NEW DELHI: The meaning of the term formidable changes with experience. Once you’ve made a routine of chasing the enormous, ferocious cats without letting your eyes bleed with fear, formidable becomes a feeble word. Without the slightest trepidation, wildlife biologist Latika Nath, treads upon the heels of tigers, lions, leopards and jaguars, photographing them in their fierce glory. The pages of her new book titled Hidden India, climbs a steep slope of valor and audacity to step into the disconcerting world of the savage wild.
This is a beautiful book of penetrating visuals that pierce through your eyes with their extraordinary rapture. There is a certain kind of enigma to them that doesn’t give much away, yet Hidden India promises to take you through what Nath calls ‘the planet’s most fabled panoramas and rumoured landscapes bound by evolutionary destiny’.
Misery sometimes has a way of setting you free. From within the clutches of pain, emerges strength that you didn’t imagine existed. Nath knows that pain. When life threw her off a few years back (she chooses to not speak about the incident), bouts of rejection and despondency surfaced. “It is easy to want to hide and hurt. I chose to stand up and throw myself back into the mountains, oceans and forests to look for the peace and understand what eluded me in cities. I walked with animals, looked into their eyes and searched for the wisdom and truth that resides within them. Some of these conversations are captured in my photographs,” she says.
The camera isn’t a mere instrument that she carries with her at all times. It’s a piece of her soul that she keeps carefully guarded. It has allowed her to capture and freeze forever, infinite natural phenomenons, realities and instances that she couldn’t have documented without its companionship. Her journeys, at times, require months or sometimes even years of planning. In the past three years, she has travelled to 18,000 feet above sea level in search of the Snow Leopard, and to Papua for underwater photography. She has worked at 45°C in Ethiopia at Omo, and -22°C in Ladakh. Now, she’s planning a trip to photograph Puma in the wild.
The splendid wild and the boundless outdoors have been a constant in her life. People came and went, relationships were made and broken, things were lost and found, memories got etched and faded but her zeal to explore wild ecosystems stayed. Srinagar was home for her. She lived there on a farm and fruit orchard. She remembers there being corriedale sheep, jersey cows, dogs, and cats. “I grew up around chinar, walnut, apple, cherry, pear, peach, and magnolia trees, running into strawberry beds, picking wild mushrooms, finding four leaved clovers, building tree houses and listening to 78 vinyl records on a gramophone,” she says smiling.
For a person who has had hedgehogs, turtles, elephants, horses, snakes, scorpions, eagles, langur, Rhesus monkeys, and even a baby orangutan at home for rehabilitation and care, the sensitivity required for the understanding these species came naturally to her. Summer holidays were, by far, the best time for Nath. Trying her hand at trout fishing or visiting the Dachigam National Park wasn’t uncommon. “I would call the Chief Wildlife Warden’s office because my father was his friend, and request for a car to take me into Dachigam. “We would walk in the dark in the forest glades, till the first rays of light hit the canopy and we could discern outlines of Hangul, Bear and other forest animals. I have seen upto 28 bear in a forest glade,” she fondly recalls.
Her keen interest in wildlife led her to Oxford University to pursue a D.Phil on Tiger Conservation and Management from the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (Wild CRU) and Christ Church. She studied under wildlife conservation Professor David W Macdonald, who she calls the best wildlife conservationist. Oxford was much more than she had imagined. She got a chance to work under, and with some of the greatest minds in the field. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the tiger remains a cynosure of her work. Even the cover of the book has a gorgeous picture of the cat camouflaging itself behind the bark of a think, old tree with its eyes sharply aligned to the lens of the camera. The first few pages too, are filled with the mighty beast.
Through the pages of the enormous book, you will find yourself deeply exposed. It’s as though the mystique of the jungle, oceans, savanna and the mountains surround you, and are inviting you into their chilling depth for an unusual adventure. The question is, would you dare to take the plunge?