There are engineers and doctors in plenty in India but it is not often that one comes across an Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer. Partly due to the lure of MNCs offering high paying jobs and partly due to the fear of spending hours in remotest parts of the country, youngsters often prefer proven career options like engineering and medical than the forestry services. But those who do choose a life in the forests as a profession not only are able to live a thrilling, adventure filled life but are also lucky to observe from close quarters the many mysteries of nature.
Meet Jayanti Prasad Sharma, an IFS officer (retd.) who served the Indian Forest Service for 35 years from 1963 to 1998. Sharma retired as Chief Conservator of Forests after serving in different districts and commissionerates of Uttar Pradesh. In his long career span he gathered precious insight into the world of animals and nature that most modern youngsters can only imagine.
Career in the Jungle
Born in a Brahmin farmer’s family in village Gawan, District Bulandshahar in Uttar Pradesh Sharma did his primary schooling in the village before completing his graduation from Khurja and post graduation from Allahabad University. He says there is no particular incident that lured him to forestry but he did feel naturally inclined to take this path.
“I cannot recall any specific reason for me to have chosen this service. In 1959 I had joined Allahabad University to do my Masters in Mathematics. IFS exam was the first exam I wrote and got selected. I felt that I was temperamentally suited for this service and decided to join the IFS.”
He adds talking about the various areas where he served,
“After completing training I was posted in district Gorakhpur of Uttar Pradesh. From here my journey in the service took me to the districts of Gonda and Bahraich in eastern UP, Nanital and Almora in Kumaon Hills, Lalitpur and Jhansi in Bundelkhand, Pilibhit and Lakhimpur in Tarai/foothill region. From core forestry I moved to Social Forestry after doing a specialised course in Oxford University in 1982. With Social Forestry specialisation I served in Moradabad, Meerut and Agra.”
As a young officer Sharma’s first posting was in Gorakhpur in 1965 and within days, he had his first brush with the most feared of all.
Sharma recollects that fateful day,
During the early days of my posting (1965) at Gorakhpur, I was marking the trees in thick jungle for felling under “irregular shelter wood system”. I was camping at Tehrighat Forest Rest House, situated inside deep forest. I used to ride to my area of work on my bicycle which was my prized possession and a compulsory asset since our training days at Dehradun. It was the month of May. Due to the excessive summer heat, we worked in field from 7 AM to 2PM marking the trees. One such afternoon around 2:30 PM while returning to my camp site after work, I was cycling fast through the dense forest of Sal trees all alone.”
“Suddenly I heard some activity. During our training, we had been given exhaustive instructions regarding the activities of the wild animals in the jungle. I understood that now was the first opportunity to apply all that theoretical knowledge in this practical scenario. I reduced the pace of my cycle and suddenly a herd of panicked deers crossed the road running from my right and disappeared into the jungle on my left. I realised that some big wild animal was chasing them for his shikar. This wild animal turned out to be a Tiger. He came on the road and looked on both the sides of the open road. I stood, merely at a distance of 20-30 yards from the dreaded beast fully visible.”
Faced with the royal beast, Sharma literally froze.
“My cycle dropped from my hand and I barely managed to save myself from fainting. Gathering my wits about me, I moved inside the jungle on my right. I moved few feet inside and stood behind the thick trunk of an old Rohini tree. I was contemplating climbing a tree to protect myself from the attack of tiger but, to be very honest, it was just a thought. I was so nervous that I was left with no energy to execute my thought. The tiger continued on his chase. I, then, decided to wait for my orderly and other forest officials who were expected to follow me shortly. They arrived within 10 minutes of my encounter with the tiger.”
He smiles as he recalls the faces of his fellow officials who saw his fallen cycle fearing the worst.
“They were somewhat frightened to see my cycle lying on the road along with my bag full of marking equipments and papers. My “Marking hammer” used for marking the most valuable tree for commercial sale lying on the road was telling a rather scary tale. This equipment to a Forester is what a service revolver is to a police man. Its loss can cost a hefty sum to the government in the form of illicit felling of trees in forest.”
“Meanwhile I saw them from my position behind the tree and made a forest sound which is taught to us during our training to be used when someone is lost in forest.”
Reunited with his colleagues and spending some time in the forest guest house Sharma was back next day for work. But after that wild encounter, no one allowed him to travel alone inside the forest.
From that fateful day till his retirement Sharma had the chance to see the tiger from extremely close range thrice and he says with perhaps a renewed rush of adrenaline, that no other animal could be his favourite after witnessing this magnificent beast.
Continue reading more fascinating anecdotes from the forest on Page 2…