Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Dear Homo Sapiens of Earth - Part 2B - The Lion
* * * * *
February 1, 1999, Monday, sunny, 7-20C
[07:12 @ Kanha Tiger Lodge]
Just one more day, and I will be reading email. I hope there will be a few from you and mom. I will send these diary entries to you, so mom could read them out for you.
I did get up early enough to go with Avtar and Greg into the park, but I declined just before they left, partly due to Avtar’s imperious manner, and partly because of my real preference to spend my time with Jane, Faiyaz, CJ, Janice and Kim instead, before Kim and Janice leaves for Bandhavgarh later in the morning and before I leave for Delhi tomorrow. And perhaps also, I simply didn’t want to go.
Faiyaz made his morning’s appearance in a state of dejection. Last night, he made two requests of Avtar: one, for Tiger Fund to go outreach with me to the 178 Buffer Zone villages, and two, that he be put on outreach duty as Tiger Fund operative, not under Magnificent Tours. Avtar rejected both flatly.
Well, he has no power to order me, and I will do it myself if I have to.
[22:14] At about 07:40, I knocked on Kim’s door to wake her for a last coffee before she leaves for Bandhavgarh. She rose at once, but took about 45 minutes to do her morning chores and to pack for her relocation to Bandhavgarh later in the morning. When she did knock on my door, she was fresh, with hair damp. She sat on my bed and I on my computer chair. We’ve known each other since Bear Referendum ’96, and it’s only in these last few days I’ve got to know her personally. But now, too soon, she is being whisked away. But it’s her choice. Were it Jane that Avtar had named to move to Bandhavgarh, I would have put a stop to that. Kim and I both know that Kim would rather work with tourists than villagers. Her own profession in Vancouver is tourism, so I can understand it. It just means that if and when I have to choose between Jane and Kim as my assistant, I would choose Jane. This means that come March, when it comes to switching them between Kanha and Bandhavgarh according to Avtar’s plan, I may have to take action to retain Jane with me unless I go to Bandhavgarh as well on March 1 which, given our outreach plan at Kanha, is highly unlikely. These are just my thoughts. I didn’t voice them with Kim. But I think she already knows. Still, we have a personal rapport that underlies everything, and my choice of Jane over Kim is purely professional, although I like Jane very much too. I will miss Kim, that is for sure.
And then, the Tata Sumo (Indian-made diesel jeep used on highways, but not in tiger reserves, which do not allow diesel vehicles) arrived, and she and Janice were whisked away.
In the meeting with Faiyaz, Jane and CJ, I told Faiyaz that I will talk to Avtar about the outreach program myself. His face wore a big question mark of uncertainty in my success. I also talked about the possibility of having them in Delhi for the St. Valentine’s Day Love-the-Tiger Walk. The stumbling block is of course time and money. The plane fare one way is US$135, US$270 return, plus overland Rs10 per km, return 650 km, or Rs6500, or US$160. All told US$430 or CDN$600+. Too expensive for too little. Also, seeing in my mind the dangerous highway and reckless driving especially in Maharashtra state where Nagjur is situated, it’s not worth it. The alternative is a 50-hour return trip by rail for two. Nah, forget it.
Avtar spent the rest of the day mostly with Greg and Manohar. In the afternoon Faiyaz, Jane, CJ and I went for a walk through the sal forest to the river less than a kilometer behind the Tiger Lodge grounds. It is a picturesque river about 30’ wide which flows serenely through a jumble of exposed rocks.
We walked downstream for a change. After only about 100 meters, Faiyaz pointed to a tree stump on the other side of the river. “Look over there. More deforestation of the park at work. If you sit here for long enough, you’ll see cows.”
“Is that the park over there?” Jane looked at the forested bank across the river where the tree stump stood like a sore thumb.
“Yes,” answered Faiyaz. “Core Area over there, Buffer Zone here. Tiger and deer over there, people and cattle here. Wilderness over there, so-called civilization here. But civilization is over there too. You’ll see.”
At that moment, as if on cue, a white cow emerged from the forest on the other side of the river, and then another, and another…
Good night, Christopher,
* * * * *
February 2, 1999, Tuesday, sunny, 6-20C
[01:07 (1999-02-03) @ the F18 Inn in Delhi, next door to Avtar’s Delhi residence]
Arrived in Delhi about an hour ago, after a six hour jeep ride from Kanha to Nagpur (about 12:00-18:00), more than two hours’ waiting and a 1.5 hour plane ride from Nagpur to Delhi (22:30-00:00). This hotel has no internet connection. I’ll have to wait till tomorrow morning to check email at Avtar’s home next door to the hotel or office. It usually takes long minutes and numerous tries before getting online, and the connection is tenuous at best. Don’t want to trouble his family in the middle of the night. Damn!
The drive from Kanha to Nagpur, with our jeep constantly passing lumbering trucks against heavy oncoming traffic on a narrow and bumpy highway, was not exactly relaxing. This combined with the road condition, vehicle condition, and the total lack of road-line and signage on a road with many unexpected hazards, is downright bloody dangerous. On the other hand, if you don’t drive like that, you’d be sandwiched between diesel trucks, sucking fume and eating dust all day instead of for half a day.
Reminders of this danger lie along the highway every so often, mostly in the form of smashed cars or overturned trucks along the highway. In a previous highway trip, we came across a two-vehicle accident, where one of the drivers and his passenger were dragged out of their vehicle, by their hair, and roughed up, more like lynched, by the other driver and some of the spectators. Still, Greg Johnson made a good travel companion.
But Avtar is really getting on my nerve. He can be very charming and likable, but right now, I’m finding him more and more insufferable, and am having a tough time trying to contain my feelings about him in his presence. Other than to preserve harmony, I’m trying to see how far he would go. But there is a limit, and he is getting pretty damn close to it.
While Avtar was gassing up at a town, again seeing cows all over the place, Greg, asked me, “In your tiger conservationist’s point of view, what is the toughest obstacle to overcome?”
“Cattle overpopulation,” I said, with nary a hesitation. “It’s a tougher problem to solve than even deforestation and poaching. One of the differences being: the cattle owners have religion on their side”
“And what is your solution?”
“Frankly, I have none.”
“I have one.”
“Oh really? Pray tell. Unless it’s professional secret.”
I laughed politely. “The AK-47? Yeah right. There is only one problem.”
“And what’s that?”
“I don’t know about you, Greg, but I can’t afford 500 million bullets,” I said.
Half way in the trip, we had to stop at a town to fix a flat tire. As usual in a town, the jeep was instantly surrounded by dozens of people, young and old, with their faces stuck to the car windows and wind shield. Makes you feel like caged animals in a zoo. Probably not recommended entertainment, but I pushed opened the car door and got out. The people parted like the Red Sea. I extricated myself and went for a walk down the street, drawing half the crowd with me, and not a moment too soon. About a block away, I found two boys in the process of stoning a white puppy to death, and no one was intervening in the least. A couple of stones that missed the puppy struck the concrete, sending chips flying. A couple that hit the pup sent it tumbling and yelping. I violated Star Fleet Command’s code of non-interference with the natives. I reached out my hands to the boys, palms up. The boys looked at me, then looked around. Everyone was just watching to see what would happen next. Then they looked sheepishly at me again, and dropped the stones into my hands.
“Thank you, and don’t do it again,” I admonished them in English, hoping that the tone was the message.
The pup had one leg broken and was backed against a corner, quivering, whining pitiably.
“Is there a vet in town?” I asked the crowd at large.
Blank stares in return.
“Veterinarian. Animal doctor,” I shouted.
A man walked up, looked me in the eye, then moved towards the puppy. He reached down, petted its head once. Then snapped its neck.
At that moment, the car pulled up and blew its horn at me. I took one more look at the tragic puppy, then got back into the car.
Nagpur is another Indian city looking ten times worse than Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside at the tail end of a month-long garbage strike. It’s hard to imagine it. You’ve got to see it to appreciate what I’m saying. On the streets people dress neatly, and the wealthier women look like well-preened peacocks, but their dainty feet had to pick their way through piles of garbage everywhere. There seems a glaring lack of social conscience, or is it just a very bad garbage collection system?
While waiting in Nagpur to board the 22:30 plane, Avtar took us into a lavish hotel for an array of appetizers, during which someone came behind me and said, in a British accent, “Are you Anthony Marr by any chance?”
“Yes.” I turned around and saw a middle-aged Indian Man.
