Everyone has a role to play in our lives. Some support us whilst others stop us from moving forward. Blinded by envy, they fail to realise that they make our journey far more enjoyable. They help clear cobwebs. Fruits of hard-earned success always taste sweeter.
My life, I daresay, was quite different from many. The challenges that came our way were different, putting it simplistically. My brother and I were the last of the generation that saw the erstwhile golden era of Indian royalty. Yes. we saw all its pomp and splendor. Though constitutional assurancea were given by the Dominion of India to the 555 states that merged to form the two dominions of India and Pakistan, India rescinded on its assurances plunging Indian royalty into a dreadful collapse. My grand mother and parents who would sleep as kings and queens normally, one day in 1972, woke up to find that everything was gone. What Mugabe did to his white settlers using the gun, Indira Gandhi did to india using Parliament. 5000 year old culture and tradition was vanquished in the blink of an eye leaving the people confused and the royalty left wondering what had hit them.
Whilst most royals found they were hard pressed to make two ends meet ethically, my generation chose to fight and make a life for ourselves. We decided to make a difference. My involvement with the wilderness ever since I gave up cricket in 1983 was a direct result of trying to bring back some of that lost magnificence back into our lives.
Needless to say that my journey has been hard and wild. I managed to play cricket keeping the age-old family tradition alive. Old granddad, Nawab IAK Pataudi, would have been proud had he watched me get my hundred against the West Indies in 1978. He played in the ‘Bodyline’ for England, got a hundred on debut, had a fight with Jardine and walked out in disgust and returned to captain india. My uncle MAK Pataudi was an amazing cricketer. I did my bit with the bat in the pre-helmet, pre-protection era, till an illness made me choose conservation over fame.
My wife and i built our little world in which we raised both Shaaz and Zoha. In 1988 we moved to our little stone cottage in the bush and started a small camp as a conservation unit. In 1996 we converted this to a 72 bed lodge. All was well. The market was excited, we started filling our beds, when the bandit Veerappan kidnapped a few forest staff from Bandipur. The local police clamped prohibitory orders till 2005. I had enough time to write my first book “Wild Tales From The Wild”. In 1997, we started the Cauvery Angling Camp for ‘Mahseer’. Soon we were pulling out some mighty hefty fish. The BBC did a one-hour show called “The Accidental Angler” and I wrote my second book “Subhan & I”. In 2005 we started “The Bison – Kabini” and our kids joined us a few years later. Whilst Zoha has established her Backwater Sanctuary, a surreal equine rescue center, Shaaz has excelled in managing our business and photography. He has done a film for Nat Geo (Wild) and is the brand ambassador for Nikon in India. His black panther footage has gone viral.
And so after publishing my third book “Matabele Dawn” we left this beautiful little world to them, content that all those who depended on our camps were secure and in safe hands, Sangee and I landed in Africa and ‘Royal Migration Camp’ just sort of sprung up.
Sitting back today I wonder if I was reliving the life that I had in the jungles of Bhopal. We had had our own jungles and shikar gah’s (hunting palaces) back then. We had grown up as children running in the deep woods with a few shikaris trying to keep pace. Whatever else I may have managed to accomplish in my life, in this journey of ours we had managed to give our children the same upbringing and experiences that we had been so privileged to expereince. And as I look around me, I see many who have prospered with us and enjoyed our success whilst some have looked at us with envy. I have never understood their desperate need to come after us. Afterall they had taken everything that we once had as a family and now that we were rebuilding our own little empire again, why the envy? Luckily for us we never gave them a second thought, proud as ever and with head held high, we meandered our way into senior citizenship.
I am now in Arusha, Tanzania and I love every second that I spend with these amazingly selfless and beautiful people. Unlike back home there is no one here who knows us. No one knows what we stood for back in India. No one knows how it is to carry the weight of the achievements of the Begums of Bhopal on our back, the only other matriarchal dynasty in the world apart from the Queens of England. Or even the Nawabs of Pataudi & the Paigah’s of Hyderabad! Sometimes our ancestors’ box us in a corner. If we break free and do well, they say its nepotism. If we delve in the degeneracy that had seeped into Indian royalty post 1947, we are branded losers. Cest la vie!
Above all we love the bush and will be in Ndutu starting December at our camp. We would love to share our stories with you; tales of man-eating predators and rogue elephants. Come spend a few nights with us in the Serengeti and lets together enjoy the roar of the lion splitting the night and embrace the warmth of the bonfire allowing its flames to dance its hypnotic pattern on the thorn trees beyond.