Friday, November 30, 2007

Memories of Lt. Shree P P Raval Saheb (DFO-Wildlife, Gir-West, Sasan)

Lt. Shree Praduman P. Ravalsaheb

I happened to meet Raval Saheb just few weeks before Lion’s Census 2005. Before my first interaction with him, Frankly speaking I had no different opinion about him, that other rough and tough forest officer. Because, even a bit guard in forest department, considers himself not below the rank of DFO!

But Raval Saheb was an exception to it. A simple and sober personality and an idol of simplicity. When I saw him for the first time, it was difficult to believe that the DFO, Sasan Gir was standing before me! But as the conversation went on with him while he was giving instructions to the subordinates over telephone regarding the Census, I was rest assured that he was none other than Raval Saheb!

He was a man of number of sterling qualities at one place. Honest, Hard-working and dashing! Nothing was impossible for him below the sky! Taking part into Lion’s Census 2005 was the rare and memorable period of my life. But he was Raval Saheb, who made it possible for me and for that I am indebted to him!

I realised it later on that Raval Saheb was popular and familiar, not because he was DFO but apart from that, he always stood by the staff and carried them with him. He introduced insurance scheme for his employees and as one of the welfare measures! He also helped the effected persons of Barda Mountain during the drought! He was not simply a bureaucrat but a kind-hearted noble man, which made him beloved Raval Saheb! Local people of Gir also call him Raval Dada or Raval Aata with due respect!

It will be worth to mention here that, despite his sickness, before, during and after the census, his face was always found smiling & heart always filled with love and kindness. I remember one such incident:

One day during the Census Raval Saheb came up directly on the field at Rampari (near Kankai of Gir - one of the most beautiful places of Gir – though entire Gir is very beautiful!) on a fact-finding mission, on one critical issue. As he was badly suffering form kidney and other problems. He had just undergone dialysis at hospital in Junagadh and straightway rushed at Rampari, without taking complete rest! As after dialysis one cannot have the strength to stand property. But this Lion man was moving on the rough roads of the Gir, with whatever stamina available in his body / his lungs and veins were filled with the blood of Gir and Gir Lions (Asiatic Lions), which had absolutely made him mad for the welfare of wildlife.

He had strong desire to conduct the Census of Lions accurately and successfully under his supervision and observation during his tenure. And as such he was not doing all these movements as part of his duty, but he enjoyed it throughout, because his first love was Gir and Asiatic Lions and not his family!

Raval Saheb put Sakkarbaug Zoo, Junagadh on the map of the world, during his service, with tremendous efforts & zeal. He almost put his body and soul behind it. Because at the point of time, number of illegal activities were carried out by notorious elements on the hand, falling between Sakkarbaug Zoo and Girnar Mountain, like mining, preparing liquor, cutting trees, grassing etc. All these activities were going on openly without any check on it. In such a situation Raval Saheb was going on a round of this area on his bajaj scooter. One day, someone annoyed with him, hit his head from the back with a heavy wooden stick. His head was bleeding but reached the hospital alone for treatment in that bleeding condition! This was his daring!

With the same dedication and enthusiasm he developed Indroda Park at Gandhinagar and made it a place worth to see and sit peacefully in presence of Nature and Wildlife! He was moving on his bicycle with one pair of clothes and ‘Kathi no khatlo’ (Traditional bad – char pai) to sleep. Today aged Gardner of Indroda Park is the eyewitness of Raval Saheb’s vision and mission.

During the drought situation in Barda he left his house, without a word to his family and with the cloth’s on his body! He wandered here and there for 15 days, collected donations and arranged for food, medicines, dinking water, clothing etc. for the effected and needy and poor residents of that area. His motto was “Service to mankind is service to God!”

He had also submitted number of case studies paper singly and jointly there are endless such stories moving around Raval Saheb, which if narrated, could not be covered in even next twelve issues of Zoo’s Print!

Subsequent to Census 2005, I had come close to Raval Saheb’s family. His wife Cahndrikaben often told me that Saheb was always longing for someone to come, sit for hours together and talk with him about Gir, Asiatic Lions and Wild Life. While talking of Lions, he was getting new energy in his body, roaring in his voice and light on his face. I also came across such experiences number of times. Hence fore, I had formally decided to go to Junagadh from Rajkot, once or twice a week, to meet Raval Saheb, listen him, ink his ‘jungly’ experiences and publish them for the benefit of wildlife lovers. But hardly I had visited two times then Raval Saheb passed away!

And see I received the ‘coincidence news of Raval Saheb’s sad demise in Aji Zoo at Rajkot, when I was standing before the lioness given by Raval Saheb when he was at Sakkarbaugh Zoo at Junagadh and watching the matting. News flashed on my cell phone and drove straight to Junagadh from there itself to pay homage to such a towering personality. When I reached, his body was laying on the woods of Gir Forest, which I am sure must be of those trees, planted by Raval Saheb! Fire was lit and Raval Saheb travelled for heavenly abode, leaving his family, relatives, friends, staff, wildlife lovers and all present there crying forever. Despite strong desire to condole his wife, I could not gather courage to see Mrs. Chandrikaben, after the funeral.

Life has become poor by the love that has been lost!

I take pride in the sense that for Ms. Sally Walker’s Zoo’s Print, I had opportunity to contact lots of people belonging to various fields of the society who had one or the another story of Raval Saheb, to tell. Though I had hardly came in touch with Raval Saheb for the last one and a half year, I had become instrumental in doing at least something for him, through Zoo’s Print!

-Kamlesh Adhiya
Founder President
Asiatic Lion Protection Society, Rajkot.

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