“I am Arun Patel, of Essex, UK. I saw you on a tiger program on TV awhile back. It was that program that got me interested in coming to Bandavgarh National Park, where we just spent the last week.” The second time this very thing was said in a week.
About half an hour later, I was at the hotel’s counter cashing a traveler’s cheque, when Arun again approached me from behind. “Anthony,” he said, “this is my cousin Shirish Patel. He is a doctor living in New York. He would like to know how he can help you save the tiger.”
I asked for their addresses and numbers, and said that I would be in touch after I return to Vancouver.
The bill for the snack was, by Indian standards, exorbitant. Avtar footed it without blinking an eye. The amount was about half of the monthly salary he pays Faiyaz.
I woke up in the middle of the night last night and had a brainstorm re. a communal parabolic mirror fryer that costs less than $10 to build. All I need is one of those 8’x4’ thin and flexible polished steel sheets, three large sheets of plywood to cut into parabolic templates, an 8”X6” dark metal plate to serve as hot plate, and two supports for the hot plate on either end. All we have to do is to press the metal sheet into the parabolic templates which are placed on the ground, line up the long axes of the mirror and the hot plate to the sun, and cook away – chapatti frying, rice cooking, sauces, soup, you name it. When the cooking is done, all we have to do is to take the mirror out from the templates and roll it up, tie the three templates together and off we go.
The driver of the jeep, after dropping us off in Nagpur, went to purchase three 8’X4’ steel sheets, two to be cut into the four 4’X4’ reflectors for the communal solar oven, and one to be the parabolic reflector for the fryer. Can’t wait for the trial demo.
CJ left me 6 e-mails to send out, and Jane, one, plus a request to have Raman take care of booking a hotel room for her in June in Shimla.
I’m going to be fairly busy in Delhi, though only about half as busy as I would have liked to be. I have to attend to my share of WCWC’s 98/99 members’ report, the letter to WCWC to update progress, and of course the nearly daily presentations:
99/02/03 Motibagh School Delhi
99/02/04 Colonel Satsanghi Kiran Memorial School Delhi
99/02/05 Sri Ram Public School Delhi
99/02/06 Rotary Club at Taj Mann Singh Delhi
99/02/07-09 Off and Jaipur
99/02/10 Springdales Delhi
99/02/11 College of Vocational Studies Delhi
99/02/14 Save-The-Tiger Walk Delhi
Note. Sri Ram School is in this list, but Frank Anthony school is not.
Being back in Delhi brought back an old resentment, which is exacerbated by something Avtar said in the car from the airport. He told me that tomorrow’s slideshow presentation will be given by Sarita, because the school booked is not an English speaking school. He said that English speaking schools receive such presentations all the time and its no big deal to them, but Hindi speaking schools will give us much more meaningful receptions. Again, I have to question their motive and action. First off, he wasn’t at the Ahlcon Public School presentation, which gave us a HUGE reception. Second, the short few days I’m here, it should be English-speaking schools. Even if it’s a Hindi-speaking school, Sarita could translate for me as Faiyaz does. I don’t know how many schools in total (at least two) Sarita gave presentations while I was in Kanha, and how much media have attended these presentations, featuring Tiger Fund but not WCWC.
Made a phone call after midnight (about 11:00 a.m. Vancouver time) to my parents. Mother was thrilled to hear from me, but said that father had the flu. I’ll wait to check email tomorrow before calling Christopher and Christine, if I have reason to.
Being again submerged in the polluted, chaotic and noisy Delhi street traffic, one cannot possibly ignore the cacophony of Delhi’s transportation system. A large part of Delhi’s traffic noise is from most drivers’ seeming inability to remove their hands from their horns. Avtar explained, “In Vancouver, honking your horn is usually an auditory one-finger-salute, but here in Delhi, it just means ‘I’m here.’” In the unregulated street traffic, maybe horn blasting is not only helpful to prevent accidents but necessary. Not having developed my “road ears” in the orderly Vancouver traffic, I have no doubt that I would be more accident prone than those brought up in Delhi traffic. I love to drive, but in Delhi, no thanks. On the other hand, riding in those three-wheeled, flimsy, smoke-spewing auto-rickshaws isn’t much safer either. You just cross your fingers and hope for the best.
I’m also crossing my fingers about email tomorrow.
Good night, Christopher.
* * * * *
February 3, 1999
[22:38 @ F18 Inn in Delhi, next door to Avtar’s Delhi residence] God damn you, Christine! How can you do this hideous things to your own son?!!! And to your long time, loyal friend?!!! And poor, dear, dearest Christopher. How could your own mother have done such a hideous thing to you, to us???!!! Oh God, why???!!!
You have studied one year in psychology, Christine. Shouldn’t you at least know what serious and irreversible harm has been and is being done to his tender psyche by your bull-in-china-shop actions? Please, stop your destructive course, I beg of you, before anything serious and irreversible is done. Stop, in the name of love!
Let me cool myself first before writing on.
I have heard the term “impotent rage” many times. Now I know exactly what it feels like and what it means. Here I am, shut up in a small hotel room above an ill-lit street in the innards of New Delhi, when my nearest friend is 12 time-zones away. Where Christopher is half a world away. The damage is done, and I cannot even hold him to comfort him.
What happened? Here is what happened. I check email first thing and no email from Christine. None. After two weeks.
So I used what little time I had to answer other emails, before logging off to get ready for the Motibagh school presentation. I also emailed my last diary entries to Christine to read to Christopher like bedtime stories. The adventures of Uncle Tony in Tigerland.
This morning and early afternoon, 10:30-13:00, we (Avtar, Sarita and I) had an excellent presentation in the auditorium of the Motibagh School to about 300 girls and about 5 boys from the neighbouring school, with Sarita doing the introduction, I the main slideshow and Avtar some kind of epilogue. Both theirs were done in Hindi, but I did catch one or two key words such as “China”, “1949” (the year my family escaped from China right before the Communist take-over), “mining” (my previous field work) and “physics” (my university education). Avtar later told me that what he said was, “Anthony here is a Chinese Canadian who is rebelling against an old obsolete tradition, and I urge you as Indians to do the same.” – something like that. Not bad.
After the slideshow, we set up the Big Cub in the football field, where another 2,000 kids formed a long and serpentine queue to go inside. At one point, Sarita counted over 150 kids in the Cub, which is a record, the previous, set in Canada, being about 120. You really can stuff more people into the same space in India.
In spite of this morning’s presentation’s being again another huge and highly photogenic success, there was still the same short-coming – no media. I have requested both Avtar and Sarita to please call those media I have sent packages to. A big fat ZERO up to this point.
When I finally confronted Avtar on the total absence of media, he said that he would invited all the media to the Tiger Walk. I replied that we can and should get media to cover both the schools and the Tiger Walk. I have no idea if media was present at Frank Anthony School while I was at Kanha.
Greg, who will be flying back to Washington DC tonight after three weeks with Avtar, took umpteen photos of the event, and groaned when he heard what Avtar said, saying to me in private, “This is one of the biggest missed media opportunities I’ve ever seen.” He, however, will put our Gigantic Tiger Cub and the hoards of bright-eyed Indian school kids into his new brochure to show how his new Wild India Expeditions would benefit the tiger – a good move on Greg’s part, which should also suit Avtar just fine in terms of using Tiger Trust to promote Dynamic Tours. But I think he has other ideas, some of which being somewhat transparent.
All day long I looked at the clock. Every time was the wrong time to call. Vancouver still deep in sleep. I checked email again in the early evening. Still nothing from Christine. Finally Christopher’s morning came, and my evening. So I called - at about $5/min, which by the end of the conversation suddenly seemed unimportant even if the call cost a thousand dollars.
When the call was finished, I was immobilized by shock. When the shock had worn off sufficiently, I opened my laptop computer and typed down every word that transpired in that conversation. It had been replayed in my mind about a couple of hundred times since I dropped the phone. I vouch for high fidelity in the following transcription:
“Hello?” Christine’s pleasant voice.
“Hi, Christine, good morning.”
“I’m calling from…”
“What do you want?!” A sudden and drastic change of tone. The usual hostile line.
“What did I do this time?”
“Christopher, come and talk to Tony.”
“Hi Uncle Tony!” He sounded excited, but unhappy, an unusual combination..
“NOT UNCLE TONY, JUST TONY!” came Christine’s voice in the background.
“Hi, Christopher, what’s the matter?” I asked him.
“Uncle Tony, you are a very bad man. You hurt me and hurt mommy. You can’t come and see me any more. And I don’t want your toy.” He was sobbing between almost every word.
