not many years after he took over as field director of Ranthambore, in 1976. I was working on a BBC World about Us production, Tigers of Ranthambhor, one of the first films to be made on the natural history of tigers.
I was working on a BBC World about Us production, Tigers of Ranthambhor, one of the first films to be made on the natural history of tigers.
Ranthambore was just being organised as a park then. I watched Fateh work day and night like a man pursued, passionate about his love for the tiger, the Park and its people. He loved his drink, it was Peter Scott those days. A great storyteller, I sat night after night around a campfire under a banyan tree at Jogi Mahal (his creation) listening to his tales, Rajasthani folk songs about the water-starved desert land and an occasional ghost story.
Armed with an adventurous nature, the foolhardy, impulsive decision maker in us got us into trouble more than once on our shooting trips. He drove and treated the jeep like a hovercraft, expecting it to do impossible things .Even swim in a swamp! Such was his confidence and skill.
Culture and language
Fateh was a true Rathore and knew his culture and language completely. He loved it and engendered a love for the same with all those who came in touch with him. The colourful folk songs, the interactions with Ladoo and his driver, all handpicked and trained by him. He was a leader, beloved of all. He used his anger, sometime foul language and his abrasive honesty to battle for the tiger. Never for personal gain. He was amused by the sophisticated socialites. They were enamoured by his earthiness. He made fun of their ignorance in the gentlest way. He shared his knowledge and experience generously with all. Fateh learned photography on the job and mastered the skill in a short time. His photographs which he shared generously, have been published in most of the books written about tigers. His simplicity and fundamental goodness also made him vulnerable to exploitation and he was exploited by some. He stood by many, but many did not stand by him in his hour of need.
Finally, a man is judged by his actions. Fateh's contribution to the tiger and his home is indelible and has no parallel. He brought tigers to the limelight. The first Director, Project Tiger, Sankhela and Fateh made a formidable team. The translocation of villages from the core area was a daunting task they accomplished successfully. Fateh proved that people can invest in environment and that tourism can bring awareness and economic gain to the communities surrounding our National Parks.
Today, Ranthambore has several NGOs, trusts, craft development projects, a school of art, a school for children, a school for poachers' children....not to mention the hotel industry which was the first to bloom. This development, triggered by a healthy park, growing population of tigers and all the media attention, was welcome. Filmmakers, photographers, VIPs and overseas tourists flocked to Ranthambore and continue to do so.
Though Madhya Pradesh has the largest tiger population in India today, it has but failed to follow this example. It was Fateh's charisma, his magnetic charm which brought people to him. His singlehanded dedication, contribution and share in making Ranthambore a success story cannot be challenged.
His achievements over the decades reflect the power of one man who stood against all hardships and heavy personal cost to protect what was closest to his heart — the big cats of Ranthambore. He truly gave back so much to the place which gave him his identity, his unfathomable energy and his name…India's Tiger Man!
Honoured as hero
He was in Delhi a few months ago, to be honoured for his outstanding work for tigers and declared “Hero of the Environment” at a function held by Timberland in Delhi, where actor John Abraham and I had the pleasure of hosting him and sharing precious moments.
Also, I was working on a film with Fateh and am glad I interviewed him for a couple of hours. It contains his vision and his dreams and brings out the simple loving heart.
This legendary crusader has passed on...
The emptiness will remain for a long time, specially for those who knew him closely.
Conservationists and nature lovers all over will miss the fearless man who never forgot to smile, who spoke from the heart and worked relentlessly for decades to give the tigers of Ranthambore a fighting chance for survival.
Rest in peace dear friend, we will miss you, noble soul....
He used his anger, sometime foul language and his abrasive honesty to battle for the tiger. Never for personal gain
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