Guns, Camera & Photography
- Published on 19 Aug 2020, 7:10 am IST
- 9 minutes read
World Photography Day Special. A serving IPS officer of director general rank, Somesh Goyal is also an ace photographer. He has held several photo-exhibitions all over the country.
- Picture courtesy: Somesh Goyal
I first met Mr Somesh Goyal few years ago when he organized a nature and wildlife photo-exhibition of his breathtaking pics, at a prestigious gallery in New Delhi. At present, he is the Director General (Prisons) in Himachal Pradesh.
An accomplished photographer, writer and an effective administrator, Mr Goyal is an inspiration for the young civil servants. Much before the phrase `multi-tasking’ had entered a corporate honcho’s dictionary, Mr Goyal had become its trained practioner!
Lets’s hear straight from Mr Goyal what he has to say about things he cherishes the most.
Q: People at large generally do not equate an IPS officer with a nature and wildlife lover/photographer/ author, and you are all three. Would you shed some light on it?
Mr Goyal: I do not see any dichotomy in it. A hard-nosed police officer can have a softer and sensitive side too. As a police officer, you have to deal with a lot of negativity, crime, violence, terrorism and so on. You need to pursue a hobby to break free from the stress of the job. My nirvana is in nature. Every now and then I escape to a wildlife sanctuary or in the lap of nature. India is a beautiful country with so much culture and heritage. I have figured out that I need another 20 years to see most of India.
I have been a student of literature and journalism. Writing comes naturally to me. my cadre, Himachal Pradesh has offered me a wonderful opportunity to visit some of the most exotic places in the country like Lahaul & Spiti, Kinnaur, Pangi, etc. I have written books on these areas besides books on wildlife and birds of Shimla and coffee table books on BSF and SSB where I had the pleasure of serving.
(Q) What brought you to wildlife/ photography in the first place?
Mr Goyal: Right from my school days I have been into photography. We used to go on school trips and the camera was a good companion. Fortunately, we had a photo processing labs in the school and college where I studied. I started out with Agfa Isoly II camera and have graduated to the modern digital equipment in the last more than four decades of photography.
A trip to Corbett National Park converted me to wildlife. Corbett is one of the most scenic and rich parks and tiger reserves in the country. It was love at first sight and this affair continues for more than 30 years now. Wildlife sanctuaries offer so much new every time that motivation to visit them remains intact.
I was late to start bird watching. A posting in Delhi and an invitation from a friend to join a group of bird watchers to Okhla Bird Sanctuary evoked interest in the understanding of the avifauna. I founded Himachal Birds in Shimla and we are proud to have conducted a survey of the avifaunal diversity of Shimla for the first time after Independence in 2012. It is a coincidence that the last such survey was also conducted by a police officer ornithologist Hugh Whistler who was Superintendent of Police of Kangra district in the pre-Indipendent India.
A. E. Jones was a noted ornithologist who had a roaring drapery business in Shimla and chose to stay back in India after the British left. He had written a book on the common birds of Shimla which needed updating. I had the pleasure of revising this book by adding colour plates and other information.
Kailash Mansarovar Yatra and an Elephant Charge in Kaziranga
(Q) Can you recall, for our readers, some interesting anecdotes and stories concerning your passions which you have been following with great interest all these decades?
Mr Goyal : First and foremost, my passion for wildlife and photography has taken me to the most exotic and pristine locations in the country and abroad. Every travel has been a journey in self-discovery. In 1996 I led a group of 35 diverse pilgrims to Kailash Manasarovar Yatra. Our entourage consisting of the pilgrims, porters, ponies and horses used to be almost one kilometre long. Managing that was a challenge. Then addressing idiosyncrasies of people who would fight over the colour of the horse/pony or allotment of bed in a dormitory was quite a learning experience. On this pilgrimage, I did realise the power of the unseen who we call God.
