“I have had an extraordinary childhood,” says Krithi K Karanth, a biological conservationist at the INK (Innovation and Knowledge) Conference, 2013, at Kochi. “My father K Ullas Karanth is one of India’s well-known tigerologists. My grandfather was the renowned writer, thinker, and theatre personality Dr Shivaram Karanth. And I grew up among these two incredible individuals, whose passion continues to inspire me even to this day.”
From her childhood, Krithi spent hours, along with her father, watching animals at the Nagarhole National Park, 218 kms from Bangalore. “I was a five-year-old kid, who was not allowed to bring any music or colouring books, but just given a pair of binoculars and told to sit still for six hours,” says Krithi. “Some days it was hard, but I ended up doing this for 16 years. Today, if I get one day like that, I will be the happiest person in this room.”
That is because India has an incredible variety of wildlife. The country has 40 per cent of the world’s tigers and all of the Asian elephants. “If you don’t think big charismatic mammals are good enough, then we have the Lion Tailed Macaque,” says Krithi. “There are only 500 left in the world today and they are only found in the Western Ghats.” There is also an incredible array of amphibians, apart from a thousand bird species.
But what is increasingly becoming a reality are the numerous conflicts between man and animal as the former encroaches into new areas all over the country, because of overpopulation. In a research study last year, Krithi and her team went to over 2000 villages in Karnataka. “What we discovered was that during a 10-year period, there have been one lakh conflicts between man and animal,” she says. “How do we solve this problem? I want to set up a conservation platform. The idea is that whenever any villager faces a conflict situation we will have field teams on the ground that will respond to this.”
Meanwhile, Krithi is responding to another burning issue. At this moment only 4 per cent of the country is designated as wildlife areas. “But that is not enough,” she says.
“India is at a point in history where we have the money, resources and technology, and have no more excuses to say that 4 per cent is all what we can give for non-human life. In fact, 10 per cent is my dream. As a conservation biologist, nine out of ten times, I will lose the fight for wild India, but the one time that I win, I will celebrate joyously.”
Unfortunately, Aisha Chaudhary, all of 17, has nothing to celebrate. She suffers from a lung disorder called Pulmonary Fibrosis. It makes it difficult for her to breathe. Aisha begins her speech at the INK Conference by saying, “I was tossing and turning in my bed with this idea that soon I may be gone. If that is going to happen, what is the point of anything? I think about this for hours and get nowhere. But then it suddenly struck me that I am not really alone in all of this. Is it not true that not just me, but all of us are going to die one day? In the next 100 years, all of us sitting in this room today will be gone, just at different times, some sooner than the others.”
Expressing a perception far beyond her years Aisha says that happiness is a choice. “It is simply an attitude,” she says. “I can have an attitude to be happy and try to smile. Or I can choose to be miserable and get overwhelmed by it. However, it is not that by being miserable, I am going to get better. So I may as well choose to be happy. If I have to have pulmonary fibrosis I choose to have a happy pulmonary fibrosis.”
When she says this, the audience breaks out into a spontaneous applause. Sometime ago, Aisha had gone to London to do a sleep study. It was done to check whether her oxygen levels were okay when she slept. “I could not help but laugh at the man who was doing the study,” says Aisha. “He would put up his own feet on my bed and go off to sleep, snoring away. This made it difficult for me to sleep. Maybe, that was why my results were so bad.”
But what makes Aisha feel good are her two pets - a labrador and a black pup. “I find it so interesting that even though they cannot speak a word, dogs are our best friends and companions,” says Aisha. “I cannot help but get inspired. They are similar to humans. Yet they carry qualities that we humans struggle to achieve. Dogs can find happiness in the smallest of things. They are delighted with a walk, excited with a small treat, and are in heaven when you tickle their bellies.”
Aisha pauses and says, “I am determined to make the most of this wonderful gift of life that God has given me. As [writer Hans Christian] Anderson once said, ‘Enjoy life, there’s plenty of time to be dead.’”