A chance glimpse of a tigress in a waterhole changed Rohan Chakravarty’s life. A dentist and a native of Nagpur, Chakravarty abandoned his flourishing practice for drawing to assist in wildlife conservation. So when Bombay Natural History Society turned 133 this year, it wasn’t a surprise that it commissioned Chakravarty to illustrate its long history.
For his part, Chakravarty prepared by focusing on discovering the “interesting titbits” from BNHS’s past. “HM Phipson, who offered his Apollo Street premises for BNHS’ first office set up in 1886, owned a wine company Phipson and Co. Wines and is depicted with a wine glass presenting the building to William the Hornbill,” said Chakravarty, a native of Nagpur.
William the Hornbill, the mascot of BNHS, takes the viewer through the organisation’s illustrated history. Along the road are memories of new marine conservation programmes, setting up of bird migration centres, award wins.
The timeline was commissioned by Dr Deepak Apte, the director of BNHS. “Our priority was to make the narration reader-friendly to cater to one and all,” Apte explained. The BNHS team selected about 100 achievements out of its illustrious run. “We found it very tough to pack 133 years in the timeline,” Dr Apte said. “We had to forego a lot of interesting facts.”
The illustration also outlines the journey of Dr Salim Ali, the pre-eminent Indian ornithologist and naturalist who became the key figure behind BNHS after 1947. It remembers the first edition of his Book of Indian Birds, his collaborations with Sidney Dillon Ripley, the American ornithologist, and his Padma Bhushan.
“I got the opportunity to read about and draw some of the most eminent naturalists in India’s history, both English and Indian,” Chakravarty said, “including EH Aitken (my all-time favourite author of natural history), Colonel FW Wall, WS Millard (who introduced Ali to ornithology), SH Prater (author of The Book of Indian Mammals), Dillon Ripley (who co-authored The Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan with Ali), Humayun Abdulali, JC Daniel, Zafar Futehally, Dr Asad Rahmani, Isaac Kehimkar, Dr Vibhu Prakash and Dr Apte himself.”