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Spoonfeedin WOrld

Lifestyle – To the wilderness born

Anand Sankar

When he isn’t saving endangered species from extinction, he’s caring for people the way nature intended it. No wonder Time recognised Mike Pandey as one of its environmental heroes.

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There is never a dull moment when you walk into Mike Pandey’s office. He is regaling an impressionable young journalist over the telephone with stories from years spent filming animals in their natural settings. The young journalist finds a particular incident hard to believe. “Yes, the male sambhar did do a somersault. It was behaviour never seen before,” assures Pandey. The sambhar is followed by stories from Africa, one of which involves Pandey being saved from the jaws of an angry male lion by an African elephant.

This is just one of the many telephone calls Pandey has had to field of late as he has been nominated by Time magazine as one its Environment Heroes for 2009. Pandey says he doesn’t mind the interviews, as after all what he is most passionate about is telling stories from the very heart of nature.

We decide to move to the quieter environs of the living room to have Pandey’s undivided attention. In the Pandey household, the office is nestled snugly in a wood-panelled basement. The home and basement are connected by an open-air fish pond on the ground floor that doubles as a skylight for the basement. As we walk into the living room, Pandey explains that the arrangement is more than just aesthetic. “In the summer, one of the walls has a cascade of water running down it. This creates a cool draft of air for the living area,” he explains, ever the green warrior.

Before he begins to talk, there is a small matter of a consignment of solar lanterns to be despatched to tribal people in Chattisgarh by his NGO Earth Matters. Pandey then has to mix some homoeopathic medicines for his daughter. For those who thought Pandey was just a wildlife filmmaker, it is quite something to take in his many unknown talents. I soon learn that he works with NGOs as a counsellor for differently-abled girl children and their parents. He works with road traffic NGOs to train drivers. Also, he has learnt naturopathy at Sabarmati Ashram and trained as a homoeopath so that he can help sick tribal people with whom he has to often work in the jungles.

“If you look into yourself, you will discover facets that you have not uncovered about yourself. You have so much more potential that lies untapped,” he offers, and adds, “I am a very firm believer in alternative healing. I believe for every ailment there is a cure that nature provides. We only need to find it.”

Pandey is at ease with the latest accolade he has received for highlighting critical environmental issues. It is one among a long list of awards that are testament to the seriousness of his work. He says that all of his work serves to emphasise a central theme. “All organic matter is in a balance because it is interdependent. We are a fine strand of this chain that nature has created. I feel man has to still mature and grow up. I feel, as we grow up, we are learning from our mistakes. We have plundered the planet, perhaps in our ignorance or perhaps due to a lack of knowledge, but also due to greed. Having done that, we are in serious trouble today. We have fractured the whole system and the earth is bleeding today.”

A tie-up with another hero, but this one from tinseltown, is currently keeping Pandey busy. John Abraham, the sports-bike enthusiast, wants to lend support to Pandey’s cause and agreed to produce a film on the critically endangered royal Bengal tiger. Pandey says the film will be called Return Of The Tiger and will be his first attempt at doing a feature-length film on the tiger.

“I told a friend recently, 40 years of hot air, gas and seminars have gone for a toss as they have not been effective. It’s very important to understand the tiger. It’s not that you put a fence around him and protect him. It is a question of management, scientific intervention and understanding. My film will try to address that issue. I will bring local communities into play, as they are stakeholders. I am encouraged by the fact that all my earlier films have been very successful in bringing about a change. I wanted to work earlier, but there was a mad rush. It was very fashionable back then to film the tiger,” says Pandey.

Some of the species that have benefited from Pandey’s intervention in the past are the Asian elephant, horseshoe crabs, olive ridley turtles, vultures and the whale shark. The filming of the whale shark in Indian waters garnered him many an award and enabled the species to be protected under Indian law. One can only hope that his hard-hitting style, which minces no words, will give the tiger that most needed fillip. But such work doesn’t happen without encountering obstacles. Pandey is currently irked that filming permits in national parks have arbitrarily shot up from Rs 10,000 to Rs 55,000 per day.

“If you see my track record, I have been making movies that have an impact, mostly with money from my own pocket. There has never been any support. Our films have been instrumental in bringing legislation where there was none. But if I want to make a reality show, I will have sponsors queueing up. I am an NGO trying to make a film. The only support I ask is to let me go into the jungle and make a film,” he argues. But light could be at the end of the tunnel if the Chattisgarh government is an example. Pandey’s films have been severe on Chattisgarh for ignoring the elephant, but now the state has empanelled Pandey to help resolve man-elephant conflicts there.

The biggest success story for Pandey has been the long running television programme Earth Matters which airs weekly on Doordarshan. It was the success of the programme that helped Pandey make it a movement by registering an NGO in that name. Today he says Earth Matters has 3,000 voluntary clubs manned by young people across India and he gets feedback on its programming and work from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and even East Africa.

“Earth Matters is not about doom and gloom stories. It is a well-researched programme which reaches out to people to inform them about what they can do at their level to make a difference. And Doordarshan, I must say, has been very supportive,” says Pandey. He goes on to lament the demise of broadcast programming for public service. He says it must be made mandatory for all channels to set apart time for a value-based film. “Just think how much awareness this would have created about something like swine flu,” he adds.

That, perhaps, is food for thought.

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October 20, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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