M. A. Rashid
Retired Special Chief Conservator of Forests, Wildlife, Gujarat
Photo: Kalyan Varma.
To lose a good friend is like losing a part of one’s self. M. A. Rashid was one such friend, whose demise on December 6, 2007, is irreparable for me as well as for all true well-wishers of India’s wildlife. His legacy will live on forever and I will always remember him as a gentleman, a true defender of our natural heritage and a cherished friend.
Rashid retired in 1982 as the Special Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), Gujarat State. With his closely cropped iron-grey hair and stern appearance, he always looked more like an Army General than a Forest Conservator. People were justifiably a little afraid of him for he did not suffer fools gladly. However, he always had a ready smile that lit up his eyes and it was a treat to watch him laugh.
His tryst with nature and wildlife had begun early. As a young boy, he had accompanied his father, a keen shikari, into the jungle and learnt much about wildlife from him. He had absorbed this information like a sponge, and it served as a strong base for his long and illustrious career with the Forest Department. It was during this career that he brought about a fourfold increase in the number of national parks and sanctuaries in Gujarat including the creation of the Sasan Gir Lion Sanctuary, which saved the Asiatic lion from certain extinction and the Velavadar Blackbuck National Park near Bhavnagar. He also authored an excellent book The Asiatic Lion in 1993. He held important positions in various institutes connected with wildlife conservation including that of the Dean at the Indian Forest College in the Forest Research Institute, Dehradun.
He lived simply and honestly with a keen sense of duty and justice. Though he held many prestigious positions, he did not even possess a car of his own! Such honesty is rarely seen in our age of rampant corruption in all walks of life. He was also witty and his quick repartees were always well appreciated. He, in fact, compiled a book of jokes and memorable humourous quotes in January 2007 at the age of 82. He was a deeply religious person but had an even greater all-encompassing belief and respect in humanity, and was genuinely secular.
His loyalty to his personal code of ethics, in spite of challenges, and his courage in choosing to be unpopular rather than a people-pleaser, made him a role model for countless people.
For those of us who knew him, he was in the finest sense a true Indian and a giant among men. As his close friend, almost a member of his family, I pray that his life will be a guide to us all and to the coming generations who will hopefully follow in his path of honesty, sincerity and commitment to wildlife in India.
Compiled with inputs from Rajashree Chadha, Meenal Mahulkar and Tabassum Aranjo (Daughter).
By Digveerendrasinh I. Solanki (H. H. Vansda), former Maharaja of Vansda
First published in: Sanctuary Asia, VOL. XXVIII. No. 6, December 2008.