Myth: What can a journalist do when his story about tiger conservation takes a drastic turn?

Myth: What can a journalist do when his story about tiger conservation takes a drastic turn?

The next day Jaya and I woke up at 5 am. This morning shoot was something we used to do when we were out of Delhi, and both of us were fine with it. We can prepare them in record time. Having a hot water kettle and coffee in the tent definitely helped! Jaya would be the first to get ready and I would get another ten minutes lying on the bed.

It was still dark and we were hurrying to the chan. We set up the camera on a tripod and recorded a time-lapse shot as the sun started to rise a little before 6am. This means fixing a still frame and then allowing it to record longer. Later, during the edition, we would compress half an hour of gradual sunrise into a few seconds. It was always a good drop to use in the final version.

Being in the forest before dawn is one of the most peaceful and meditative experiences. The first rays of sunlight hit the trees, and the birds begin to chirp, signaling the start of a new day. The chill of the night gradually subsides as the warmth of the sun envelops the forest. For a few minutes, everything looks golden, almost ethereal. It’s a bonus when there are thick clouds in the sky and rays burst from the sides. It’s good for the soul to catch the sunrise in the forest once in a while.

We have a great video of the sun rising over the hills and grass in the foreground. Jaya continued to adjust the exposure of the camera as it got brighter. There was a small herd of cheetahs, or leper deer, on one side of the grassy plain, and two saddles. As soon as the sun rose and we left, we started photographing them. We heard footsteps coming up the machan’s stairs and turned to see Devraj’s head appearing. “Oh, good morning. I didn’t expect to find anyone here,” he said as he climbed the stairs to the stage, camera in one hand and tripod in the other. We returned his “hello” as he started to stop. I was a little annoyed at the interruption, but Jaya seemed to have no problem.

Have you ever seen a young deer?” he asked referring to the sambar we saw yesterday.

“No, he didn’t show up,” Jaya replied. “But there are female cheetahs and sambar.”

“I see your friend from yesterday is gone,” he said, looking into his lens as he began to click pictures. Incorrect description. I rolled my eyes at Jaya who just shrugged. We stayed at the machan for another half hour or so, shooting until it got brighter. The cheetah herd had moved on. Devraj ordered coffee for all of us from the kitchen as we waited for one.

“Look over there,” he said pointing to the sky as he peered through his camera lens. I followed his appearance and could see a bird flying in the distance, its image in the blue sky. “It’s a snake eagle,” he said as Jaya also put his lens on the bird. The bird flew for a while over the grassy plain, surveying the ground below. In an instant, it flew down, and its wings bent back as it bent towards its target. But whatever it was trying to grab was able to escape and soar back up into the sky, its wings spread wide as it flew. We watched the bird become a tiny dot on the horizon before disappearing from sight.

“Maybe it was after a snake or a mouse,” said Devraj, as he locked his tripod on a chair. “The dive was fun. I was able to photograph it,” said Jaya looking happy. The waiter arrived just then with a tray of steaming coffee, the aroma wafting through the air as he carefully placed it on the table. Jaya and I had a rest. It was a beautiful morning, the sun was warm, the breeze carried the scent of moon grass, making this time even more pleasant. Next to the coffee, there were three different types of vanilla cookies and muffins, all arranged on a plate. The cookies were clearly homemade, and the vanilla muffins looked soft and moist. When I looked at them, my stomach rumbled and I realized that I was hungry. The freshly brewed coffee smelled divine as it was poured, the aroma of the beans filling the machan.

“What was the best thing you saw when you left here?” Jaya asked when we started drinking. He looked thoughtful for a moment and then answered. “I once saw a tiger chasing a wild boar right here. And he was able to find her too. After that, he dragged the body away from the trees on the left.”

“Oh, it’s amazing!” said Jaya in fear, looking towards the grass field, almost accepting the sight of a tiger. “Did you manage to capture it on camera?” For us TV people, seeing something amazing was great, but if you couldn’t capture it on camera, then what was the point? We were a virtual person, after all. “The sad thing is that I was drinking coffee like this when it happened. I filmed the pig being dragged later, but I missed the chase,” he said with a laugh as Jaya sipped on her coffee, quickly glancing back at the grass field.

“Demeth. That must have hurt. That would have been an amazing sign! What I wouldn’t give you to see that,” I said with a squint. I was really sad that someone missed a movie like this! “Yes it was.” He smiled again and looked at me. “But what made it worse was that I had another Kenyan photographer visiting me at the time. He had his camera but he didn’t take a picture. When I asked him why, he said he would get it ‘next time’. This time he wanted to see, and I quote him here, the ‘drama and beauty’ of the forest of India.”

“Oh my God. Why?” Jaya said sounding worried.

“He used to film in the Maasai Mara, where something or the other is happening all the time. A lion is hunting a deer here or a cheetah is chasing a deer there. Then I had to explain to him that in the forests of India these sightings are not so common. And especially if it happened right in our area it was very rare. ” Devraj shook his head angrily at the memory. We were silent for a while. Jaya was probably thinking about the Kenyan photographer and the lost opportunity. I was thinking about the Masai Mara. It’s on my bucket list. One day.

Excerpted with permission from Time of the Tiger: Time of Strokes, Safaris, and Sparks, Gargi Rawat, Penguin of India.

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