“What? Christopher, what are you saying?!”
Suddenly, he heaved a sigh seldom heard in a child, and said, “Now, I said it. Can I tell you what I did today?” And he began to tell me what he did, though still sniffling due to the tearful bout.
My mind seemed still not having registered what I had just heard. I heard him out, then as I said, “Christopher, you know where I am? I’m in India. I’m so far away that when it is morning where you are, it is evening where I am. You can ask mommy to explain how this can be. So, have you had breakfast yet…”
Christine’s voice came back on. “See how upset Christopher is?”
Christopher began sobbing in the background.
“See how you’ve hurt him? Are you happy now?”
“Me? Hurt Christopher? What are you talking about?!” Because this was a public phone, I had to keep my voice down, which was a good thing.
She began screaming into the phone. “YOU ARE NOT FIT TO BE CHRISTOPHER’S GODFATHER! YOU ARE A DISGUSTING MAN! YOU’VE HIT ON EVERY ONE OF MY FRIENDS, AND NOW YOU’RE HITTING ON MY COUSIN DONNA!! I HAVE TALKED TO ANNA, TASHA AND WILHELMINA AND EACH AND EVERY ONE TOLD ME THAT YOU TRIED TO GET INTO THEIR BEDROOMS! NOW, YOU’RE TELLING DONNA THAT YOU’RE AVAILBLE FOR SEX WITH HER! YOU’RE A SEXUAL PREDATOR! SO, WHO’S GOING TO BE NEXT?! DONNA’S SISTER?! OR HOW ABOUT LAURA OR MAYBE CLAUDIA?! YOU DO FIND CLAUDIA QUITE ATTRACTIVE, DON’T YOU?! YOU HAVE THE MORAL OF A PIG!! STAY AWAY FROM MY SON FROM MY NOW ON, YOU SLUT!!!”
She was screaming so loud that the concierge walking past the wall phone gave me a strange look. I must have looked totally dumbfounded, though perhaps not yet distraught.
Finally, I managed to stammer, “I can’t believe what you’re saying, and doing, especially to Christopher. What have I done against you? What you said about your friends is not true. I’ve never made a pass at Wilhelmina, or Anna…”
I called back. The phone lines were busy. I called again and again. When finally the connection was again made, the call was not answered. This was consistent with Christine’s pattern. I would be surprised that she would answer the phone. I made the calls out of sheer desperation. Just something better than nothing. I don’t know if the call, especially if answered, would be worse than nothing, but at that moment, and now, nothing is exactly where the worst is.
[03:43 February 4, 1999 @ B57 Inn in Delhi]
Cannot sleep. I just tried calling again. Still the same.
I am not too overly distressed about Christine’s tantrum. This is her regular pattern, once every month or two for as long as I can remember, with or without reason. But I am extremely distressed over what Christopher said. What is this woman doing to the tender psyche of this innocent child? What is it I can do that can make things right for him again? What can be done at all, by anyone, Christine included, to make things just like before again?
Somehow, Christine has forced the idea into Christopher that I am a “very bad man”. She is trying to destroy his respect for me, over something, even if true, does not warrant such a verdict, and that Christopher is too young to comprehend. This should never be put upon him. I can’t believe that Christine can be so evil, especially when I have never spoken a single unkind word about her to Christopher, ever, even when he said to me that he didn’t like her because she was “mean” to him. Nor to anyone for that matter, in her presence or behind her back, except to Jeanine, and what I told her were facts, not opinions.
Again, I’ve been forced to ask this often-asked question: What have I done to deserve this? Have I not given my heart and soul to your family, your son? Have I not been the one you would call upon whenever you needed immediate help? Over the last three and a half years since Christopher was born, I’ve been too busy to even date. So I dated Donna, but it was at her invitation. I don’t frequent bars and haven’t gone to nightclubs for years. I don’t date the women at work. I don’t date the women at home, except once in the 18 years I’ve been in this shared house. I have visited with Wilhelmina, but was always there to play chess and drink tea. I have never made anything vaguely similar to a pass to her, not that there is anything wrong with it, my being a single in a singles city. The reason is simple. I was just not interested. I’ve visited Anna a few times while going out with Christine, but that was way back in the 70s, and our visits were always platonic and above board. I have visited with Tasha a few times and gone to a movie, once. When I went to visit any of them, I was almost always the one invited, though sometimes I would call just to say hi. I seldom, if ever, invited myself, or invited them, to anything, or to do anything, except once, to be exact, about a shoulder rub with Tasha, and nothing happened. Some sexual predator. Some slut.
The treatment she gave me today would suit a child molester or a serial rapist. The periodic abuse I have taken from her before and since Christopher was born I can tolerate. But this time, she has outdone even herself. This time she has gone off the deep end. She is definitely sick and needs help. I should feel compassion for her, but right now, all I can think of is Christopher, poor, dear, beloved, traumatized Christopher. How could she do something like THAT to you???!!!
[05:27] I cannot sleep. I thought and thought and thought, agonized and agonized and agonized, in tighter and tighter spirals. I called upon God, time and time again. I received no reply, or discernable reply. Where is “He” when I need help most? Has “He”, too, forsaken me? Perhaps “He” wants to test my nettles. Perhaps “He” wants to see me push my envelope? Come on! Wake up! Don’t flatter yourself! Has it occurred to you that “He”, if “He” exists, may not even care? I can rationalize all sorts of excuses for God to let this happen to me. Or should I say for God to do this to me? But how could any god allow something so horrendous to happen to tender and innocent Christopher, not to mention do it to him?
And the last tightening of the spiral – my last two emails to Christine were bounced back, blocked.
Morning has broken for me, Christopher, and your darkest night is falling.
Have a peaceful night, Christopher, if possible. If not, then in the throes of your sleeplessness, remember that I love you deeply, as deeply as I am capable of loving anyone, always.
* * * * *
February 4, 1999, Thursday, sunny, 6-20C
[09:19 @ F18 Inn, New Delhi] I am thinking about you. I thought about you through the night. I did not, could not, sleep a wink. The street sounds kept me company. I got out of bed many times to gaze out the window, just to seek comforting empathy in the pain of a Delhi street by night.
I’m a stranger in a strange land, here to meet my most tragic of fates. I’ve called Avtar to beg off today’s engagements, except the school presentation, pleading not feeling well, which is not untrue.
Christopher, this is the first day of our new tragic era. The new silence sounds even worse than the hurtful things that were said. Perhaps between you and me, I’m the luckier one. At least I’m now out of your mother’s life, and she from mine. At least I’m now freed from her abusiveness. But how about you? Other than the wooden spoon, I have never doubted your security at home, but now, what am I to think? If your prime care-giver would do what she did to you yesterday, what would she not do tomorrow? How can I now fulfill my mission as your godfather, your father figure, your male role model, your protector and your guardian?
I feel tired, exhausted, but still cannot sleep. I cannot get out of the loop of tragic thoughts, nor escape the maelstrom of tragic emotions. I’m trapped in the tragic moment, which stretches into a dark eternity.
How are you feeling now, Christopher? It is your bedtime. I would be telling you a bedtime story. Tucking you in. You would smile at me and hug me good night. But now? How are you feeling now? I can’t imagine. I dread to imagine. Since yesterday I’ve been filled with an unrelenting anger, no, rage, and sadness, no, despondency, and pain, no, agony. The dagger, no, axe, of betrayal has lodged itself inextricably in my back. This murder of love and respect is premeditated, perhaps has been for months. It’s a first degree. And the pain that Christopher now suffers at her hand, she would blame all on me, and would tell him so in the years to come, without me there to defend myself, nor to defend him.
And for what, Christine? To be a good disciple of Murphy Brown? To finally achieve something “all by yourself”, using Christopher as your stepping stone? To get rid of his loving and beloved Uncle Tony, so that you could own his love and eternal gratitude? To remove all his Uncle Tony’s influence so she could claim all credit? Up to now, there is nothing that I could not forgive; as of now, forgiveness seems an impossibility.
I did get through today’s presentation to Colonel Satsanghi Kiran Memorial School, with a standing ovation. I knew I would not be at my best, but I actually surprised myself at how well I did, considering. Nobody cast a concerned look my way. So maybe I have the oriental inscrutability in my genes. How I’ve been feeling is quite another picture. It seems just the opposite to the way I felt the day after getting assaulted last year. Then, I looked worse than I felt. Now, I feel infinitely worse than I look.
