Months later, a cobra entered my home. I called Anees once again, and he rescued this amazing male. By this time, the word “snake” had my heart pounding with joy. J
And when it came to picking my hobby club in school, I opted for the nature club. That’s when I met Mr. MK Srinath. He was formerly the Education Officer covering South India for the WWF. I also discovered that it was him who mentored the snake rescuer who rescued the cobra which had entered my home. It felt great to know him. He used to screen brilliant wildlife documentaries in his sessions. He used to narrate to us students, his experiences in the wild. He would make fun of those at the last bench that passed comments. He would rag his scandalous students (Haha, yes he would!) He would crack jokes. He was brilliant. The moment he knew I was interested in snakes; he gave me the extra attention, the extra share of his experiences and most of all, he gave me opportunities to handle and feel snakes. He wasn’t physically strong enough to take us on nature-watching trips all the time. But yet, he had a yearly trip to a part of the Nilgiri biosphere reserve, once a year. The first trip of mine, with Srinath sir, was to Bandipur National Park.
2007, October… was when I breathed the jungle air for the first time. The time when I saw elephants, herds of spotted deer, weird looking spiders, and mongooses with a different perspective. It was a two day trip. The second day, with my senior’s Nikon binoculars, I saw this bird. The colours totally messed up the circuitry in my brain! I wanted to know the name. I described the bird to him. He didn’t give away the name of the bird that easily. I returned my senior’s binoculars, and described to him what I saw. He immediately said “You must have seen a Brahminy Myna.” I could do nothing but agree with him, as I knew nothing about the bird.
No sooner I reached home after the trip, than I googled the bird ‘Brahminy Myna’ and figured that it was undoubtedly not the bird I saw. With a lot of difficulty, I made a watercolor painting of the bird. I took it to Srinath sir. He loved the bird portrait. But he’d still not give away the name of the bird. He told me to find new people or befriend some books. He suggested Bangalore birdwatchers’ club. I joined the group, and met a few people that could help me identify my mystery bird. At last, JN Prasad sir ended my struggle and gave me the answer. Pericrocotus cinnamomeus , Small Minivet male. A week later, I met Srinath sir at nature club again. With a triumphant look on my face, I said I’d found out the name of the bird without his help. He said I was right, the moment I told him it was a Minivet and not a Brahminy Myna. There was a cheer in his voice, and a happy face. He said- “See how making a painting helps. You should paint birds more often now.” Thanks to him, I cultivated the habit of painting and sketching birds.
A year passed. And in his 2008 trip to Bandipur, I was able to recognize half of the birds I saw. That felt really good. By 2009’s summer trip to Nagarhole, I had a Nikon digicam in my hands. I had made a lot of pictures with it (not that great, but in his opinion, really good.) He asked me if I could volunteer in his next camp to Muthodi as an instructor for Aurobindo school. I gladly agreed. Here's the very memorable group picture of our Nagarhole trip of summber '09!
Muthodi was heaven. I saw many birds for the first time- Great black woodpeckers, Greater and lesser flamebacks, Malabar Trogons and many more. The Malabar giant squirrels fascinated me much. The landscapes were just beautiful. I fell in love with the Western Ghats.
Then again, I went on trips as an instructor for BNM school. More of the jungles for me- I could never have been more thankful to someone. By now, I was the “novice” grade. I was happy with my progress. A visit to his ‘mini-zoo’ in Padmanabhnagar gave me an idea about rehabilitation, and what a wonderful concept it was.
Car rides en-route to the national parks used to be fun with him. He used to crack all kinds of jokes- ranging from thought provoking to absolutely absurd and senseless. There was always something to discuss with him, and in spite of the busy person he was, he always had the time for youngsters. That was the most likeable part of him. My Ranganthittu visit for the first and second times was thanks to Srinath sir. More birdwatching experiences, newer birds and newer places with beautiful sceneries. By the time I reached 10th grade, I had gained a lot of experience thanks to him. But the tenth graders had no hobby classes, and moreover, the school shifted. He stopped coming to the school every week like he used to. Then onwards, I would visit him at his place and narrate to him my wildlife stories, even though they were not even close to as interesting as his would be. Gradually, my interest of snakes diversified and intensified itself to the passion for wildlife. Studying and photographing birds, snakes, reptiles, and butterflies became an integral part of my life.
The new school building was entirely the nature-enthusiast’s paradise. I would hide my digital camera in my blazer pocket, and wander off the school campus occasionally. Many a times, I’ve also been caught and scolded. But ultimately, everyone understood how crazy I was about wildlife, and quite accepted the fact that I would never let go of wandering off the campus no matter how many times I’m scolded. My classmates made fun of me when I fostered caterpillars into moths and butterflies, until when I was in 9th grade. Everything changed in my last year of school life. I had earned some respect, and I came to be known as the ‘wildlife girl’, ‘nature-freak’, ‘animal lover’, ‘butterfly girl’ and etc., it felt good. When I told him about the same, he laughed it off and said- “I knew this would happen. And I know that there still are people who make fun of you. Don’t worry, they’ll have fun the day they read about you in the newspapers.” I laughed too.
By the end of my board exams, my mother gifted me an SLR camera. That was something Srinath sir always wanted me to get, as he thought I made some great images with my tiny Nikon. My new Canon 500 D helped me scale new heights. I became a big time shutter bug. Photography annexed my brain. I would visit him often, and show him my wins and losses with photography. He would be happy. One of my photographs of a family of squirrels really impressed him. He wanted to frame it up in his living room. I got a laminated copy of the photograph, and gifted it to him on his birthday in April 2010. If I’m not wrong, it’s still in his living room, in front of the big cushioned armchair on which he sat, every time I visited him. This is the picture, and it was clicked in my old Nikon digital camera.
I saw very little of him in 2010. I was busy with my board exams in the beginning of it, busy with college admissions in the middle of it, and busy with college and its activities at the end of it. I would still visit him though. I still remember his strange cough-like laughter when I told him about my first Leopard sighting in Bandipur. I did talk to him few days before his departure. And I realized the fact a month and a half later. I was overwhelmingly grieved that I could not see him for the last time.
When I informed my friend Lakshmi about his demise, she said something that really touched my heart. She said he lives forever. Yes, he does. He was the one who opened the door to the wildlife field for her and me. I’m proud to call him my mentor. He was my biggest source of inspiration & motivation, still is, and will definitely continue to be. She also said I was his legacy. Lakshmi, thank you so much for what you said, because I would definitely want to be his "legacy", and do what he did in the conservation field. His contributions are innumerable. I should not only dream of being like him, but try my best to be the least bit like what he was.I truly look forward to the day I tell myself- "Sir, if you were around today, you would be proud of me."