Joy of nature

Joy of nature

Different strokes

Joy of nature

Snapshots M Y Ghorpade celebrated nature in his photographs.

For many wildlife enthusiasts as well as lay readers, Murarirao Yeshwanthrao Ghorpade’s Sunlight and Shadows: An Indian Wildlife Photographer’s Diary is a venerable tome. First published in 1983 in London by Victor Gollancz, a revised and enlarged version of the book was released by Penguin Books India in 2004.

The book, which carries a Foreword by Indira Gandhi, is packed with a host of nature photographs shot by the ace lensman in different locales and natural reserves like Bandipur, Nagarahole, Kanha, Gir, Kaziranga, Sawai Madhopur, Bandhavgarh and Bharatpur.

Ghorpade tells the reader how he covered forest trails on foot as well as in ‘a decrepit, old, rattling van’. Many of his pictures were also taken riding on the back of elephants. Those were the days of analog photography and not digital. That necessitated his filling his specially tailored pockets with four loaded Hasselblad magazines to enable 48 exposures without having to load.

The range of subjects is vast: from leaping monkeys, dancing peacocks, fuming wild buffaloes, tongue-lashing monitor lizards, to sambar stags with big antlers, wild boars with twisted tushes, big bulls with impressive horns, herds of elephants wallowing in mire and rolling in slush, and wild boars feeding on the carcass of their kill.

His attraction to birds is quite evident, especially those approaching their nests and feeding their young ones. For him, a bird song at dawn was its way of gearing itself up to meet the world with joy and light; for most birds, according to him, daylight was very important to feed, play and to make love.

In Sunlight and Shadows, Ghorpade supports his pictures with interesting commentaries. For instance, while capturing prides of lions on ground, on rocks and on trees, sitting with majestic grace and dignity, he writes, “The tail is an important indicator of how alert a lion is and what is passing through his mind.”

And speaking of regal and ferocious tigers, he observes that, among other habits, they are “meticulously clean animals in spite of the messy business (of killing) they have to indulge in twice or thrice a week to satisfy their hunger.”

As curiously, we are told that one of his celebrated photographs — ‘Tusker in Rain’ — was taken with no plan or preparation. In fact, the situation was far from ideal. His jeep was firmly stuck in monsoon slush of a forest road in Bandipur when the grand animal walked into the scene. Sitting in a jeep which looked like a wet canvas hide from behind, the photographer had nothing else to do but take as many shots as possible with his Hasselblad while the tusker scrubbed itself with the trunk, plastered itself with wet mud and rubbed his sides vigorously against a strong tree. Only after the animal left the scene and receded into the forest were Ghorpade and his men able to pull the jeep out of the mire and proceed towards their camp.

In his enthusiasm for shooting wild animals, Ghorpade does not turn a blind eye to seemingly less exciting situations. He describes with warmth and wonderment about the evening forest (in Nagarahole) when glow-worms in perfect consonance and breathtaking patterns perched themselves on every branch, twinkling with amazing unison at regular intervals. “I sat there watching this marvelous play of light until the mosquitoes, who are no respecters of beauty, drove me in.”

In another instance, he explains how nobody could take undue liberties with the tiger; and how even the mahouts, who are used to seeing these tigers quite regularly, would fold their hands in salutation when they sighted a tiger for the first time during the day.

Sandur connection

Ghorpade’s name is intrinsically linked with his home town Sandur (Bellary district), which he describes in the book as “a peaceful little place in the heart of an ancient valley which Mahatma Gandhi described as an oasis when he visited it in the early 1930s.” He compares Sandur valley to a giant fortress, encompassed by a striking range of hills with two natural gateways or narrow gorges on either side, connected by a temperamental forest stream.

He recalls how as a schoolboy, he would happily roam the jungles of Sandur; how one had only to step out of the classrooms to be in the company of birds and animals; and how snakes, lizards and various invertebrates, including scorpions, often found it quite convenient to climb on to the veranda of the school and sometimes even into the classrooms.

He also cheerfully reminisces that nature study was a popular subject in school, and students benefited from teachers who took them on regular birdwatching trips to identify birds, record their habits and behaviour, and collect botanical specimens.