This evening, Avtar succeeded to dragged me out for a meeting with Piara, a charming and vivacious middle-aged woman with far-reaching media connections. It was a good thing, getting my mind off the subject if only for the moment. Her apartment is high-ceilinged and well appointed, with exquisite Oriental furniture. She paid me keen attention, as if checking me out for a certain role in her plan, whatever it be. She asked me what I’ve done in the past and what I plan to do in the future. I did my best to exert some feel of optimism and passion, but the overwhelming sadness ensues, which I’m sure she could read. Perhaps she mistook it for my feeling about the dwindling tigers. All I could tell was that she found what I was saying favorable. When we were leaving, she said, “See you tomorrow.”
Tomorrow? Avtar didn’t tell me anything about tomorrow, and I didn’t ask him. Asking Avtar questions sometimes risks the don’t-speak-unless-spoken-to response. With him I’ve learned to just prethink all options, let things happen, and react to them when they happen to the best of my ability.
Due to this feeling of weakness, the strongest thing I could do today is to refrain from calling Christine. If she answered, she would kick me to a pulp while I’m down.
Down I certainly am. Out, I don’t know. I hope not.
I emailed what I wrote yesterday to Diana, Jeanine and James seeking their advice on what to do next. They have all responded. Their advice in common is to call Christine again, if only to let Christopher know that I’m still there. Only if they knew Christine the way I do.
I am exhausted. Feel exhausted. Sleep should come now. Still, your wailing, sobbing, crying keep echoing in my head. I tried embracing you, comforting you, but your sounds of distress just keep rolling on and on, undiminishing, like a broken record or a falsely triggered car alarm. Your innocence and your happiness has been suddenly stolen, no, robbed, as has your dedicated male role model whose place the thief, the robber, can never fill. And there is nothing I can do to protect you from this catastrophic onslaught. I have failed in my vow to keep you from harm. And there is nothing I can do to cure you of it. I’m so sorry, Christopher, so very sorry.
Good night, Christopher.
* * * * *
February 5, 1999, Friday, sunny, 6-20C
My dearest Christopher:
[21:45 @ F18 Inn, New Delhi] At long last, the saddest day in the life your Uncle Tony is near its end, a day sadder than even day before yesterday. Why is this day sadder than even that day? It is because on that day, the hope still lingered. Today, it died.
But let us give it a happy, if dreamy, funeral. As of today, the memory of you shall be my inspiration to finish my life’s work. And I will dedicate it to you. This shall be the present I promised to bring back to you.
Now, it is five hours after our last conversation, our last conversation. Here it is, word for word, to be preserved for posterity, but who will read it?
After hours of hesitation, after wading through the morass of trepidation, after dialing your phone number many times to the second last digit, having steeled myself to the hilt, I finally pushed it through. I must make just one more try. I must bid a proper good bye. I must say what I need to say. And I must hear Christopher’s voice just one more time. I wish I had a tape recorder, but all I have now is my computer keyboard.
“Hi, Christine, it’s me. How are you?”
“None of your concern. Haven’t I told you not to call?”
“May I speak to Christopher please?”
Your excited voice in the background, “Uncle Tony! Uncle Tony!”
“I would like to say good night to him.”
“Fine, but just this last once. And it is not good night. It is good-bye. From now on, don’t call again, EVER! Here Christopher!”
“Uncle Tony! Uncle Tony! You are a very bad man. You hurt mommy and you hurt me. I don’t want your present. And I can’t see you any more.” Same thing, word for word. And again, tears in your voice. How did it happen? How many times did she make you repeat this horrible quatrain?
Being slightly more prepared this time, I seized this our last moment together and said my bottom line. “Christopher, listen to me very carefully. You know that Uncle Tony loves you very very much. Don’t you?”
“I know, Uncle Tony.” It was wailed, not spoken.
“Christopher, I love you more than anything in the world. I would never do anything to hurt you. I would do anything for you. You know that, don’t you, Christopher?” I could hardly speak myself.
“Yes, I know that, Uncle Tony.”
“Christopher, remember, wherever I’ll be, I will always love you.”
“I love you too, Uncle Tony.”
“Tell me, Christopher, has your Uncle Tony ever done anything to hurt you?”
“No, Uncle Tony, but mommy says that you are a very bad man. You hurt her and you hurt me.”
“Christopher, your Uncle Tony is not a bad man. He is a very good man. And you know that too.”
“Yes, Uncle Tony. I know that too.”
Christine’s voice in the background, loud, cutting. “What is Tony telling you?”
“Uncle Tony says he is a good man.”
“HE IS LYING! HE IS A VERY BAD MAN, AND DON’T YOU FORGET IT!! DON’T BELIEVE IN ANYTHING HE SAYS TO YOU EVER AGAIN!!!”
I heard you cry, as the phone was taken from you for the last time.
“You will send back my suit case, and I will send back your debit card, and that’ll be it. Do you understand?!”
“Please, Christine, I beg of you, for the sake of Christopher, please don’t do this. He is only three years old. He has nothing to do with this and doesn’t understand any of this, and neither do I. He and I love each other with all our hearts. If you break us up like this, he may become an emotionally disturbed child when he grows up. You know I have worked with emotionally disturbed children. I know what I’m talking about. He is your own child for God’s sake. As for Donna, it was she who invited me. The same applies to Wilhelmina and Tasha…”
“Look! My friends are out of bounds to you, just like your friends are out of bounds to me!”
“That’s not right.”
“Look. You remember when your friend John took up with your friend Debbie, how upset you were.”
“That was different. I was a little in love with Debbie and John knew it. Are you in love with me? Am I your boyfriend? Are you my girlfriend? We’re just friends, Christine.”
“You don’t own your friends, Christine, nor your cousin.”
“You have no morals or ethics. You are disgusting. Good bye.”
At that point, I knew, finally, that all was lost, forever. “This is a hideous thing you’re doing to Christopher…”
I didn’t even get to say a proper good-bye to you.
Am I really free from Christine’s power sphere? Don’t kid yourself. In fact, I’ve been drawn deeper towards its centre than ever. Hence forth, the way she will seek to exert her power over me will be through Christopher. I have no doubt that she would use him for this purpose with impunity. And the way I will respond to her will always involve upholding Christopher’s emotional safety and integrity as top priority, and she knows it. She knows I now know that she is capable of doing anything to Christopher to achieve the objective of removing me from his life. Already, she is using him as her weapon to sever his own love and respect for me. What she has done gives “character assassination” a brand new meaning. In your mind I may already have begun to die.
Christopher, child of my spirit. So what happens now?
Over the last four days, it’s been one school slideshow presentation per day, and in spite of the tragedy in my life, all have been excellent in various ways and to various extents. But today’s presentation, given at Shri Ram Elementary School, tops every other one so far - in terms of connectedness with the students, their discipline and attentiveness. And this is when I am at my most exhausted, not having slept for two nights.
Though once it was done, I fell into a deep sleep in the car. I think it was the children who gave me the energy, for me to give my slideshow back to them.
Sri Ram is one of the two “hidden” schools. Apparently Avtar changed his mind about this being a non-English speaking school and therefore it should be Sarita who would give the slideshow. This morning, he changed his mind and wanted me to give it instead. Fine by me. But in the beginning, seeing the age of the students (about 9 or 10), and the audience size (over 300) I gave an inner groan. One thing I didn’t want was to shout in English while the kids chat among themselves in Hindi. I thought about asking Sarita to give the slideshow in Hindi as originally planned. But after hearing the teachers pre-talk to them in English, I decided to give them a try, and was astounded by the result. The children were glued to my every word and gave me all sorts of great feedback. The school was impressed enough to invite me back to talk to a more senior group in late March when I get back to Delhi in late March or early April.
I have experienced Indian students enough to be able to say this. They relate to me as if I were a star or even a minor god. They gaze at me, they touch my hair, they look entranced when I lay my hand on their heads, they crowd around me, they clamor for my autograph, they come in respectful groups to talk to me after my presentations. Maybe my having come from a faraway place put a bit of a halo around my head. Maybe my being on TV makes me in their eyes a little larger than life. But one thing, through them I learned about myself, about being human, about the inexhaustible energy in love. Most people would think that the more one is looked up to, the more proud one would become, but according to my own experience, right now, it is a humbling experience. Why? Because I know I’m not as high and mighty as they think I am.
But let’s get back down to earth here. There is still zero media. Come on, Avtar! Speaking to the hundreds is a privilege; speaking to the millions is a must.
