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Book Review: Tiger Warrior Fateh Singh Rathore of Ranthambhore


Life in wilderness
KS NARAYANAN | Issue Dated: December 15, 2012, New Delhi
Tags : Soonoo Taraporewala | Book reviews | Penguin/Viking's book | Fateh Singh Rathore | Tiger man of India |

Adventures of legends like Jim Corbett, Verrier Elwin and Salim Ali dominated India’s vast and varied wilderness for a long time. Now, we get to read about Fateh Singh Rathore - the Tiger Man of India. The story of his life is not merely about the adventures with the wild big cat, but also about the trials and tribulations he faced while trying to conserve the species in the Ranthambhore National Park. In that sense, he could be clubbed with Billy Arjan Singh who died fighting for the Dudhwa Reserve and Raghu Chundawat, an independent scientist engaged in the tiger collaring project.

Bracketing Fateh Singh along with Billy and Chundawat, author Soonoo Taraporewala writes in Tiger Warrior: “India as a country has not always had a happy record when it came to appreciating its heroes.” This is the recurrent theme that runs in the book.

A former British Council librarian who fell in love with the ferocious felines after she met Fateh Singh brings us not only his exploits but also how he fought stiff resistance from a powerful lobby of bureaucrats. He was even banned from entering into the national park.

Fateh Singh came into national limelight when the Late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi chose to spend a week in Ranthambhore with his family and friend Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan in 1985. Rajiv Gandhi was so much impressed with Fateh Singh’s efforts that the latter earned the sobriquet of ‘Mr Ranthambhore’ from him.
Years later, another feather was added in Fateh Singh’s cap when his friend, Geoffrey C. Ward, a well known historian, screen writer and author of Tiger Wallahs wrote in his book about how Fateh Singh risked his life defending the jungles. This even got the US President Bill Clinton visiting the park in March 2000.

Though bestowed with several awards during his lifetime, this tiger warrior did not rest on past laurels and continued to educate cat lovers, scientists and nature conservationist about the wild cat. Fateh Singh even joined Valmik Thapar in documenting secrets of tigers.

Fateh Singh’s popularity was not limited to a few friends and the elite. Rather, he is part and parcel of people’s lives and popular folklore in Rajasthan. His daughter Padmini narrates an incident about how a fellow passenger enthralled audiences during a train journey about the exploit of her father and spiced it up with great details much to her amusement.

As a warrior, Fateh Singh had to pay a heavy price every time he exposed a crisis related to the feline creature. So much so that false and fabricated cases were slapped on him by the authorities.

By narrating the extraordinary legacy of Fateh Singh, Taraporewala also opens up wider questions about wildlife conservation in India.

At the end of the book, the author has summed up Fateh’s thoughts on park management and how he came up with relevant ideas on managing man, water, security and animals. When the Manmohan Singh government offered Rs 10 lakhs to every family that was willing to relocate out of the villages near the park, Fateh believed the scheme would have worked better if the villagers had been consulted about their needs.

Valimik Thapar, a well known wildlife activist and long time friend of Fateh Singh, summed up the message of the Tiger Warrior in the foreword to the book. “We are in the worst crises in both forestry and wildlife today. FS’s life is a shining example of what can be done in adverse circumstances. We need to imbibe some of Fateh Singh’s legacy to deal with what lies ahead”.

Written in an easy narrative style, the biography is an easy read peppered with interesting incidents and letters written by Fateh Singh. The cover picture by India’s leading photojournalist Raghu Rai is quite impressive and shows two big cats on the wall of a fort even as the tiger warrior looks on. Rest of the 15 pictures have been sourced from Singh’s family album. Present day
urban tiger warriors who wield long lenses, smart phones and contorted conservation theories can learn much from the struggle and adventures of this mid-level forest recruit from the hinterlands. In that sense Taraporewala’s biography is a valuable contribution to India’s conservation history.


Author: Soonoo Taraporewala
Publishers: Penguin/Viking  
Edition: Hard Bound
ISBN: 978-0-670-08638-2
Pages:  230 
Price: Rs 499

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017