Hamir and I: Can you be friends with a tiger?
Can you be friends with a tiger? Delhi-based photographer Arjun Anand thinks so. His new book looks at his obsession with tracking a tiger for four years at Ranthambhore, until he was put away for being man-eater
Arjun Anand was a visual artist and fine arts photographer until he met Hamir. Then, a cub who'd hide behind his mother at their Ranthambhore National Park home, he turned Anand to wildlife photography with a vengeance. The result is a just-released coffee table book, Hamir: The Fallen Prince of Ranthambhore (published by Pirates), with 160 images that track the tiger's journey from playful cub to alleged man eater.
The first time he spotted Hamir T104, Anand says he noticed his eyes—the most piercing blue he had seen. It was 2017 and Anand was on his umpteenth visit to Ranthambore in Rajasthan, a six-hour drive from his Delhi home. "He [Hamir] was six months old, and would pop his head out from behind his mother. This instantly humanised Hamir for me. I stopped seeing him as a tiger from that moment on," he recalls. Gradually, his visits got more frequent. "You could say that I became obsessed with him; at times I would spend 13 straight days looking for him. Tiger sightings were happening in other parts of the park, but I wanted to photograph Hamir alone."
Anand first photographed Hamir in 2017 as the cub with piercing blue eyes. He was a doting son, always tailing his mother
Last September, the tiger was classified as a man-eater and captured after he had reportedly claimed his third human victim. A 100-member team, led by Hemant Singh, Deputy Conservator of Forest (DCF) and Ranthambore Deputy Director, tracked T-104 for 11 days in the areas surrounding the park. On September 12, 2019, the team tranquilised the tiger and fitted him with a GPS collar. "Fortunately, Ranthambore has a strict policy that under no circumstances, should a tiger be eliminated. So, Hamir now lives in a massive 1 sq km enclosure in the park, but in a non-tourist zone. He's well-fed and being taken care of," says Anand.
We may not have access to Hamir, but Anand's book is an earnest attempt to give us an insight into his life and times as observed by Anand. Not the typical wildlife coffee table book, it doesn't tell you how tigers live, kill and eat. "It is an immersive journey, where I invite you to join me and experience Ranthambore as I see it because I have been going there for 25 years."
The 200-pager has over 160 photographs, in colour and monochrome, covering Hamir as he grew from an impish cub tailing his mother to a potentially lethal adult tiger. "What has drawn me to Hamir was that he was truly wild. I wanted to capture his dual personality. He was a loving, doting son obsessed with his mother, and on the other hand, he had a diabolical side where he would greet you with a snarl." Anand remembers a time when the big cat came within two feet of their safari and nearly attacked the driver. "I was pouring tea when he came out of nowhere. The cup fell from my hand and for a moment, I thought, this is it. We had a narrow escape. When you start spending time with the tigers, you understand their personalities. There was a tigress called Noor, who I had photographed with her daughter from a distance of two feet with my camera sticking out. She was very peaceful. Both of us walked away from the shot. But I wouldn't dare do that with Hamir."
Anand's pictures are largely portraits of the cat. He says photographing Hamir has made him patient, teaching him composure.
Anand says he is particularly drawn to black and white images; colour sometimes can be a distraction. Here, the viewer focuses only on the subject
The book carries an underlying message of conservation. Man-animal conflict is a direct outcome of encroaching on forest land, he thinks. "Incidentally, a day after Hamir was caught, another unidentified tiger killed a human. The same evening, a goat herder was attacked, but luckily survived. Two weeks from that day, a seven-year-old boy was killed. The challenge of the future is going to be reclaiming forest land to accommodate more tigers."
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