The Tiger of Ranthambhore has fallen silent forever. The bold and yet gentle voice that tirelessly advocated Tiger conservation shall no more be heard. That is how God willed it. We mortals can only grieve and miss him. May he Rest In Peace.
My first encounter with Fateh Singhji goes back to 1985 when I visited the park for the first time as a member of our college tour. I vividly remember him standing near the park gate in Olive Green trousers, cream shirt, silk scarf and his trademark hat, glaring at us and threatening to throw us out if we didn't stop making silly noises. I also remember that his scolding had proved quite effective. I had occasion to see him several times after that. However, my first real meeting with him came in October 2005 in Sheopur MP where we had gone to meet some informers in connection with our 'Anti Poaching Operation'. His passion for conservation, his boundless energy and his sense of humor had an electrifying effect on us. His eyes twinkled with an almost childlike mirth giving an impression of eternal youth, yet his bronze complexion and firm jawline told the story of a hard life well spent for a good cause. On that day I became his willing pupil and he promised to teach me more. It turned out to be a case of 'too little too late'. I regret I couldn't spend as much time with him as I would have liked to.
The last time I saw him was on TV while he was being honored by WWF. He was in a wheelchair looking extremely frail and with a barely audible voice he expressed his wish for 'greater political will and more dedicated people' for saving the tiger. It was moving to see him in that state, but the sparkle in the eye was still there, he had not lost all hope for his life long goal. I am sure those would have been his thoughts when the end came. At that point I resolved to see him as soon as possible, but that was not to be.
When I spoke to Dr. Govardhan Singhji yesterday, I told him that I was not going to condole the departed soul, I share the grief because it is a personal loss for me too. For conservationists, it is an irreparable loss, a vacuum that can never be filled. I hope and pray that such a man may walk the jungle again and save our splendid cats from a certain doom. I call upon all who have any concern for nature and wildlife to spread awareness about it as much as they can, that would be the best tribute to the man and the cause.