the British. ( In this telling of history/fiction, it is immaterial whether they were Pakistanis or Indians, they are fighting against the colonial rulers.) It is as if the novel is showing a “history from below” much like Subaltern Studies did in academics. For instance giving characters such as Najeeb, the assistant at the Peshawar museum; the soldiers hired by the British to figure in the Great War such as Lance-Naik Qayyum Gul; the young prostitutes–girls of mixed lineage; the storytellers; the letter-writer — are people who would barely have figured in previous fictional narratives.

It is a story set so firmly in the city of Peshawar, but makes the wonderful connect of this region with Greece, the rich history of Peshawar and Gandhara art. The forays into Europe of World War 1, the “betrayal” of Tahsin Bey by Viv, the recuperation of soldiers of Indian origin in Brighton, the VAD etc. Even the subtle transformation of Viv’s mother from being horrified by her daughter dispatched to an archaeological dig in Turkey to encouraging her to make a trip to Peshawar. ( ” The truth was, the war had sloughed off so many rules that no one seemed to know any more what counted as unacceptable behaviour in women.” p.75)

Positioning the story in Peshawar is stunning since much of the problems of early twentieth century such as tribal warfare, being a part of NWFP, Swat valley continue to be relevant in the twenty-first century. What also shines through in the novel is that this region has been alive, settled and of crucial geo-political significance for centuries, something that locals tend to forget or maybe are too absorbed in their daily life. What comes through in the novel is that the locals may be active participants ( willing or unwilling is not the question right now) but local dynamics have a powerful impact on their lives. This is evident through the fascinating badalas that are shared. Of these the one that attracts the most crowd is that of the Haji. Well it could be just a comment of the times but it assumes a different dimension if read with a knowledge of what is happening today in world politics –the Islamisation of Terror.

Even the descriptions of the Gandhara artifacts, the archaeological digs etc criss-cross history marvelously. They bring to play not only the political significance of important regimes of the past such as Darius, the Mauryan empire, Alexander etc but of more recent developments such as what is happening in Afghanistan and the Taliban ( i.e. blasting of the Bamiyan Buddhas). But the inextricable link between culture/cultural expressions and politics. The politicians and kingmakers may no longer be alive but their presence is marked by sculptures, pottery shards, etc that have been left behind or excavated. The connection between Gandhara and non-violence is also striking when one recalls that Ashoka who quit fighting after the battle of Kalinga, became a Buddhist and a staunch believer of non-violence, his first “posting” was at Gandhara. Whereas this novel involves Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who too believed in non-violent forms of action. Centuries apart sharing similar beliefs in the same region.

The flitting between the imagined and real worlds. Creating the myth of circlet of Scylax so convincingly could only have been done by a person who is passionate  about Greek mythology and loves research. It meshes beautifully in this story.

A God in Every Stone is exquisite. With this novel Kamila Shamsie has set a very high benchmark for literary fiction–worldwide.

                                     *****
( After reading A God in Every Stone I posed some questions to Kamila Shamsie via e-mail. )

Q1 Have the film rights been sold to this book? Who chose the extract for the Granta special?
No. And I chose the extract.

Q2 How did do you decide upon this story?

I didn’t. I had decided on a very different story which started with the massacre in Qissa Khwani/the Street of Storytellers in 1930 and continues until 2009. But my plans for novels always end up going astray. It did have both archaeology and the anti-colonial resistance in Peshawar as elements right from the start so the germ of the novel was always there but finding the story was a slow winding process which involved lots of deleting and quite a bit of re-writing.

Q3 Where was the research for this book done?

Mostly in the British Library where they keep colonial records – and also have a wonderful photography collection. I also went to some of the novel’s locations in Peshawar. And the Internet is an invaluable tool for research, of course.

Q4 How did the idea of a woman archaeologist,  Vivian Rose Spencer, strike you? I wish she had more of a presence in the book.

The idea of an English archaeologist struck me first – originally the archaeologist was going to be male but while reading a piece of travel writing by the Englishwoman Rosita Forbes who was in Peshawar in the 30’s I became interested in the experience of Englishwoman in Peshawar. At that point the structure of the novel was very different and there were more primary characters. I’m pretty sure that, regardless of Rosita Forbes, I would have made the archaeologist female once it became clear that the soldier and archaeologist were the two primary characters. I wasn’t about to write a novel in which both the main characters are male. Male writers do more than enough of that!

As for wanting her to be more of a presence – she has more pages in the novel then anyone else. But her story is more the focus of the first half of the book. The anti-colonial story has to shift it’s focus to the Peshawaris.

Q5 How much history did you delve into? Did the historical research come before the writing or specific research happened after the story took root?

Lots. And lots. I research and write as parallel processes – and the research doesn’t really stop until I’ve finished the book.

Q6 This is literary fiction similar to what Subaltern Studies is in academics–telling the histories from “below”. You made heroes of figures who were considered rebels in “mainstream” narratives. Did this happen consciously?