Over the last two days, I’ve been concentrating on putting all the field journal entries to date, purged of all emotional and personal content, into a single file for e-mail transmission to WCWC. Finally, got it off this morning around 10:00 (Vancouver time 20:30) from Avtar’s office. Later I called WCWC at Raven’s Call (home of Paul and Adriane in Sechelt, a ferry ride away - when they were doing their annual retreat. Talked to Andy, Andrea, Alice, Tim, Paul and Joe. When Andrea was on, she said that Sue wanted to come on, but for some reason, she didn’t. After Joe, he incited everyone to give me a roaring verbal high-five. Very heart warming indeed. Made my day somewhat. I needed it.
This evening, we (Avtar, Sarita and I) went to meet Avtar’s friend Reshem, whom I’ve met in a previous visit, with Piara and another middle-aged woman, a lawyer named Sultana, who is also a director of Tiger Fund, whom I also have met, also present. The meeting was a semi-work session to prep for the “Love-the-Tiger Walk”, re-named from “Save-the-Tiger Walk” by Avtar, on St. Valentine’s day.
Piara said she would put me on the Times of India profile column, and arrange some TV interviews. To facilitate that, she took about a dozen newspaper articles from my media folder. She commented that she liked my “long, black, flowing mane”, saying that it is a “favorable element from a media view point”. I joked that I was just thinking about having a crew cut. Avtar laughed. Piara, who has short hair herself, looked at my short-haired photos in my media folder and reasserted her preference of long hair on my head. I’ve always detested the crew cut, especially on myself, which was forced on me by my elementary school and my father, whose orders in this department I began to defy as of the time Elvis Presley and the Beatles came on the scene. It never ceases to amaze me how some crew-cut “Christians” would have paintings and prints of a long-haired Christ hanging on their walls, but treat live long-haired people with blanket contempt. But though I’ve heard slurs, I have never felt systematically discriminated against on account of my hair length or my race, in any country I’ve ever been to, except in the ex-British-crown-colony of Hong Kong where being Chinese, versus being British, makes one automatically a second class citizen. And now, amazingly, as a foreigner, I’m being treated like a celebrity in yet another ex-British-crown colony.
Always a light and funny side to life, although for the life of me I cannot see any light and funny side to what is happening to us. Still, you must admit, I put up a strong front today, even in this diary entry. Good night, Christopher.
* * * * *
February 6, 1999, Saturday, sunny, 7-21C
[17:21 @ F-18 Inn in New Delhi]
Thinking of you constantly. Watching over you as always. Loving you forever.
For now, things look bad, and promise to look worse, without ever getting better.
I called Tasha, Wilhelmina and Donna, begging them to please, please, please, intervene, if only for your sake. All three ladies had sympathetic responses and promised to do what they could, but all concluded independently with their own versions of hopelessness.
“How is Christopher?” is my ubiquitous question.
“Christine says he’s devastated,” Donna answered. I couldn’t quite read the tone.
“And she is pressing the course.”
“Yes, she is pressing the course.”
“So she is intentionally devastating him, isn’t she?” I said bitterly.
Donna gave no audible reply.
“Okay, in other words, she is subjecting her own three year old child to intentional and calculated emotional abuse.”
“Aren’t you afraid I might tell her you said this?”
“Oh, would you? Then you may as well tell her this too. She is using Christopher as stepping stone for her self-esteem, and as hostage in her war to grab exclusivity to his love.”
“She is his mother.”
“Does this make her deed more evil or less?”
Donna again gave no reply.
I ranted on, “She has taken psychology at university. She should know what havoc this kind of trauma would cause in a child’s whole future life. I’ve worked with emotionally disturbed children for a year. I know what agonies they live through. And what would this do to his faith in love, that someone so devoted to him would all of a sudden abandon him? And what would happen to his belief system, when all of a sudden, someone he had looked up to all his life as the icon of goodness and kindness has suddenly become a “very bad man”? You’ve got to stop Christine pushing this any further, before it is too late. Please, for Christopher’s sake.”
“I’m very sorry, Tony, but it is too late.”
And I knew it was.
“By the way,” Donna added, “In case you are blaming me for this, Christine said she has been thinking about this for quite some time. It’s just that your long trip to India is her opportunity to give you ‘the heave ho’, in her words.”
In another phone call, Wilhelmina said, “I’ve never told Christine that there was anything between us. We just play chess and drink tea. And I can tell her that you have not made any sexual overture towards me. But her mind is made up. She has already moved on. There is no turning back.”
Tasha said to me intensely, “Tony, one thing I have to tell you. If push gets to shove, I will be on Christine’s side. She and I grew up together. I will support her come what may.”
“Now I know why you call your boat the Cumquat May. So, it is loyalty above all, is that it? Above even principle?”
“I’m afraid so, Tony.”
“Even over the emotional integrity of an innocent child, is that it?”
“Yes, that is it.”
“Would you rather not mediate to prevent the pushing turning to shoving in the first place?”
“There is nothing to mediate. Her mind is set. The wheels are rolling. The ball is in your court, but she has left. I’m just telling you that if you make pushing into shoving, I will be on her side.”
“I get it loud and clear. Thank you for your candor, Tasha, and good bye.”
“Good luck, Tony, and I mean it.”
Wonder of wonders. Just one tiny chat with Avtar, and the whole situation turned 180 degrees. Has he been thinking about doing this all along? Or have the contents of our confidential meetings back at Kanha been leaked to him yesterday or day before? Or was he moved by my speeches (which he has never seen before – he did comment to Piara, this time from personal observation, of my being a good speaker, so much so that she at once booked me into her Habitat House public program for late March sight unseen)? Or have I somehow changed him with just a few days’ close contact? Or has he somehow read my e-mail-to-WCWC? Or has Adriane e-mailed him one hell of an arm-twisting letter? These I don’t know, and may never get to know. What I do know is that as late as February 1, when Faiyaz talked to him again about going outreach with me to the villages in the Buffer Zone instead of serving tourists in the lodge, Avtar gave him a flat “no”, citing again “dilution” of Tiger Fund’s in-lodge work. A huge though not unexpected blow to Faiyaz. CJ even commented that Faiyaz “aged 10 years in one day”. Now, with this new development, Faiyaz will be rejuvenated 20 years overnight. Anyway, here is the deal.
•Avtar is buying a brand new Gypsy for Tiger Fund and not for Magnificent Tours, for outreach purposes only.
•Faiyaz can go outreach with it all he wants
•It is also placed at my disposal, and if I want to, I could drive the vehicle myself (since Faiyaz doesn’t drive).
•Avtar is honoring our agreement that Jane will serve as my volunteer during my stay in India, and therefore she can go outreach with us (in spite of Feb. being the peak tourist month).
Can’t be more made-to-measure than this.
Avtar also surprised me slightly with how hard he is pushing for the Love-the-Tiger Walk. All his activities these last few days have been towards promoting it to the max. He’s been working on sponsors and succeeded in getting two plane tickets from Delhi to Kajuraho as a draw prize. He himself put in two free stays at the Bandhavgarh Tiger Lodge as additional prizes. Other things include printing raffle tickets, printing a brand new glossy brochure for Tiger Fund (not Magnificent Tours, with WCWC getting honorable mention) and other literature, getting head-bands, arm bands and banners made for the Walk, arranging media coverage. And today, he gave two speeches both in 5-star hotels, one at the IATO (Indian Association of Tour Operators) convention where he talked about the Tiger Walk only, and the other at the Rotarian Convention where he spoke on pure conservation, with his Magnificent Tours and Tiger Lodges not even mentioned. The Big Cub was set up on the front lawn of the Taj Palace Hotel where the huge Rotarian Convention took place; in fact, it is still there, attended as we speak by the Sarita – resplendent in her royal blue sari. At the end of his Rotarian speech, Avtar even got the highly conservative audience to repeat after him the four lines of Tim’s Tiger Song, albeit in spoken words only. He took to it immediately when, as Sarita suggested, I led Piara, Reshem, the lawyer lady Sultana and him to sing it yesterday, whole-heartedly embracing it as the Tiger Club Song for all schools. He and Sarita are always present at the school presentations, except for the presentation yesterday, when he had to arrange media for the Walk. Today, he had me interviewed by the Trav Talk magazine at the Taj Palace. Next Wednesday, I’ll be interviewed by another travel magazine. In a couple of days we’ll be in Jaipur, where more media and schools await. Back to Delhi next Tuesday for three more school presentations and media and then the Tiger Walk. I have never seen him pour so much of himself into something that may not directly benefit his tourism business but purely for tiger conservation. Well, those travel magazine articles will benefit Magnificent Tours as well as Tiger Fund, but what the hell. The Gigantic Tiger Cub has never been busier and more seen. So, finally, things are happening. Just one lingering question. Where is media for the schools?
During the Rotarian Convention, while waiting for Avtar’s speech, I was privileged to witness, and video-tape, two speeches by two prominent speakers – the excellent Dr. Karan Singh, and the transcendent, long-haired, full-bearded but young (40?) spiritual leader Shri Shradhalu Ranate of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram who is about the most mesmerizing speaker I have ever seen, whose speech title was “India’s Destiny And Your Part In It.”
During lunch, I asked Avtar whether Indian custom has it that gifts are not to be accepted. I was referring to Deepfee, who is an avid bird watcher whose own pair of binoculars wasn’t quite up to the task. I brought to India a pair of pre-set binoculars that she loved at first use. I gave it to her on the spot, but she has steadfastly declined. He said that Deepfee actually talked to him about it when he was there, saying that I was already doing so much for them, how could she go further to take my binoculars from me. Avtar told her that I offered them to her out of love and appreciation for her hobby, and that it was okay for her to accept them. So, she did. And I’m glad.
Avtar said that I had the option to go back to Kanha after the Tiger Walk or go to Bandhavgarh via Kajuraho. The overlanders from Kajuraho to Bandhavgarh and from Nagpur to Kanha are both 6 hours. Both are tempting, but of course I will go back to Kanha to get right back into the thick of things. I’ll bring the two unassembled solar ovens with me, which are currently in Delhi, to be assembled at Kanha, and maybe send one over to Bandhavgarh.
This morning I was given the phone bill by the F-18 Inn, and about had a heart attack. The 15-minute phone call I placed to my parents cost Rs2660 or CDN$105. The call to WCWC cost likewise. My personal calls, charged against my Vancouver personal account, cost another $500.
I chatted with the taxi driver who drove me from the Taj Palace to the Asian Age office then back to the F-18. He does not own the rat car he drives. So first, he pays Rs500 (C$20) to the owner daily. He has the car for 24 hours. He drives as many of the 24 hours as he could, up to 16 hours, 7 days a week. He has a wife and 3 children in a town 400 miles distant. His wife works in the rice fields. There is no work for him back there. He nets Rs400-500 a day, and sends to his family about Rs2,000 per month. He lives in a single room and pays Rs1,500/mo. for it. He has no time for anything except work, sleep, eat, work, sleep, eat, and work some more, which reminds me of my father when I was a child. The cab driver goes home by bus to see his wife and children twice a year, several days per time, 6 months apart. He struck me to be an honest man. I left my camera bag in the taxi and went upstairs to the Asian Age to get a copy of the article for almost 15 minutes, and he could have driven away with it and I would never find him. The fare by the meter was Rs210. I paid him Rs300. I know in my gut he did not take the long route. Many Indian people are like this. Faiyaz is like this. I should not let the rotten apples taint the whole barrel.
Back to Avtar. He’s now 43. He seems to have a genuine love for the tiger, but not the passion of his father. When he is not in his superior mode, when he shows due respect, he is very likeable, and I like him as I write. He is hard working and his people respect him at least as a boss, though also fear him, which is not my way. He has a certain sense of fairness and justice that cannot be denied. The other volunteer at Bandhavgarh other than Janice, Julian, violated Avtar’s code by going AWOL and was fired. In fact, Avtar seems to have fired both Julian and Janice, the latter for her going over to Kanha without his permission. Yesterday and today, they came into Avtar’s office together, and have now been reinstated.
So, is it all sweetness and light with Avtar now? No. There is still the corruption factor to address, which may overshadow everything else. With Avtar, at this point, my attitude should be that of the recovering alcoholic - “one day at a time”. I seldom say it, and hardly ever live it. I always live with some goal ahead, which I seldom lose sight of. But today must be special, since I’ll be using the expression twice, since “one day at a time” is exactly the way I have to live where Christopher is concerned.
Christopher, now and forever, I will be your Uncle Tony.
* * * * *
February 7, 1999, Sunday, overcast and rain, 7-21C
[00:43 on train to Sawai Madhopur]
I thought getting out of Delhi, where we had our heart-breaking phone calls, would distance me from the pain, but since I cannot leave you behind, the pain follows. Would I rather leave you behind so the pain would stay behind? Not a chance. I will never leave you behind, Christopher. I will carry you, love and pain, in the centre of my heart, wherever I go, from now to eternity.
Some hours ago I paid internationally renowned tiger conservationist Valmik Thapar a courtesy visit. In his usual gruff fashion, he made me welcome. He reminds me of being the Indian version of Paul George, both bears of men, both seemingly always on edge, but both having a hearty laugh as the situation warrants. Unfortunately, today, my situation did not warrant Valmik laughing, so he did not. Instead, he showed me a very detailed and masterfully executed charcoal drawing of a charging elephant. He asked me to guess who the artist was.
“I don’t know.”
“You wouldn’t. He is just a teenager. An Indian kid whose name you cannot even pronounce. He won an art competition at school a couple of years ago. Fateh Singh Rathore’s wife recognized his talent and, seeing his poverty, gave him free art training in her art school at Ranthambhore. He finished this drawing last month. I paid him handsomely for it. Now his family is not so poor, and he is pursuing his dream.”
With this, Valmik led me to a large well-lit room where a collection of wildlife drawings and paintings were displayed, among them many oil paintings of tigers, some in the setting of the ancient ruins in Ranthambhore tiger reserve. In my unprofessional judgment, all of the paintings are works of art if not masterpieces. I took photos of some of them in sunlight. An art program would be an excellent addition to our rural educational outreach effort.
To make a long conversation short, I decided to take a night train to Ranthambhore. Given this alternative, the thought of spending another sleepless night in that hotel room seemed insufferable. So, here I am. It is a much more modern train, with coach-type seating. Much more comfortable.
It has magazine racks featuring brochures about Ranthambhore.
One piece says:
“Many regard this park situated in southern Rajasthan as the jewel in the crown of India's tiger parks. The reserve derives its name from the hill top fortress, which dominates the approach to the park. The mixture of ancient temples and summer palaces, alongside abundant Indian wildlife, provide magical photographic opportunities unique to Ranthambhore.
“The ancient mountain ranges of the Aravali and Vindhya meet here, producing a mixture of flat tablelands and steep cliffs criss-crossing the park. This varied topography provides a diversity of habitats for animals like the jackal, mongoose, sloth bear, leopard, and of course the tiger.
“Most years, even during the hottest months, water is provided by the park’s three man made lakes, Padam Talao, Rajbagh and Malik Talao. Jogi Mahal, the lakeside lodge used by the late Rajiv Ghandi to view wildlife, is set in an idyllic spot on the edge of Padam Talao. The lakes, especially in the evenings, are like giant magnets, attracting all of the surrounding wildlife to their life sustaining waters.
“Ranthambhore was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1957, and in 1974 under Indira Ghandi's Project Tiger initiative became one of the protected sites. There are 200km of tracks in Ranthambhore divided into pre-determined routes which allow large areas to remain undisturbed, since everyone requires some solitude. For visitors to the park access is provided by either jeeps, which hold up to four persons comfortably, or the larger canters (trucks) which carry approximately twenty persons.
“The park is regarded by many professional photographers as the best place in India to both see and photograph tigers. This is mainly due to the diurnal behavior exhibited by the tiger population which adapted to the changes brought about by an inspired park director, Fateh Singh Rathore. Mr. Rathore and his loyal staff were involved in an ambitious project to relocate nine villages from the core area to new land outside the park boundaries. This initiative proved to be a resounding success, especially for the wildlife in the core area, and in particular the tiger. With far less human encroachment in the park, the tigers shed their nocturnal cloaks and tiger encounters rose dramatically during the eighties.
“The sheer diversity of the fauna and flora in Ranthambhore is remarkable. With over 300 types of trees, 272 species of birds and approximately 30 different types of mammals, Ranthambhore is packed full of life and a safari here will suit the general wildlife enthusiast as well as the serious ornithologist. We can also take you outside of the park for the chance to see Black Buck Antelope in nearby tribal villages, river dolphins and crocodiles, leopards by night and vast numbers of migratory birds around tranquil lakes.
“Ranthambhore is well connected by rail, approximately 350km from Delhi; it is also situated close to Jaipur and Bharatpur. The park is open from 1st October to 1st July. The number of jeeps allowed inside the park is strictly limited to just fourteen, bookings should be made at least sixty days in advance. We can offer you a wide choice of accommodation, including the 1930's former hunting lodge of Maharaja Sawai Man Singh and 'Sher Bagh', the soon to be opened camp close to the park managed by relatives of Fateh Singh Rathore and Valmik Thapar. A portion of profits from 'Sher Bagh' are donated to the Ranthambhore Foundation and other local organizations working to improve the quality of life in the surrounding villages.”
Sounds nice and upbeat. Another piece says:
“The Ranthambhore forests were the former hunting grounds of the Maharajas of Jaipur and it was only in 1955 for the first time that this area was declared as the Sawai Madhopur Wildlife Sanctuary. In 1973 it was included as a potential area under `Project Tiger' and was the smallest of the nine areas selected. It was felt that this 392 sq.kms of dry deciduous habitat could viably sustain healthy tiger populations. In 1980 it was notified as a National Park. Today Project Tiger Ranthambhore is responsible for the management of 627.13 sq.kms and included in 1992 is also the Keladevi Sanctuary under this same umbrella of management, taking the total area to 1174 sq.kms with 392 sq.kms as the core.
“20 years ago in the first ever census of tigers the population in Ranthambhore was estimated at 14. In 1991 tiger numbers were estimated at 45. Today estimates reveal that there is a decline. The original 392 sq.kms is surrounded by 62 villages with an estimated population of 225,000 people, 150,000 livestock and the never ending pressures of migratory livestock. The population of both people and livestock are directly dependent on this forest area for pasture-land, timber and firewood for fuel, and any other vital minor forest produce that they require.
“In nearly 20 years since the inception of Project Tiger only one scientific survey has been conducted in Ranthambhore National Park. This was done in 1987-88.
“This research was undertaken by the Wildlife Institute of India and published in a paper entitled "Grazing and cutting pressures on Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan India".
“Suffice enough to say that the last line of this scientific report states: "Meanwhile it should be emphasized with alarm that only about one quarter of the declared core-zone area remains as effective core."
“Between 1976-1979 12 villages that existed within Ranthambhore National Park were resettled outside. These people made the biggest sacrifice for Ranthambhore National Park, its tigers and bio-diversity, by agreeing to resettle so that the Park could enrichen. The statistics of the above report reveal that without human settlements there are problems and further in depth analysis is necessary to determine if such sacrifices by people are worthwhile, in the interest of the bio-diversity of an area. This resettlement, like that of Kanha was one of the milestones in the history of Project Tiger Reserves.
“Recently a land use and Forest Map of Ranthambhore National Park reveals the wide ranging problems due to biotic pressures that exist on the buffer and fringe areas of this forest.
“This dry deciduous habitat has a rich diversity of flora and fauna, with over two hundred species of birds, a wide array of mammals and reptiles and of course the tiger. During the 1980's the tigers of Ranthambhore were the most visible compared to anywhere in the world. They performed much to the pleasure of those that observed. The tiger and its behavior patterns revealed many new dimensions to its life and in a way it was rewriting its own natural history. But by the late eighties and into the 1990's a gradual decline started in tiger sightings and the process culminated in 1992 with the seizure of a tiger and a leopard skin from a gang of poachers.
“Ranthambhore has many problems. They don't just concern the tiger. They concern growing biotic pressures, the threat of poaching, the lack of serious research, problems with motivation and dedication of the staff, problems of tourism management and control, and so on. A public litigation case which encompasses all these problems is under hearing in the Supreme Court.
“In the instance of the late Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi the first eco-development project was launched in the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve in 1989. Today a special eco-development plan is under formation that would attempt to reduce biotic pressures through the participation of people in effective land-use. In the last year extra vigilance against poachers and a series of training programmes for the staff are being conducted. Several NGO's are extremely active outside the Park to try and develop collective strategies for the future. Such activities signal a sign of hope for the future.
“According to Valmik Thapar, member of the Steering Committee of Project Tiger who has been associated for 17 years with this area, "Ranthambhore is one of the most remarkable dry deciduous habitats of the tiger that I have ever encountered. Today this tiger reserve has serious problems with increasing biotic pressures, poaching and a general systemic failure that afflicts this entire country. But a collective resolve and concern by people, and especially the local communities who live around the Park can resolve some of the problems so as to ensure the survival of this very fragile wilderness area into the future. Genuine problems that are faced by the field staff require quick and early solutions and when this happens an effective collective approach to the future might usher in a period of hope and optimism to ensure the health of this incredible tiger reserve"
[19:26 @ the Ranthambhore Bagh tourist lodge, Ranthambhore tiger reserve, Rajasthan, India] Nature has a wicked sense of humor. Rajasthan is a desert state, and this is the dry season, and no rain has fallen on Ranthambhore for weeks. Today, a huge dark cloud followed me from Delhi to Ranthambhore, and dumped on it till the dust turned to mud.
Something Valmik Thapar is quoted as saying rings a bell. “…a general systemic failure that afflicts this entire country…” When I reread some of my diary entries, it seems that whenever I talk about India, all I do is to criticize its pollution and garbage, but of course it runs much deeper. Where tiger conservation is concerned, we need to, first of all, make the Indian government see it as a high priority, then allocate some serious rupees to the endeavour. And I maintain that the way to achieve this is not through writing a nice letter to the Indian government, though it certainly could do no harm. If someone thinks that by just writing a letter to the government ones job is done, one is sadly mistaken. The three key words to getting government attention are: media, media and media. But what do I read in the Times of India? While India has “no money” for tiger protection, it is slating U.S.$1.8 billion to develop a new star wars system against Pakistan. And in ten or twenty years’ time, that star wars system would be obsolete, and the tiger would be gone.
What India prides itself on – that it is the world’s largest democracy – is also its major weakness. By the “largest democracy”, it also means the largest number of political parties – over 70 on the federal level. These parties form ever-changing opportunistic alliances to topple existing regimes, resulting in a rapid succession of recent prime ministers. Usually, when a new P.M. comes in power, he would know very little about tiger conservation. But by the time he finally learns enough to want to do something effective, he is overthrown. The current Indian P.M. is Mr. Vajpayee. I hope he lasts long enough to do some good.
Anyway, here I am. In room 13 of the Ranthambhore Bagh (Ranthambhore Tiger) safari lodge. And it is raining outside for the first time this year. Since I’m their only new guest today, the proprietor called me their “rain-maker”. I wish I could call upon the rain to rain on our smoldering ruins, Christopher.
Outside, the last thing I saw before nightfall was a camel cart carrying vegetable produce slowly passing by. Just two weeks ago, could I have predicted that today I would be a broken-hearted man seeing a camel cart out a bedroom window? What a ludicrous combination. I told you. Someone up there has a wicked sense of humor and of the absurd.
Still, I’m not smiling.
And still I cannot sleep.
Now, it is dusk for me and dawn for you. Good morning, Christopher.
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February 8, 1999, Mon, sunny, 7-21C
[20:11 @ Ranthambhore Bagh lodge, Ranthambhore tiger reserve, Rajasthan, India] When I look back from the end of my life, today might stand out amongst its peers as being pivotal. When I looked into the mirror this morning, I saw despair. When I look into the mirror now, I see hope. No, the situation hasn’t changed, and the pain and anger are still in full force, but something happened to me that has given me reason to believe that I will be able to deal with the anger, the pain, and the situation itself, as best one could.
I woke up to bright sunshine this morning, but the dark cloud over my head did not dissipate. How could it when every wakeful moment I am so keenly and painfully aware of your despondency, over even my own, and the further psychological damage you would sustain with each passing day? Each passing hour. Each passing minute. What are you doing now, this very second? It is about nine in the morning your time. You have probably had your breakfast. What then? How are you yourself dealing with this awful situation? Have you been crying? Acting out? Throwing tantrum? Who could blame you if you have? Who but Christine. How would she be dealing with you now? Seeing her opening salvo, how she could so recklessly devastate your emotion, I dread to imagine what her ensuing barrages would be. I cannot bear the image of the wooden spoon in her hand, and the psychological equivalent of the wooden spoon. And what else besides the wooden spoon? I cannot bear to continue with this line of thought. For the protection of my own sanity I have every time cut it short. I have never once completed a single scenario in my mind about what happens behind the closed doors of your home. But every time when I discontinue the thought, I feel cowardly, knowing that you would be unable to discontinue the act, for even a moment’s respite. I have my distractions, namely my work, but what distraction do you have? If your reality becomes unbearable, where can you escape to? Who can you turn to? Christopher, you know that if by bearing your pain I could make you whole again, I gladly would.
