Tripwire For A Tiger
“Surely, looking at the photographs, one can half-close one’s eyes and see, not photographs, but real scenes. One can feel again the warm air and hear the hum of the insects; one can see the shifting sunlight as the mid-day breeze stirs the leaves and throws the tiger into alternate light and shade; and, lastly, one can see the living, breathing tiger as he lies, and yet have no final vision of the magnificent king of the jungle lying in his death agony to mar the pleasure of a wonderful afternoon.”
Frederick Walter Champion little knew that these words, first published in 1926 in all the rapture of one who has just had an encounter with a tiger, would reach across the ages to touch my heart and mind. The book Tripwire for a Tiger is the realisation of the dream of James Champion, the grandson of one of the greatest wildlife photographers, conservationists and authors that India has ever seen. Living a life and fighting for ideals far ahead of his time, F. W. C. was an officer in the Indian Forest Service, who, appalled by the carnage of the First World War, abandoned the rifle and the shotgun, choosing to hunt armed only with his camera, and attempting to convince the much-respected shikaris of the day to do the same.
This book is a chronological compilation of his writings: an intriguing blend of articles, essays and experiences in the jungles of India between the years 1926 and 1961. The ordering of the pieces is a key feature of the publication, as they trace the life and development of this pioneer’s ideals, alongside conservation efforts that were in their infancy at the time. Readers are transported to another time. Through his words, Champion, knowingly or not, evokes a long-lost era of wild abundance, simple pleasure and tranquillity, accompanied by black-and-white tripwire photographs that lack the technological artifice and detail of today. The book is a testament to the nerve, skill and raw passion of a man who stared down a charging tusker, stalked hungry tigers in the wild, and loved leopards even at a time when they were numerous enough to be considered vermin.
As someone who has only just begun wading through the unending murkiness of conservation, the book is an eye-opener. I would strongly recommend it to those in this field who are in need of encouragement, inspiration, knowledge or clarity; I can promise that you will feel the lingering magic of Champion’s words after just one chapter. This collection of essays and articles, penned with all the unique poetry and wonder of wilderness, is a tribute to a pioneer and, to the birth of conservation efforts in India, but also a gentle reprimand for the gross failure of several generations to protect all that a man named Champion once loved.
Author: Selected Works of F. W. Champion reviewed by Ayesha Bapasola
Published by: Rainfed Books, 2012
Soft cover, black and white, 202 pages
Price: Rs. 495
First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXIII, No. 2, April 2013.