Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tiru Uncle

Salim Ali
Dr. Salim Ali : Eventually more famous than Tiru Uncle
Before we had watched Dr. Brady Barr and Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin; before National Geographic issues brought into our homes Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey; even before we had read anything about Jim Corbett and Salim Ali, long before we were old enough to spell 'conservation', we the tiny tots of Bharuch knew what it was all about. 

This we owe to the legend of Tiru Uncle.
In a small town like ours, legendary status was tough to obtain. People met each other all too frequently on the streets and knew of each other's most embarrassing secrets all too well for that to happen. But the mind of kids was a different matter. A professional snake wrangler was pretty much assured of super stardom.
This was all I knew about Tiru Uncle, whom I had never seen, a myth whispered from child to child and it was enough : that he was a cowboy hat wearing swashbuckler, the one to call in case a snake showed up in your neighbourhood. Correspondingly, I also knew that it was wrong to kill a snake, no matter how poisonous and 'evil' and slithery it looked. 

Because Tiru Uncle was watching and would swoop in to take it away. 

After a pit-stop at Tiru Uncle's Deer Park, where he collected his stats and made his notes, it would be set free in a jungle to live happily ever after.
One day on a summer afternoon long ago, a snake, long silvery and radiant, which this many years later I still can't identify, came wandering into a construction site near our neighbourhood. Not being  blessed as far as eyesight goes, it thought it could camouflage itself amongst some bricks. 

Bad choice.

Besides many others, I spotted it too. While I was struck by how beautiful it was, a mob gathered, determined to *finish* the *problem*. 

I felt shattered for the snake and my powerlessness. I was just a shy little kid. Neither could I stop anyone nor did I try to. This was well beyond my powers. I could only pray.

Just at the brink of angry words turning into corresponding actions, the legend came true. Rushing in, seemingly out of thin air, came Tiru Uncle, armed with only a gunny sack & a hooked rod. He fenced off the crowd merely by some tough words and went on to deftly solve the situation. Snake inside his sack, he eventually calmed tempers too, putting human and non-human creatures at ease.

t that stage of my life, I was an ardent fan of the (now) corny 1960s Batman series re-runs on TV. That last minute rescue of his appeared to my impressionable mind no less than a real life version of Batman rescuing Robin from the unnecessarily convoluted death planned out by the Riddler. 

I distinctly remember wondering what Tiru Uncle's Bat-signal equivalent would be? The silhouette of a cobra hood raised?
Impressed as I was, I noted with some dismay, he wasn't wearing a cowboy hat the one time I saw him and that he was balding. It did ruin just by a little bit my Indiana Jones image-by-imagination of him.
It is National Park Week in the US from the 19th of April to the 27th, a time for all nature (and history) lovers to rally behind all that is precious but has no price tag. Conserving nature in all its glory is a relatively new idea. Most of human history we have spent planning how to conquer it.
As long as there are people like Tiru Uncle bustling about, locally 'world famous' and dedicated, in remote corners of the world, we stand a very good chance of preserving what we have left. We are lucky to have some wonderful roommates on this planet of ours and some wonderful human beings who fight for them. 

Most importantly, these people are symbols; that one man can make a difference, by his work and by his image, spiced up a little by casual creativity though it might be.

After all, if there is one place where the wild & free have a permanent place, it is inside the child in us all. 

Once that flame of wonder is sparked, there's no shutting it down.

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