One pilgrim by the name of Waria, a school teacher from Gujarat, had borrowed money to be on this yatra. He suffered from gout which he obviously hid from the medical authorities for fear of disqualification. He could not hire a pony as he was short on funds. First few days’ trekking flared up his gout and he was in great pain. Most of the pilgrims wanted me to leave him behind, but I refused. I advised Waria to apply warm saline water over his knees and leave it to Lord Shiva. In my room, I prayed to the Lord to allow Waria to continue with the yatra. Early in the morning, around 5 am Waria came to my room in great elation as all the swelling on his knees was gone by the grace of Lord Shiva and he was able to successfully complete this difficult pilgrimage.
I have had a couple of scary experiences in the jungles. One was when we were chased by a lone wild elephant in Kaziranga National Park. He almost got to our Gypsy. Our driver panicked as the jumbo charged at us and the driver could not drive the vehicle off in a hurry. This encounter still sends shivers down my spine.
The second such encounter was with the national animal, the tiger in Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve. We had parked out Gypsy next to a small culvert and were taking pictures of a tigress which was coming towards us. I was so engrossed that I did not realise that the tigress chose to walk right towards us to that small dam! I was no longer able to focus on the tigress. When I lifted my gaze to check the camera for this technical issue, I found the tigress right in front of the barrel of the camera looking into it. Our driver Deepak stayed motionless as the vehicle purred gently. The tigress gave one final look to me before moving on nonchalantly.
Message for the Youth
(Q) As a senior IPS officer, do you have a message or two for the young and aspiring civil servants? This becomes relevant in the increased, and often counter-productive, pressures put on the students to score good marks at any cost.
M Goyal: I would like to share with your readers and aspiring civil servants that academic excellence alone may not be sufficient to be a good civil servant. You need to have a well-rounded personality. It is a service to people than the mai-baap culture of the past. It is not just another job. It requires total commitment. Those who do not qualify for the civil services need not dishearten. Look around. There are so many educationists, medical doctors, engineers, industrialists, businessmen, service providers who are contributing so much to nation-building.
(Q) You have also authored a number of books. Can you tell something about these, as also your experience while writing a book.
Mr Goyal: Yes. I have done 10 books. Most of the books are on the areas where I got an opportunity to serve.
(Q) Any post-retirement plans? Making a guess, I would presume that you would pursue photography and writing with increased vigour.
Mr Goyal: Waiting for that to happen! I would be a free bird. Photography and writing will be on my plate. So will be travel. I would also be free to write on issues close to my heart like policing and corrections without the restrictions of conduct rules. I guess I will enjoy that.
(Q) I feel that as a senior IPS officer, you are better placed than many others to throw light on the menace of poaching. Thanks to the increased measures by NTCA, the tiger seems to have returned from the brink of extinction. Do you feel we have to make more stringent laws, or the problem lies in their implementation. In Assam, the forest patrolling teams are equipped with AK-47s to deal with the rhino poachers. Do you think such measures should be put in place in other vulnerable areas of India, such as our tiger reserves?
Mr Goyal: Illegal trade in wildlife derivatives runs in billions of dollars. Poachers and criminals think of one time pecuniary benefit of poaching and selling the animals parts in the grey market. NTCA has done well. Tiger is a hardy animal. Leave it alone and it would bounce back. Other species have also shown resilience.
We have enough laws. Better enforcement needs to be ensured. We need to have a multidisciplinary approach. All agencies involved in enforcement should be equal partners in preserving and conserving our habitats. Assam is an extreme case where poachers are active. The problem is also compounded by the insurgencies in the North East and easy access to the south Asian markets. Focussed awareness campaigns need to be launched in all vulnerable areas. When I was posted in Assam looking after the international border with Bhutan I realised that all my troops were deployed in Bodoland and Manas Tiger reserve fell in my jurisdiction. Tiger was very difficult to sight. Rhinos had just been released and one of them was poached in no time. I decided to start an awareness campaign in the area about the financial benefits of keeping a tiger or rhino alive than killing it. Wildlife can provide good livelihood opportunities to local communities as visitors need guides, jungle drive vehicle drivers, hotels and lodges to stay and so on. When local communities’ interest is vested in wildlife conservation, it will be a win-win situation for all.
END OF THE ARTICLE