According to him, in the 1930s and ‘40s, Sandur was full of wildlife, but the following decades turned dangerous for it. He also recounts that it was in Sandur that he took his first nest-site photograph of a bird — that of a female purplerumped sunbird. Before proceeding to capture it for posterity on his camera, he watched the indefatigable little bird, smaller than a sparrow, bringing strand after strand of dry grass to construct her nest, single-handedly.

Many roles

Ghorpade, whose father too was a nature lover and wildlife enthusiast, was born in 1931 as a direct descendant of a royal family. He was initially educated in Sandur and later in Bangalore, before obtaining his MA at Cambridge University in 1952. He had an active political career and was finance minister, Government of Karnataka, from 1972 to 1977.

He was elected as a member of Parliament in 1986, and was minister for rural development and panchayat raj for about seven years in Karnataka. Recipient of a honorary doctorate from Mysore University in 2006, he was the chairman and managing director of Sandur Manganese and Iron Ores Limited.

Although he took on many roles, it is quite obvious that his heart was with nature photography and conservation. “Wildlife photography and wandering in unspoilt natural environments are activities which I will not voluntarily give up,” he wrote in the author’s note of Sunlight and Shadows. “They are an inseparable part of my life.”

Ghorpade’s achievements and accomplishments in the field of photography were well recognised. His photographs were featured in national and international salons and won prizes. He was awarded the fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain (FRPS) and the Excellence De la Federation Internationale De L’Art Photographique (EFIAP) in 1976. In 1983, he became the first wildlife photographer to receive the prestigious international award of Master Photographer (MFIAP – Master Federation Internationale De L’Art Photographique). He also became the driving force behind the setting up of the Daroji Bear Sanctuary near Sandur.

Many challenges

Ghorpade believed that a good photograph of wildlife conveyed directly the joy and beauty of nature. He considered wildlife photography to be a continuous process of learning and adapting to field conditions, the nature and temperament of different species, and the mood of particular animals in a given condition. “There is always a certain amount of risk in wildlife photography, specially when one has to get close enough to take a picture; but a combination of ignorance and arrogance can be fatal.”

Ghorpade consciously chose the medium of black-and-white photography because of its relative permanence compared to colour, and the scope it gave for artistic expression.

For him, the outstanding quality in a photograph was not just a matter of technical perfection; it was not only what the human eye saw while taking a picture but what the eye of the camera saw and recorded on the negative, and the total effect of the photograph after it was printed and enlarged.

In his book, Ghorpade reveals several challenges faced by a wildlife photographer. One of them was patience and the ability to remain perfectly silent for a sufficiently long time. Another was to remain ever alert to every developing situation. He recalls, for instance, the ruthlessness and ravenous swiftness with which a kill was made by a wild animal and its victim eaten; and the blood-curdling cry of a chital done to death by a pack of wild dogs is remembered with a tinge of anguish.

One also comes to know how many worthy photographers, in their honest moments, have committed common errors, including the classic one of forgetting to remove the lens cap while using a range-finder camera and discovering the omission only after the film was developed blank.

Ghorpade asserts that after photographing a panther at Sandur in 1968, he never used a flash again to photograph a wild animal.

‘Belaku Neralu’

The Kannada translation of Sunlight and Shadows is almost ready and publisher N Ravikumar of Abhinava Prakashana is heartbroken that it could not be released when the author was still alive. (Ghorpade died at a private hospital in Bangalore on October 29 of complications arising out of acute pneumonia.)

“We have been associated with Shri Ghorpade for quite some time,” recalls Ravi. “Abhinava has brought out Kannada translation of several of his books including Abhivruddi, Aalike mattu Maanaveeya Moulyagalu (Growth, Governance and Human Values) / 2009, Rekkeya Mitraru (Winged Friends) / 2010, Muktiya Rahasya (The Secret of Salvation) /2010, Sahasada Ondu Seemarekhe (A Profile in Courage) / 2011 and Kanchiya Paramacharyaru (Paramacharya of Kanchi) / 2011. We were keen to release the Kannada version of Sunlight and Shadows at the earliest. Ghorpade was also very enthusiastic and co-operative. I only wish things had worked out sooner than later. Even a week before his death, I had spoken to him about the book, and he was as excited as ever. There was no indication that he would go away so suddenly.”

The Kannada book is now slated for release on December 7, which happens to be the 80th birth anniversary of Murarirao Yeshwanthrao Ghorpade.

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