Hi. Just wanted to drop in a few lines — it is nice to see you working on a species in West Bengal keeping in mind the present scenario of its status. Keep up the good work. All the best.” This friendly note had a welcoming warmth in it that left me with no hesitation that the writer was a fellow being who loved wildlife. Chirag Roy introduced himself as someone interested in herpetology. After this, we stayed friends on a social networking site and continued to be acquaintances in the net of people connected to each other through a huge exchange of information.
I got to know more about him later through common friends. He had the undying passion of the authentic naturalist; a true field herpetologist. His love for snakes was encouragingly endorsed by his mother from a young age. His passion would take him across the border to Bangladesh, the land of his forefathers, on a mission to help him understand the ecology of pythons. He put a transmitter on his first python in 2013, during a two-and-a-half year sojourn in Bangladesh.
In a recent tribute to him, one of his bosom friends from Bangladesh, reminisced, “Born in the river-fed plain states, Chirag often found it difficult to trek in the slippery mountains of Bangladesh in the monsoon. A couple of his co-field workers named him ‘cluck’. In the local language, cluck refers to a very slow-paced animal. Chirag would inevitably be the last to trek to a destination and would be bombarded with friendly banter in the camps. During another field venture, Chirag had an allergic reaction after eating local corn. His body developed red rashes all over. A second round of corn led to a similar reaction, which led his friends to rename the locality as ‘Khujli Para’ (khujli meaning itching, para meaning locality)!” However, one who can laugh in such situations can strangely win over the worst adversaries; friendship with him thus could only move in one direction — strength to strength.
The non-monsoon months saw in him a renewed vigour to experience the joy of opening others’ eyes to the tranquil beauty of the wilds. He was, after all, a much-loved naturalist-cum-guide in the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve. The magnetic pull of this young guy in his late twenties was devoid of even a trace of arrogance. In other words, he, perhaps unknowingly, mirrored the vision of a world that was simple, yet joyous. And people would fall in love with his energetic personality. Photography and rescue operations filled each minute that he was not working. There were hardly any idle moments for him, and if he had some time, he would draw funny but insightful wildlife caricatures. He was at home with tribal communities, was a team player who could take vital decisions calmly and one who could hold meetings with professionals with poise. Effortless it would seem; truly effortless. It was perhaps all in his genes and upbringing.
An ethical and cautious snake handler, Chirag was bitten by non-venomous snakes many-a-time, which was unavoidable given the nature of his work. This instigated many of his friends to predict that perhaps he would die of a snake bite — a joke that would turn into an accurate prophecy. On the night of 1 March 2016, Chirag was bitten by a spectacled cobra, a snake he studied with passion, that he was trying to rescue. He had nudged his roommate awake to quickly get a pair of tongs while he went ahead with a bag. Unfortunately, Chirag was bitten and soon lost consciousness. Such instances had happened several times in the past, but this time it turned out to be fatal. He was rushed to the hospital, but the facilities were inadequate to deal with anaphylactic shock and he succumbed after being injected with anti-venom. We have the right to life and a right to basic health facilities under our country’s constitution. What could be more basic than saving life itself?
Chirag left all of us at the promising young age of 30. The newly-married, young wildlifer did not live to see his first anniversary with the love of his life. He was an only child whom his parents loved dearly. The death of this cheerful spirit, so visible in photographs of him, is heartbreaking. We were of the same age, yet he will be remembered as a wildlife martyr. He has been eternally embraced by nature now; with his final moments spent working with his coveted species. An eminent wildlife scientist and a renowned ethologist, Professor Ratan Lal Brahmachary, had once expressed how he wanted death to come to him when lions in Africa, a species he studied with George Adams, would tear him apart. A horrific resolution some would say, a perfect embrace would say others. For those of us who are left behind, we can only strive to push our spirit and body through hardship and undertake risks to protect the species or ecosystem that we love. Even in his death, Chirag has nudged us a little from our deep slumber. Thank you, my friend.
First appeared in Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXIV No. 1, February 2016