Born and raised in Bangalore, Sangita S Mani graduated with a degree in commerce and moved on to pursue a corporate career, which included roles in customer service, human resources, corporate communications and marketing. But eight years, and plenty of introspection later, she swapped her suits for boots and enrolled with Taj Safaris to train as a naturalist.
Since October 2012, she has been a naturalist with Taj Safaris, first at Baghvan Jungle Lodge in Pench National Park for two years, then Mahua Kothi in Bandhavgarh National Park, and now at Banjaar Tola Tented Camp in Kanha National Park. She considers herself extremely lucky to be on this journey of constant discovery, being able to explore and share the wealth that nature has to offer with her guests.
What made you quit your job and enter this profession, that of a naturalist?
During the eight years of my corporate life, there were very few times when I didn’t know exactly how my day would pan out. It was like the feeling of being a hamster on a wheel — running all the time, but never getting anywhere. Finally, a lot of introspection led to thinking if this was the life I wanted for myself. The answer was a resounding ‘No!’ Thanks to my upbringing, I have had exposure to leisurely holidays in the tea gardens of southern India, and I wanted my life ahead to have that pace. That’s what got me thinking of a career that would enable me to appreciate nature and chase my penchant for adventure. Eventually, I gave up a cushy corporate job and took to embarking on a journey of constant self-discovery.
What was the reaction of your family when you told them of your decision? It’s an unconventional profession?
Knowing my love for nature and my gritty nature, it came as absolutely no surprise to my family when I decided on a new journey. They were extremely supportive. Also, any apprehension that my family had evaporated when my brother came to visit me at Pench, where I was training to become a naturalist. Ever since then, he has been my unofficial spokesperson and advocate in family circles.
What exactly does a Naturalist do? Do you stay on the property/does it entail living away from your family, if yes, how do you manage home-work balance?
My day starts anytime between 4-5 am. Typically, it involves packing breakfast for guests (based on their specific requests/allergies/preferences) before heading out to the guest area, where we meet guests for a pre-game drive coffee, briefing them about the plan for the morning drive.
Then a 4-5 hour drive in the morning follows, looking for all sorts of animals and birds, enjoying the sunrise and breathing in the fresh air. Once we are back, we drop the guests off and quickly finish off some office work before getting a little rest, lunch, and ready for round 2 — the afternoon game drive. This is a shorter drive, 2.5 to 3 hours, when we get to see the jungle transform from siesta mode when we enter to seeing all the activity begin as it starts to cool down.
As the sun sets, we make our way out. Once we are back and cleaned up, we join our guests for a briefing session or drinks and dinner. Then, it’s back to the office for a bit to check if everything is in order for the next morning.
Although I live away from the rest of my family, I am lucky that I am working with my husband at the moment. So, that’s a big bonus. We do get to go home every two months for about two weeks, so we get to spend quality time when we do visit family.
How happy/contented are you now vis-a-vis your earlier profession?
It is a great sense of fulfilment. From the days of people back home in Bangalore asking what I was going to do in a jungle to them envying my life today, it rocks! Add to that, the lessons learned every day at work (which seldom seems like work because most days are so much fun), it’s win-win all the way.