Pratibha joined the board of trustees at FERAL in 2013. She fell seriously ill just a few years later and passed away on the 17th of March, 2016 at her home. Pratibha brought with her heaps of positive energy and leadership which enthused and revitalised FERAL. Her passing leaves a void which we will struggle to fill.
This short piece by Ranjit Lal captures Pratibha's essence. Reproduced with his permission.
Sitting at the edge of a jheel or water-body, motionless for hours, elbows on drawn-up knees, binoculars glued to her eyes, willing a nondescript, recalcitrant salt-and-pepper wader to reveal its identity to her. Minutely scrutinizing an eagle’s face and then happily telling you what the shape of its nostrils or the colour of its iris was! Every feather and feature observed and noted: they were of vital importance for her finely detailed and beautifully coloured water-colors. What you takeaway from that: if you really want to observe birds, paint them.
Out birding at Sultanpur jheel, the perambulations were slow and relaxed, every sighting given due time and attention. A round trip could last six hours. The weather: blazing summer or bone-chilling winter was of no consequence. Hunger and thirst could be taken care of later on. And for over twenty years of shared birding trips (along with other members of Kalpavriksh) this tried and tested methodology remained the same: eking the most out of every moment out in the open.
The same attention to detail went into her map-making: hunched over unwieldy Survey of India topo-sheets, she produced the most finely detailed maps of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks with her collection of rotoring pens. It was doubtful if she could ever get lost in any of these places!
While speaking to officials or forest- guards or anyone in charge of wildlife on management issues, she drew her point home with soft-spoken perseverance and irrefutable logic but always ready to provide solid backup support if required. Any official showing a modicum of interest was enthusiastically encouraged.
Her driving was something else! Her attention appeared to be anywhere but on the road (while the speedometer nudged 90 kmph) and it didn’t matter if you couldn’t see beyond the bonnet because of the fog. Her little Maruti Zen kept zipping. Only once did she get flustered – when the brakes failed on the way back from a trip, until told, ‘don’t get out of second gear and keep one hand ready to yank the handbrake!’
At home, entertaining the motley Kalpavriksh bunch for one memorable dinner after the next: happy to see the pigging-out that ensued every time. Or else, she’d land up at home unannounced, smiling, arms laden with walnut cake or banana bread. She talked to you as if you knew exactly what her train of thought was and where it was coming from, which was nice but could be a bit puzzling until you sorted things out.
But sorting out the last two years: that, at the moment seems a little difficult to do.
- Ranjit Lal
This obituary appeared in the Protected Area Update Vol. XXII, No. 3 June 2016 (No. 121)