Cover photo of 'Wild Treasures and Adventures: A Forester's Diary' by Sunayan Sharma. (Photo by arrangement)
For a wildlife buff a ‘forester’s diary’ will always hold fascination — giving one an insider’s glimpse of what it is like to manage sanctuaries and national parks, and dealing with the myriad, occasionally very difficult problems encountered.
Sunayan Sharma has indeed had a very adventurous 40-year career as a forester, and here encapsulates 17 episodes in his time as a forest officer. We get an inside view of how exactly the relocation of tigers in Sariska took place, for example, and how the Keoladeo National Park (Bharatpur) was saved when it all but ran dry, the manner in which illegal timber harvesting carries on and how forest dwelling tribals are inveigled into these activities by powerful vested interests, as well as the maleficent effects of politics on ‘shikar’.
There are accounts of close encounters with animals — tigers and elephants (holding the author and his party hostage!), timber smugglers and tribals not afraid to use violence — on a force completely ill-equipped to deal with them, as well as a few tales of haunted forests and one horror story on purported cannibalism!
Sharma’s beat over the period of his career included Sariska, the Keoladeo National Park, Corbett, and a visit to Kaziranga. He rose to be field director of Keoladeo National Park and then was put in charge of the tiger relocation programme in Sariska — which was not as straightforward as one would imagine, what with the agitated relocated tigers trying to get back to Ranthambore and having to be coaxed (by being discouraged from wandering using noise) into accepting their new home, and powerful economic lobbies in Ranthambore objecting to the transfer in the first place. When in charge at the Keoladeo National Park he had to devise a new scheme to ensure a perennial water supply to the park, when the original ones ran dry or were ‘hijacked’. In another instance, he had to fight tooth and nail against high-ranking government servants, caught breaking the law they were meant to safeguard — something we are becoming sickeningly familiar with.
Each of the chapters has its quota of drama, what with midnight ambushes to catch timber smugglers, dealing with hostile villagers and eloping tribals, encounters with the animals themselves, long difficult treks in thick forests, long drawn-out court cases, so yes there is plenty of meat on the bones.
But alas, the ‘cooking’ leaves a lot to be desired: writing is clearly not Sharma’s forte. This could have been a taut unputdownable humdinger in the hands of the right editors. But Sunayan Sharma has had an eventful, adventurous, boots-on-the-ground career and we need to be grateful that he has shared some of his adventures with us and given us a glimpse of what it takes to be a forester in the difficult, sometimes seemingly unmanageable forests of our country.
Ranjit Lal is the author of more than 45 books, whose work often involves birds, bees and their bigger relatives
Wild Treasures and Adventures: A Forester’s Diary
By Sunayan Sharma
pp. 208, Rs.395