Whose mainstream?, would be my first response to that.
What I am interested in, which relates to your question, is the stories that have received less attention than other stories. Whether it’s women archaeologists rather than men archaeologists, Indian soldiers in WWI rather than English soldiers, the non-violent Pashtun rather than the one who picks up a gun.

Q7 What is the difference between literary fiction, historical fiction and fiction set in history?  Would  A God in Every Stone even fit into any of these categories?

It’s not something to which I give any thought when writing a novel. Which category will make people want to read it?

Q8  There are many women characters in your novel, who only serve purpose for that particular moment in the story, no more. Yet their fleeting appearances are powerful, almost like a painting, they leave a deep imprint on one’s mind. For instance the infant bride and the teenage prostitute, are they figments of imagination or based upon sketches that you came across?

I certainly see then serving a purpose beyond a single moment. Everything in a novel has to serve the entire novel. (The infant bride grows up to be a very important part of the novel – she’s the green-eyed woman.) They aren’t based on sketches. I know there were prostitutes in the Old City and I know very young girls were given away in marriage. Beyond that, I worked out the particular stories that best suited my purpose.

Q9 Why did you choose to write about Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan or “Frontier Gandhi” ?

I grew up barely even hearing his name which is why I wanted to write about him. He’s been written out of Pakistan’s history, except in KP, which is a terrible shame. Also, he was such an important figure in his own right that it seems only correct that we should call him by his own name or honorific – Ghaffar Khan or Bacha Khan – rather than by reference to anyone else, regardless of who that anyone else is.

Q10 Are the badalas yours or recorded?

Mine.

Q11 Have you ever worn a burqa. The confusion that you show the young girl to be in can only come from an experienced moment.

No I haven’t. Novelists imaginations fortunately often thrive quite happily without experienced moments!

Q12 Now that you have British citizenship, how do you see yourself? British-Pakistani writer, Pakistani writer, of South Asian origin?

Pakistani. I’ve only been British for 6 months!

13 April 2014

“Eye on the tiger”, an interview with Valmik Thapar, The Hindu, 23 Nov 2013

“Eye on the tiger”, an interview with Valmik Thapar, The Hindu, 23 Nov 2013

Tiger Fire, Valmik Thapar, Aleph, Nov 2013Later this month Aleph will be releasing Tiger Fire by Valmik Thapar. It is a fantabulous book with rare pictures and documentation. It is worth buying. I interviewed the author for The Hindu. The interview has been published online on 23 Nov 2013 – http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/eye-on-the-tiger/article5383268.ece – and it will be available in print tomorrow, 24 Nov 2013. I am c&p the interview below.) 

Valmik Thapar, whose new book will be out on December 3, talks about how he got involved with the big cat.

Valmik Thapar has spent several decades serving the wild tigers of India. During this time, he has written more than 20 books and made or presented nearly a dozen films for the BBC and several other television networks on the tiger and Indian flora and fauna. He has also established the Ranthambhore Foundation, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to conserving wildlife. Despite having served on government panels and committees relating to nature conservation, he is today a fierce critic of government policy and continues to campaign and fight for new ways to save wild tigers and nature in India. This, he feels, requires partnerships with civil society in villages, towns and cities and a change in the mindset of governments. His latest book, Tiger Fire, brings together the best non-fiction writing, photography and art on the Indian tiger and is also the first time he writes on the tiger from a historical perspective. Excerpts from an interview:

How did you fall in love with tigers?

That is not easily explained, as the power of that emotion is beyond words. In 1976, I was probably open to such an experience but could never have imagined that my love for the tiger would have continued over my lifetime. Basically watching tigers, fighting for them, and looking at their history fills up my senses like nothing else… it has a power over me. This book has been a labour of love and just over three years in the making.

Tiger Fire details your experience in the Ranthambore Park. What unusual facts about tigers have you discovered in the many years of observing them?

In nearly 38 years of a life spent with tigers, I believe that the tigers of Ranthambore rewrote their natural history for the world to read, see and record. The first records of kin links among tigers were established here as were the first records of the male tiger in the role of a father and looking after cubs. This has also been established by Kim Sullivan’s recording of the baby sitter in Bandhavgarh and, more recently, Balendu Singh’s record of the male tiger bringing up cubs after the tigress died. Earlier most believed that the male killed the cubs. Ranthambore also gave us the first pictures of tigers killing in water, fighting crocodiles, eating pythons and porcupines, of a bear attacking a tiger, of the secret life of mother and cubs in the first six months of the cubs’ existence…

Towards the end of Tiger Fire,  you sound disappointed by the government’s efforts made to save the tiger. What are the current initiatives (nationally and globally) to help save the tiger?

So far as current initiatives are concerned, I find them pathetic and encouraging of lip service rather than of field action. I advocate that the bureaucracies of the world — especially in India where 50 per cent of the world’s population of tigers live — should share power and decision making with committed people in villages, towns, and cities, with scientists, NGOs and conservationists.

