The last time we visited Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan, a tigress played peek-a-boo with us. The tigress had made a temporary home for her cubs in the archway at the entrance of the park. As our canter drove into the park, she looked out of the window, which framed her massive head like a portrait. All that was visible was her eyes and ears, and we were awestruck. We spent minutes gazing at her, as she hid and popped up once again, to check if we were still there. Finally, we drove off, leaving the tigress in peace with her cubs.
Deepak Dalal’s Ranthambore Adventures took me back to the forest, evoking memories of Jogi Mahal, the placid Padam Talao and of course its magnificent tigers. Dalal tells the story of three friends, Vikram, Aditya and Aarti. While Vikram is spending his holidays in Ranthambore, Aditya makes plans to join him there. But Aditya’s plans are interrupted when he jumps right in the middle of an adventure by deciding to steal the diary of a ruthless tiger poacher. Aditya gets kidnapped by the poacher’s men, and Aarti reaches Ranthambore in pursuit of her friend. Upright forest officers, passionate conservationists and corrupt politicians make an appearance subsequently. What follows is a fast-paced adventure, with a generous dose of humour.
Themes of friendship, courage and human greed are predominant in the story. Dalal’s narrative is reminiscent of classic adventures like Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories and the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries. Just like the protagonists of those books, Aditya, Vikram and Aarti face danger with earnestness and courage.
What Dalal does best though is to take the reader into the domain of the tiger. Young readers will be enthralled by the natural history as they learn how a tigress takes care of her cubs and trains them to survive in the wild. The narrative unfolds with Genghis the tiger at the forefront – from the time he is a quivering little cub to his first hunt and his dominance over his territory as a full-grown tiger. The author beautifully describes the symbiotic relationship between animals in the forest. The real protagonists of the story are of course the forest and its tigers. A vein of conservation runs through the book, as Dalal explains why tigers are being poached and must be protected.
Ranthambore Adventure was first published in 1998, but its call to save tigers remains evocative as ever. Deforestation, unchecked development in the form of mining and quarrying, man-animal conflict and poaching continue to threaten the survival of this magnificent striped cat. In many ways, our survival is linked to the tiger, who is also a symbol of a thriving forest. The very forests, which are home to the precious water sources that sustain life on earth. I wouldn’t be surprised if many children are inspired to join the Save the Tiger movement after reading Dalal’s book.
By Bijal Vachharajani
Author: Deepak Dalal
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction