There are two ways of making people pay attention. One - throw the facts in their face and hope that they stark figures hit them and two - make them listen to a story, grab them by the collar and make sure they are with you till the last page and even before they know it the message is driven home.
Civil servant for life, currently Additional Secretary and Financial Advisor to the government for three departments and newly turned author - Raghav Chandra chose the second path to drive his point home. Scent of a Game, is Chandra’s first book (and definitely not his last). As an avid wildlife enthusiast and a lover of the cause of conservation he has taken on the topic of the tiger.
Recently another tiger lover - Valmik Thapar put together his magnum opus on the animal and called it Tiger Fire. While Thapar chose facts, figures and accounts by other authors for his book, Chandra has woven you a story.
Based in Kanha Tiger Reserve, Chandra’s book takes on the story of Burree Maada, a Royal Bengal tigress who suddenly goes missing from the reserve. The plot runs through the heavy forests of the sanctuary following the footsteps of forest officer Ganga, a feisty journalist Sherry and Ram (an NRI caught in racket by default) as they try to solve the mystery of the missing tigress.
Chandra has created some magical characters in the tale which include Jugnu the Pardhi and Abhimanyu Singh, the Raja of Baikunthpur. The magic behind these characters is not a heroic one, but it is the magic of how integrally they drive the story forward.
What Chandra has also done is that he has brought up points for debate through the characters. Be it the burden of lineage or of a cruel twist of fate, each character has a story. And as the author himself says, ‘A probing reader would dig deeper,’- their stories are for you to discover and tie to the larger tale of Burree Maada.
Chandra puts the erstwhile president of the biotic pyramid, the tiger, at the helm of his novel while he explores a crucial list of problems that add up to the depleting number of big cats. ‘If you have lost your president, you have lost it all,’ says the author pointing out the dire need to conserve the magnificent animal. So what is the problem?
‘No one goes beyond the call of duty,’ says Chandra ruing that there is a sheer dearth of motivation when it comes to such a crucial cause.
But besides that, he also points out that there are other loopholes in the matrix of the system that can salvage this situation.
The problem of the Pardhis and the Criminal Tribes Act (Under the act, ethnic or social communities in India which were defined as ‘addicted to the systematic commission of non-bailable offences’ such as thefts, were systematically registered by the government. Since they were described as ‘habitually criminal’, restrictions on their movements were also imposed; adult male members of such groups were forced to report weekly to the local police, says Wikipedia), the Wildlife Protection Act (that allows possession of animal trophies and furs that predate the act but does not permit the sale of the products) and the Forest Rights Act (The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers) that need to be taken up and re-examined to make sure that best measures can be taken to protect the animal.
While the Criminal Tribes Act has made permanent pariahs of entire tribes keeping them away from education and therefore awareness (the case of the Pardhis), the Forest Rights Act has allowed some of those tribes to keep residing in the core areas of forest reserves thereby endangering the lives of forest animals. And these are precisely the things that need to be looked into, points out Chandra.
The IAS officer also points out that conservation is also not taught to the officers who are posted in and about sanctuary areas. ‘They need to taught how to prosecute, counter criminal charges and a lot more to prepare them to deal with the poaching menace and battle the menace of the black market and smugglers who deal in illegal animal products and parts. ‘Extraordinary tasks need extraordinary solutions,’ says Chandra simply.
However, he points out that he has not offered a solution through his book. He has raised questions that he hopes will be debated, discussed and probably solved as well and he is also aware that it will not happen overnight.
He also adds that he chose to tell a story rather than stating facts because he knows that a story will interest people and draw them in and as the tale unfolds, some figures (which are more or less accurate) will come up that will make the reader ponder over the cause of the depleting number of tigers in India (it was only recently that the Sariska Tiger Reserve was reported to have no tigers which prompted the launch of an enquiry by the PMO’s office).
As he wrapped up the discussion that got us talking about, poaching, smugglers, problems in the system and outside and the desperation of an animal lover to want to protect the very thing he loves, Chandra said that his book is also about humans seeking redemption through doing something good.
If no other lesson stays - we hope this one does. Make sure you grab a copy.