Book Review: Living with Tigers by Valmik Thapar

Book Name: Living with Tigers

Author’s Name: Valmik Thapar

Rating: 4.5/5

Publisher: Aleph

About the Author: Valmik Thapar first went to Ranthambhore, in 1976, at the age of twenty-three. He was a city boy, unsure of what lay ahead. When he entered the forest, which would go on to become one of the last strongholds of wild tigers, it had a profound effect on him, changing his life forever.

For the next forty years, he studied nearly 200 Ranthambhore tigers, spending every waking moment in close proximity to these magnificent animals. Of the various tigers he observed a handful became extra special, and it is these which come to glorious life in this book. They include Padmini, the Queen Mother, the first tiger the author got to know well; Genghis, the master predator, who invented a way of killing prey in water, the first time this had been observed anywhere in the world; Noon, one of his all-time favourites, who received her name because she was most active in the middle of the day; Broken Tooth, an exceptionally gentle male; Laxmi, a devoted mother, whose methods of raising her cubs revolutionized tiger studies; Machli, the most famous tigress in Ranthambhore, and several more.

Book Review: I have always been a fan of Jim Corbett and his works. At an early age, I finished reading Man Eaters of Kumaon and was mesmerised by the vivid account. So naturally, I always lap up such books whenever they are launched. Sadly, there are very few writers in India who have explored India’s natural beauty in their accounts. Thank heavens, for we have a Valmik Thapar who not only captures the best beast and Lord of the jungle but presents it in a story telling form.

Valmik has been involved in conservation efforts involving the tiger, a keystone species and vulnerable to extinction threats. He recounts how he was captivated by the animal’s beauty at an early age while visiting Jim Corbett Park. His life was touched by Fateh Singh Rathore, the legendary conservationist who has inspired millions.

The account covers Valimk’s experiences in Ranthambore and the language is lucid and simple. Valmik is a gifted writer and knows how to enthral his readers. He shares his experiences of landing up at Ranthambore with few plans and how he found his calling. We learn how tigers are known by numbers and not by names as is generally understood.

The book begins with an account of Padmini. Valmik writes, “As you track the tiger, the language of the jungle envelopes you. You become alert to the tension in every rustling leaf, in every impression on the ground, as you look and listen to what deceptively appears a silent and deserted forest.”

Valmik’s descriptions are from way before the forests were managed and exploited for commercial gains. Unlike today’s tourists rich resorts that seem to have engulfed every major reserve forest in India, back in the day it was much easy and Valmik had a gala time roaming around unhindered. The royal accounts of Genghis makes for an interesting read. Valmik has been smart enough to not use too much technical jargon which is why the book will appeal even to a common reader. More authors should use this approach as the book should target the mass market. There is definitely a market for such fabulous books.  Pictures would have done wonders for this book but I can’t understand why the publisher settled for sketches, even though they have been done beautifully.

T-24 or Ustad’s encounters was the best bit for me. The book was sort of an eye opener and will appeal to both nature lovers and casual readers. There is nothing to criticise really here. Conservation efforts in India lacks a holistic approach and this is what Valmik points out in the end too.

“But if these magnificent creatures are going to delight our children’s children we will need to come up with innovative solutions, and genuine workable workable initiatives between governments, non-governmental organizations and private companies.”

Well done Mr. Thapar!


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