June 10, 2019
A driver, a sommelier, a butler, a safety expert, a host, a babysitter,a mechanic, and an astronomer. She is all that and more. While we still live in a world where we think, analyze professions on the basis of gender and then choose them, we have women like Ratna Singh, whoāve chosen professions that even men keep an armās distance from. Ratna chose to become a naturalist.
Before she found her calling, she told her brother that she would be back in a year or two. Although she had made that decision, she lacked conviction while saying it. She was antsy and nervous because she had to make a big choice, a choice between two professions, two things sheās loved the most. One was to earn a seat in one of the most prestigious Universities of the world, Oxford Brookes University for studying law. And the second one was to spend the rest of her life in the wilderness, choosing to enter the world of wildness.
We all know who Mowgli was, the man-cub that lived in the jungle amongst the animals.Just like him, Ratna too was vastly influenced by her inner mowgli. The wild was always a part of her since childhood. That Mowgli girl who grew up notoriously amidst natureās coddling creatures (big and small), and always fancied over if one could do the same for a living. So, she swung towards making a choice to discover as much as she could from natureās secret garden.
Ratna Singh, a woman in her late 30s lived in an ancestral home which was a few hoursā drive from Bandhavgarh National Park, which falls in Umaria district, Madhya Pradesh. She did her schooling in Lucknowās La Martiniere Girlsā School. Even as a young girl, she always felt at home when she was in the wild.
After she completed her schooling, she did her History (Hons) at Delhi University, followed by a PG diploma in Human Rights and Refugee Laws. She then worked in UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and also Red Cross before she decided to venture into the ānaturalist training programsā by Taj Safaris. Meanwhile, the following year, she was also accepted at the Oxfords Brookes University for an LLM in international law. But, it was the training program that had caught her fancy.
āIāve always loved animals. We have a large home in the village that had plenty of space for all creatures great and small, with the usual dogs, cats, horses, mules from time to time and plenty of wild creatures like barn owls, honey badgers, and snakes in the granary and the woodshed. I always envied naturalists when I visited national parks. When I heard of the Taj Safaris Naturalist training program, it was an opportunity I found hard to give up. Honestly, I didnāt think Iād make the cut. I was the most surprised when I cleared the grueling five-week selection process that was like boot camp,ā she recalls.
āBe back in a year or two,ā is what sheād told her brother and now itās been more than a decade since sheās made wildlife her best friend and we really think that this bug really seems to have bitten her!
In simple words, another name for a naturalist would be a wildlife guide. The naturalists and the wildlife guides donāt just spot deers and elephants for you, they focus on the finer nuances of nature and spill some magic in them. Ratna recalls how she faced a lot of resistance initially, āI do have a faint memory of some stress, but all the wonderful support from friends, colleagues, and family far outweigh the short period of stress before I made my bones and earned my stripes, so to speak,ā but yeah, none of it matters now. Sheās only becoming stronger with the day, every day.
Although there were many women scientists and researchers who were into the wilderness when she started off, they werenāt professionally qualified to be a naturalist of a wildlife guide. She says that it was a challenge for her to make a mark for herself in this profession seriously. She points out that some of her guests thought that sheād be a polite guide and wouldnāt be able to track tigers. And some other wildlife trackers assumed that she might not be able to handle large vehicles over steep tracks. Even the villagers and forest guards had never seen a woman in an authoritative position in the wild and that too wearing a pair of pants. She recalls how she was always addressed as āsirā for years. Later on, the people around her realized that she had what it took to wander in the wild and started showing their support for her. Ratna says, āAfter a while, I got treated like a man ā in a good way Iād say.ā
Currently, many women have ventured into this bold profession. In fact, even our forest department officials have begun training local and tribal girls as trackers. And for all those ladies who want to step into such roles, Ratna has one advise, āItās physically demanding and one has to be a peopleās person to be an effective naturalist and guide. There are almost no avenues of modern-day entertainment; one has to really get back to the basics.ā
What do you think about taking up a profession in the wildlife? Let us know your views in the comments section below.