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Living With Tigers

By DHIRAJ SINGH

THERE IS A KIND OF RECIPROCITY that photographers feel when shooting tigers. It’s almost like a hunt. The wait. The listening in. The air-sniffing. The anticipation of the click is often so powerful that every other sight, sound and thought is obliterated. The tiger does that too when it’s watching its prey from behind tall grass patches. When it is almost like a pile of tensed muscles waiting for the short chase that would deliver the prey to his powerful jaws.

Aditya Dicky Singh is a hunter-gatherer of such tiger moments. Yet there is something that stands out in the way he’s built his life around his obsession. He’s been living around the Ranthambore National Park for more than a score years. Almost like the big cats that he shoots, he too has gotten attached to the place.

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Tigers through the lens of Aditya Dicky Singh

There’s no denying the remarkable way  tigers have captured the human imagination from the time of Indus Valley seals to Project Tiger. They have given us a powerful and often mystical way of looking at the world. Some day when we’re able to download thoughts we will perhaps gaze into the mind of the solitary tiger and then we will wonder some more about what it means to be at the top of the food chain and yet be powerless before man’s greed.

Dicky as most of his friends call him started out as a civil servant in the “good old days of Sukhram” and his Telecom Scam but soon realised that a life of pushing files was not for him. The great outdoors interested him more. It was around turn of the century when most of the world was losing sleep over the fate of the human race after the Y2K bug struck, Dicky and his artist wife Poonam were planning their ‘vanvaas’ or relocation to the wilderness. The idea was to start a small guesthouse close to the national park and curate tours for people like themself or those interested in the tiger and its habitat.

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Tigers of Ranthambore by Dicky Singh & his ‘cantilevered house’ project

The photography part began quite by chance, when a BBC documentary crew was staying at Ranthambore Bagh—their old guesthouse—and was looking for someone to shoot their ‘b-roll’ or the part used as inserts between the main action footage. That first tryst with the camera changed Dicky in more ways than he had imagined. It gave him a whole new way of processing his life in the wild.

Today his pictures are much sought after by the top travel and wildlife publications of the world. Last year he even co-authored a book along with his friend and collaborator Andy Rouse. ‘NOOR: Queen of Ranthambore’, the book lovingly documents the life of Noor, a tigress who’s fame has reached near- mythical proportions. There’s a story in the book about how Noor goes on an avenging spree killing several leopards after her cubs are eaten up by one.

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The book cover (left) & Aditya Dicky Singh posing with his subject

Since the past two years he’s been busy constructing a fabulous cantilevered house in the middle of a plot of land that he and his wife have ‘wilded’ with local shrubs and hardy plants. There’s also a vegetable garden and crop patches “just for the birds”. Further down their sprawling backyard stands a cluster of mountains shaped like dinosaur humps that mark the edge of the famed home of tigers.

Dhiraj Singh is a well-known journalist, writer, TV personality and artist who has shown his abstract paintings and X-Ray works in India and abroad. He is also a co-founder of Hunar TV, a web channel for the arts. More about him can be found at www.dhirajsinghart.blogspot.com