In Africa, countries like Kenya, South Africa and Botswana allow all kinds of models from local people managing the conserved area to resort hotels managing it to partnerships between resorts, locals and the government. As a result, large and new areas have been added to wildlifescapes. In the Masai Mara, the locals get more than $100 million a year from revenues generated from tourism. In some areas, only locals manage both the area and tourism.

In India, the government takes on this role and it is least talented. We need to reform our levels of governance, change our rules and accommodate the young and the talented in the effort to save the tiger.We need a landscape approach with innovative tourism models. (Landscape means all categories of land: government, private, revenue and includes local people who may choose to live within it.) Our government must also partner with locals in villages to create a mindset change if the tiger is to survive.

In saving the tiger, what are the other animals that are also being saved from extinction? 

With the tiger, you save leopards, bears, rhinos and elephants and all the deer and grass eaters right down to the birds and insects. If you fail, it strikes them all. There should be special schemes for snow leopards, wolves, brown bears, sharks, whales… all of which represent their ecosystems. This requires immense political will and action.

The section “Tiger in Time” brings together the finest writing on the tiger by a variety of writers from the 16th to the early 20th centuries.  But most are foreigners. Are there no accounts in Indian languages?

I could not find any with the kind of detail that the foreign travellers brought to the table. May be from the 16th to the 19th centuries, India’s forests were so thick and inaccessible that, till the British entered to plunder them, there were written records by locals who lived outside. It was the tribals who lived in the forests and I could not find their written narratives. I think there were two worlds in those times — the tame one outside the forest where the kings and emperors ruled and the wild forest where the tribals ruled. Very few ventured into each other’s worlds till the British came in. There is a lot of visual material on paper and stone and a rich folklore. I have given a short summary of it in the section “The Cult of the Tiger”. A book of the same name and The Tiger: Soul of India, both published earlier by Oxford University Press, also deal with that aspect.

After the Ranthambore National Park was created, it meant that villagers — whose ancestors had for centuries lived within the environs of the Park — had to lose their homes and all access to wood, water and traditional farming lands. An initiative to support these villagers was taken when the Ranthambore Foundation was created with the objective of acting as a catalyst in resettling the displaced communities. The Ranthambore Foundation was created to help resettle the villagers displaced when the Ranthambore National Park was created. Presumably this model helped the people to look for alternate sources of income and livelihood and thus help conserve the natural habitat of the tiger. Do you think such a model has been successful? Would you advocate it for other sanctuaries? 

Personally, I see the model as a failure because it did not do enough. In the 1990s, we had a rigid and uninterested forest bureaucracy who did not know how to partner and hold hands. Many believed that Ranthambore would have been in a mess without the creation of the foundation. There should be site-specific models in every tiger forest but the forest bureaucracy has to change their mindset and start working with locals first.

Excerpt from Tiger Fire —

“The Secret Life of the Tiger”

Strange as it may seem, it was on my last night that I had the encounter I always longed for. After dinner that night, I slipped into the jeep with the two trackers, Laddu and Badyaya, and the driver, Prahlad Singh. … The sky was pitch black with a brilliant array of stars. Our first job was to check two live baits that had been put out to attract the tiger …. The first bait that we went to check was tied to a large banyan tree at Singh Dwar. It had been killed. My heart missed a beat, but I could see nothing around the dead animal. As I flashed my torch around, I spotted a leopard curled up in the banyan tree watching the carcass.

Other than the crickets playing their orchestra, there were no other sounds. Suddenly, the booming alarm call of a sambar deer rent the air. I knew instinctively that a tiger had killed and the sound of our jeep had forced it to flee. … I waited for a while but the tiger was not coming. Our presence discouraged it. I did not realize it then but it would be years before the Ranthambhore tigers would lose their fear of man.

I quickly drove off to the second bait. Gone. Not a sign of it anywhere. I tried to search the area thoroughly but an old ruined wall hampered my visibility. I was sure the tiger feasted behind it. I was desperate to see it and the only person I could think of who might help was Fateh Singh Rathore. I raced out of the park to Sawai Madhopur where he lived. It was nearly 11 p.m. when I arrived at his house. On banging on the door, I found Fateh a little groggy but awake. When I explained the situation to him, I caught a glint in his eyes. He picked up his Stetson hat and jacket and we raced back into the park. With Fateh at the wheel, we reached the old wall at the edge of the lake close to midnight. He drove all around the wall, cramming the jeep into every crevice and corner. We directed our searchlights into every conceivable place we could think of. I was sure that the elusive tiger of Ranthambhore would have fled the scene because of all the pandemonium.

As I had suspected, we found nothing, but as Fateh reversed I saw the rear wheels of the jeep entering the water and soon the back of the vehicle was in danger of being submerged. I shouted to Fateh that we would soon be afloat and all he said was to keep the torch trained on the wall. And that is how I saw my first tiger in Ranthambhore— from a floating jeep while I flashed the searchlight around. There was a sudden sharp cough and snarl. Framed in front of me and watching the commotion with its huge head above the wall was the tiger. …

Excerpted with permission from Aleph Book Company

Tiger Fire; Valmik Thapar, Aleph Book Company, Rs.2995.