The Homegrown editorial inbox is often a treasure trove, for lack of a better phrase. Emails of varying lengths tell us stories of the first female bouncer in India, crowdsourced lists of inclusive gynaecologists, the return of India’s most favourite beer and burger festival, and, well, the occasional “12 Best Places To Host A Kitty Party” - you win some, you lose some. Still, it’s not often that we’re stopped dead in our tracks, our hearts moved with a show of true love and admiration but here we are. Reza Hussain wrote in telling us of his younger brother Ali, a boy who found himself at home amidst wildlife since before he could walk. While Reza’s email was in succinct admiration of Ali’s work, it was one image that got me; an image of a tigress walking down the path with half a fawn within a fatal grasp.
Who was this 17-year-old who had taken this shot?
Meet Ali. Hailing from Lucknow, Ali caught the nature bug early in the day, a bug passed on to him by the force that was his parental unit. He discovered his love affair for nature and its creatures early in the day. “In my visits to the forests, I would draw the animals we saw while my parents would capture the moments on our camera,” he recounts. “During one of these trips, my mother fell ill, and I got a chance to try my hands on the ancient Kodak point and shooter. Since then, instead of filling colours on a page, I started fueling ISO and adjusting shutters” Ali laughs. His love for the wild was nurtured by his photography, and there was no stopping him.
Unlike most other children his age, drawn in by Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, Ali spent his time switching between Nat Geo and Animal Planet following prides of lions as though in real time. He always knew this was where he wanted to be. Curious to know more about the story of the photograph that haunted me in its beauty, I asked Ali about his toughest shoot to date. “Before leaving for every trip I would pray to God to show me a tiger with a spotted deer in its jaws, but that wish never seemed to be granted. 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016: in all these years, I saw different tigers stalking their prey but none of them were successful in their hunt. I had almost given up on this dream when this year in May, I came upon Corbett’s famous tigress Paaro walking straight towards me with her face smitten with blood and half a baby deer dangling from her canines. I didn’t waste even 1/10th of a second and took every possible picture I could in those thirty to forty seconds of the sighting” Ali tells us.
Despite the effort taken to capture Paaro’s feast however, Ali’s favourite shot to date is what he calls ‘The Green Dream”. He missed a tiger spotting to take this photograph, but he says he has no regrets. The photograph immediately reminds him of the line from The Jungle Book - “The elephants created this jungle, where they made forrows with their tusks the rivers ran... Where they blew their trunks the leaves fell... They made all that belongs.” It reinforces one of his greatest learnings, to respect Mother Nature and all the treasures of the forest. “I am obsessed with those strokes of black on the orange canvas, but I never neglect the “common creatures”” Ali admits.
While out in the wild, Ali enjoys taking notes and documenting as much as he can - the wait can be long out in the jungle. Later, when the sounds of the night rings through the silence Ali writes in detail and documents his work on his blog. He had always wanted to create a handy journal filled with his experiences, and decided to embark on this journey with his brother, Reza. Ali wrote the book, while Reza designed and edited it. The book grew organically, and was officially published in February of this year. It will be available online shortly. Ali now dreams of one day being able to capture the snow leopards in the Hemis National Park, and the clouded leopard found rarely in Tripura. We wait eagerly as this urban Mowgli embarks on this path through the wild in pursuit of his next photograph.
If you liked this piece you may also enjoy: