Those of you who have been fortunate enough to have visited SUJÁN JAWAI will have had a deep interest in this wilderness coupled with a curiosity for discovering a unique culture. Growing up in Karnataka, little did I know that I would one day be living and working in this unique part of Rajasthan, in wildlife with SUJÁN. An organisation which has taught me the value of putting conservation before anything else and given me a home, very far away from where I belong.
I was born in a place called Bhatkal, in the South Indian state of Karnataka. Karnataka is home to the famous hill range, the Western Ghats. A dense ecosystem composed of a wide array of fauna and endemic flora, so much so that that it has been coined as one of the world’s “hottest hot spots” for its biodiversity. Sitting on a veranda of my ancestral home, I would witness these hills transform from being parched in the dry summer before transforming into a paradise of lush green during the monsoon. An hours walk from my house, your toes can be in the waters of the Arabian Sea. As far as I remember, my first contact with wilderness started when I went with my cousins to help look for some fresh water crabs. One evening, sitting on a boulder, I remember watching them waiting and waiting for the perfect moment to catch these crabs. I was young and impatient, and after while I grew bored of watching my cousins and decided walk go exploring the woods instead. Roaming around them I fell in love with the raw aspects of nature and it possessed me, but soon, after around 15 minutes, I realised I had got lost deep in the forest. Unable to find my way back to my cousins I tried to retrace my footsteps and return to where we had been fishing. Fortunately, they had seen me going into the forest and when I didn’t return, came looking for me amongst the tall teak trees. Initially I remembered a tremendous feeling of fear but I surprised myself by how quickly this feeling transformed into a love for being lost in the wild. I moved to Hubli to live with my parents and to start schooling but to this day, every summer holiday since then, our family spends it at Bhatkal.
Some choose their destiny, while for others their destiny chooses them. Like many young men, I had dreams of joining the Indian Army and driving an armoured tank, so I studied and trained to become an automobile engineer in order to get a commission. The selection process for the Indian Army is one of the most difficult and exhausting examinations. The officers analyse a candidate on how one thinks, works and presents oneself.
My first experience of failure happened in these exam boards. Every failure was a learning. Unable to make it in seven attempts, I decided to join a automobile company. Co-incidently one of the very first companies I applied for was Spicer India, part of ANAND Group of which, I would later find out, SUJÁN is also apart. However, that attempt didn’t materialise. After few months, I joined a engineering service company called Quest Global as drafting engineer, where I made oil well drawings for petro-chemical companies. Unable to make it in seven attempts, I decided perhaps this was fate telling me the army wasn’t for me. I decided to join an engineering company as a drafting engineer, where I made oil well drawings for petro-chemical companies. Whilst I was good at what I was doing, life in this role felt stagnant. I decided I wasn’t someone who could sit in a cubical with a computer, both starring at each other for 10 hours a day. This restricting office space made my mind often wander to that experience of getting lost in the forest, a place so vast and unrestricted by walls. In short this drew me in to thinking of what I like the most, spending time outdoors. From this, came the idea of entering the safari life. I first came to know about SUJÁN JAWAI in a documentary I saw on the Discovery Channel. This seemed to be a perfect place to begin my new chapter. The existence of Leopards around human habitat and their peaceful co-existence was something very different and interesting to study.
Initially, some opposition came from my family and friends. Yes, change is good but also intimidating: what if it doesn’t work out? What if I end up not enjoying it? Despite all these questions, I decided to persevere and after searching for nearly 8 months, I finally found a place and a team I wanted to embrace, without waiting. It took me a while to locate the exact fit for myself, consider it luck, providence, fate or whatever else you will, one phone call and a couple of interviews later, I have never looked back.
I joined SUJÁN JAWAI as a Junior Ranger, and now on the cusp of my fourth year, I managed to bag the coveted Ranger of the Year Award. In some ways, it also allowed me to live my dreams of joining the Indian Army, offering, as only the safari life can, a code of discipline, camaraderie and striving for perfection; values I have grown and cherished for the last three years.
Every day here is a learning experience: be it tracking leopards or trekking in the hills that overlook the camp or or even just a walk around in the wilderness, everything is alive, open, refreshing and new. I was an engineer who never knew what a leopard scat looked like, but now I am privileged to track these magnificent big cats and spend time observing them, learning their behaviour, their temperament and their needs. Every morning, I wake up with just as strong a purpose as I felt when applying for the army and every night I have the fortune to peacefully slip in to sleep under the blanket of stars, after a long and rewarding day in the bush. Every morning, I know that I am on the verge of creating a memory for some visitor to our wilds and that my role here at JAWAI contributes, in some small way, to the larger fight for conservation of our natural heritage.