But while it’s raining in my heart, my eyes cannot deny the sunlit beauty of this most exquisite place on Earth. After tomorrow, I may not be here again to see it. Not long after morrow, God forbid, it may no longer be here again to be seen. SO, Christopher, my promise to you today is this: I will do my best to help save these beautiful place for you. If I cannot benefit you directly, I will benefit you indirectly. Christopher, I will dedicate all my work to you.
After a vegetarian Rajasthani breakfast, I called Fateh Singh Rathore by phone from the hotel. He invited me to just go on over. The hotel manager offered to drive me there, which was just a few miles down the road towards the park from the hotel. So I wiped as much pain and anger off my face as possible, and knocked on his garden gate. It is an earthy house, replete with objects of art, many from Madame Rathore’s art school, with an atrium replete with what to me are exotic plants. The garden is not huge – perhaps an acre in size - but it is full of botanical wonders. And it shines a radiant green in the beige background of the Rajasthani semi-man-cow-goat-made semi-desert.
I was treated to chai and sweet cakes served by Madame Rathore herself. I could not see the art school, since it is not in the immediate vicinity, but I did get have a nice communion with the good lady and the great man. Even though youth have passed, Fateh Singh’s shining passion remains undimmed. I have seen an older picture of him as a younger man. He was standing in a Gypsy, beaming up at two tigers on the ramparts of the Ranthambhore ruins. They could have just jumped on to him, but they looked very relaxed in his company. They were two of the original 45 or so tigers in Ranthambhore. Think of it. Just 45. But today, perhaps 15 remain. He still exercises his special privilege to go into the park at will, which works out to be about twice a month. Just as Belinda Wright once said to me, she doesn’t visit tiger reserves any more. She just works for them from beyond, where she is most effective, even if it is a place of smoke and dust and heat like New Delhi.
Among other things, Fateh Singh is training a team of young anti-poachers, who are reformed poachers whom Fateh Singh himself caught. Fighting fire with fire on the poaching front. He is no stranger to fighting for the tiger and taking the occasional set back. He had been beaten “to near death (from my previous reading” by villagers opposed to having their village relocated when the park was formed. Today, there is a shrine in that relocated village in his honor.
He asked me what I was doing in India, and I explained. He had a word in Hindi with a young man present, named Ram, who then gave me a four hour guided tour by jeep, first into the park, then out of the park on the other side to visit a transplanted village – the Ranthambhore equivalent of Kanha’s Chichrunpur. The magnificence of the park goes without saying – a delicate and feminine kind of exquisiteness compared to the rugged splendor of the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, or even the raw lushness of Kanha. After yesterday’s rain, it looks vibrant and fresh. On the other hand, the rain had washed away all the pug marks, and new ones are few and far between. No tiger graced my visit, but my beholder’s eyes are overflowing with beauty.
The backside of the park is a different story. Signs of infiltration by poachers and wood-cutters are everywhere evident. Tree stumps. Severed limbs. Cattle trails. Paucity of wildlife. Not long after we had exited the park, the forest thinned out to nothing. We encountered several women walking along the side of the rutted road, packing heavy bundles of tree branches on their heads. They were two young girls and an old woman. The old woman’s spine is curved. She weighs no more than 90 lb. The bundle of wood on her head probably about the same. While passing the women, the young man at the wheel, named Ram, informed me that he was resetting the trip-meter to zero. I looked forward to seeing a village, but had long to wait as the jeep toed its way over the ruts on the road. Finally, when we did arrive, the trip meter read 5.2 miles. And the women had already left the trees behind them by a mile or two when we came across them. So they walk seven miles out every morning to reach the trees, cut a bundle of branches, and walk the same distance back with the wood on they heads. And the distance increases every day, as more and more wood is cut.
“Ripe for solar cooking technology, I’d say,” I observed aloud.
“Yes. That’s why I’m driving you here. To see for yourself. And to see what could happen to Kanha too,” said the eager young man.
Behind the village was a wasteland of a valley. The landscape looked surreal - more like a moonscape than an Earthscape, except for some widely dispersed, thin and naked tree trunks pointing straight up at the sky, with all branches torn away. Such is the law, I was told. You cannot cut down a tree, but you can rip all its branches off. The ground was bare rock and sand, without a blade of grass in view.
“Between deforestation and overgrazing, especially by goats, which nibble down to the roots, killing the plant, the land doesn’t stand much of a chance,” said Ram. “Not long ago, this used to be a forested Eden. Now… Now, India is losing about 60,000 supertanker-loads of fertile soil washed irretrievably into the Indian Ocean.”
He parked down the jeep near a small dam on the bottom of the valley near the village. The dam was initially a beneficial project. It was a small piece of desert turned into a large watering hole for humans, cattle and wildlife alike. In the first few years, wildlife actually increased, but deforestation and overgrazing here and upstream has silted it up, leaving just a lifeless, muddy pond, surrounded by lifeless, irresurrectable desert.
Ram went into the village to talk to the chieftain. “It’ll take a while. Maybe an hour. I hope you don’t mind.”
“No problem. I can just walk around. Take your time.”
“If you’re up to it, there is a shrine to the goddess Raminothna up on top of that hill. Raminothna is the goddess of compassion. If you have a question to ask her, you might be rewarded.”
“Sure. Thanks,” I said perfunctorily.
It was not stiflingly hot, but there was no shade except in the lee of the jeep. So I sat down there and tried to read. Once action ceased, however, thoughts began to contend for dominance. And the dominant thought, by far, is Christopher, and all thoughts of Christopher have become inseparable from agony.
So, even solitude, one of the most valued aspects of my life, has been ruined. Instead of peace and tranquility, solitude has now become my emotional torture chamber. And if it has this effect on me, what effect would it have on Christopher? The destruction knows no bounds.
Action, then, is my only escape. So, I undertook the most physically challenging activity at hand, and did climb the conical hill on the other side of the dam, and there, I did meet my destiny with Raminothna.
It was initially a little disappointing. The shrine was just a weathered stone plaque bearing carvings in Hindi, looking centuries old. I touched it, and it felt smooth and polished by centuries of rubbing, but nothing unusual. It stood at the foot of a tree in the bottom of a crater-like depression at the peak of the hill – the only tree left unmolested in a treeless landscape. The tree was about twenty feet tall and looks gnarled and ancient, but it offered to all interested a rich crop of small berries ranging from green to yellow to red to a deep purple – the purple ones looking ready to burst. My mouth was dry after the climb. I picked a purple one and tried it gingerly. It tasted sweet yet unfamiliar. It was very thirst quenching. I picked few more that were right at hand, and one led and next into my mouth. While doing so, I was again involuntarily reminded of Christopher, how we went berry-picking along the Coquitlam River in our happy days. And yet, strangely, there was no pain, no anger, just the happiness in its purest form, that which would be preserved in my heart till the end of time.
Did I say green and yellow and red and purple? It now looked as if the words life and youth and passion and compassion would be more appropriate, descriptive and true. The leaves and fruits, even the trunk and branches had somehow taken on a certain shimmering vibrancy. The whole tree seemed to be aglow with a certain inner light, a living radiance that transcended even the fierce sunlight imposed upon it. I was sure that at night, it would glow like a Christmas tree. Perish the thought – as soon as it was formed, it had struck me to be somehow a little insulting. If it were a Christmas tree, first, it would need no ornaments, and second, it would need no gifts at its foot, and third, it is already plugged into the Earth, which is a part of the Universe, and fourth, it would have not dozens but billions of miniscule light bulbs, each the size of one of its billions of cells.
Before long, I felt drowsy. So I lay down in the shade of the tree. I looked up at the underside of its canopy, and was amazed by yet another of its self-revelations. In physical terms, the underside of the canopy should be no more than ten feet above my eyes, and yet, it seemed somehow hundreds, no, thousands, no, tens of thousands, of feet high. No, it was downright stratospheric. Were I Alice in Wonderland, I would have shrunken in size to that of an amoeba. But there is one last strange thing. When I raised up my hand to look at it, to compare it to the arm of the Statue of Liberty would be an understatement. I felt that if I really reached up, I could touch a star. And my feet - they seemed miles distant, more so, as if they were resting on the other side of the horizon.
I thought I closed my eyes for only a moment, but when they opened again, the sun had shifted enough to shine straight into them. And yet, something dazzled me even more – the vivid memory of a dream. I have recorded it as follows, in the first person, but in the name of Raminothna. The man, I think, is supposed to be me.
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