For so many of us, Assam is the land of beautiful tea gardens, the majestic Brahmaputra, the vibrant Bihu dance and of course, Kaziranga—the home of the world-famous one-horned rhino. No essay or discussion on Assam would ever be complete without the mention of Kaziranga and it’s easy to understand why.
Kaziranga, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most sought-after wildlife destinations for tourists and wildlife enthusiasts, from all across the world. Picture this: acres and acres of lush green meadows, swamps and dense forests, and not to forget the rich flora and fauna, and that is Kaziranga for you. The vast forest region of the wildlife sanctuary is home to a variety of animals and is also a bird lover’s paradise, as an estimated 478 species of different birds have been spotted there.
Every Assamese has grown up admiring the sheer beauty of Kaziranga. It has been the muse of many a writer and photographer, and Dileep Chandan, the author of Ballad of Kaziranga, being one of them. Ballad of Kaziranga, Chandan’s latest novel, is set against the backdrop of the national park. The three central characters, Amal, Rishi and Arunabh, although leading very different lives and being unlike one another in their temperament, share one common and inextricable bond—their love and fascination for Kaziranga.
Amal, a contractor tired of living in the concrete jungle that Guwahati is, takes a chance and builds his own resort in Kaziranga. Although a dream venture, the constant eviction of resorts and hotels built on encroached lands in Kaziranga poses a threat, although Amal himself plays by the book. Rishi, a musician by profession and a romantic at heart, seeks refuge in the lap of Mother Nature to escape the tormenting memories of a troubled and horrific past. Arunabh, a reporter and journalist and also a close friend of Rishi, unearths some of the problems plaguing the national park, almost at the risk of losing his job.
The Kaziranga that we see on the tourist sites and brochures is very different from the Kaziranga that actually is. Behind the veil of scenic beauty and nature, there lurks many a problem that many aren’t aware of—the illegal poaching of rhinos for their horns being the most crucial one. Because of the high price that the horns fetch in the illegal markets, the rhinos are the target every year. Although the government has been initiating plans and trying to implement measures from time to time to bring this situation under control, corruption and red-tapism prove as hurdles in each phase of the way. Many rhinos die from excessive bleeding after the horn is severed. And this gruesome act as has resulted in the inevitable and eventual depletion in the rhino population.
Flood is another major problem that the national park faces every year. Not only does it lead to the death and dislocation of the wildlife, it also causes a state of utter chaos and confusion as communication goes for a toss. Another important problem that the authorities in Kaziranga face is the lack of proper infrastructure and inadequate supply of manpower. Although the forest officials have the liberty to shoot at sight the poachers, they lack the state-of-the-art artillery and weapons to put up a fight against them. Sometimes, the guards are not even provided with basic clothing and have to make do with very less food.
These are some of the current issues and concerns that have been beautifully woven into the narrative of Ballad of Kaziranga, without letting the angle of the bond and camaraderie between the three friends blur.