Sunday, 29 October 2017

Jim Corbett Museum, Kaladhungi and Memories of Arba Minch

This month when we visited the Jim Corbett National Park I made sure that we visited his museum, located in a bungalow that he probably lived in. I first came to know about this legendary hunter and tiger conservationist from my father when we were living in Arba Minch, in Ethiopia, a town surrounded by dense forests and the favourite haunt of African Lions, hyenas, pythons, and all sorts of predators that were attracted to the town because of the domesticated cattle that were to be found. I could somehow relate to Jim Corbett because my dad often took us on post-dinner drives into the thick forest that surrounded the town. More often we drove down the ArbaMinch Addis Abeba highway close to the Cooperative farm popularly known as Lemat. Those were the years preceding the Socialist revolution that took place in 1975. Somehow my memories go back to the days when, on our evening drives we would come across Mr Delville, an American with Native Red-Indian ancestry who dared to roam the forests armed with a bow and quiver of arrows, and not much else!

My father would often be able to tell from the behaviour of the deer baboons and other denizens of the forest that a lion was in the vicinity! Apparently, this was not rocket science for him because it seemed as if the deer and the baboons appeared more nervous and scared, and then there were those warning cries that my father recognized for what they were. Jim Corbett too must have gone through the same experience although he would have confronted tigers and not lions. Tigers talk and attack with the least of warning while lions are more likely to give a warning, more likely to attack from the front. In terms of equipment too, Jim Corbett was limited to a form of a lantern that burnt kerosene oil while today we have mobile phones and powerful battery-operated flashlight.

Our visit to the Jim Corbett museum about forty kilometres from our resort in Dhikuli transported us to the times when we lived in Arba Minch in the Gamugoffa province of Ethiopia. The quaint Charpoy and the rickety cane furniture simply belonged to an age long gone by! The present generation will never experience the thrill of looking at wildlife and nature as closely as we once did, and people like Jim Corbett were an inspiration for us! Of course, I would often step out of my school in Arbaminch in those days and take a stroll in the jungle that started right after the boundary walls, no barbed-wire fence of the school (This is something I never told my parents or they would have given me a piece of their mind!). The bungalow housing the museum reminds me of the kind of houses we had in Arbaminch, adobe houses with tin roofs, and cornice ceilings and no cement except for the flooring!

The above warning rings true, not just for tigers but for nearly everything that nature has given to us! Disappearing wetlands, grasslands, forests, and even the damage being done to the Aravali mountains in Gurgaon is a cause for concern. Tigers, migratory birds, even the now rarely seen sparrows are markers that indicate damage being done to the environment! Jim Corbett was a great man, a writer, a carpenter, a gentleman, and greatest of all, one of the greatest conservationists that India has had the honour to have. This gentleman had a strong conviction that the extermination of the tiger would rob the nation of its finest animal. Unplanned development, greed for money, selfishness and apathy, both the seen in the common man and the administration has led to the loss of valuable forest cover. We need to educate the common man about how important it is to conserve nature, flora and fauna.It is the duty of all the elected members of the Parliament to protect not only the rights of the citizens living in this country but also to protect the interests of wildlife and thereby the habitats they live in.

Today we maintain museums and relics of great people, we enjoy visiting such places, places which have become 'A Must See,' but we turn a blind eye to our existing valuable natural resources. The Aravalis, the Mangar Bani forest, the Basai Wetland, in Gurgaon, all are under the axe of rampant and unplanned development in a region that is headed towards an ecological disaster!

I hope that the light of reason coupled with better technology will help all of us see sense in conserving our environment. Jim Corbett used a relatively primitive kind of light source seen in the snap above, but we today have better light sources, halogen torches, LED-powered torches, mobiles, and laptops, and wifi, and internet, but then I wonder if all this technology has made us better than people like Jim Corbett!

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