Memories of Billy- a legendary tiger-walla

By Mudit Gupta
I met Billy Arjan Singh Sahib for the first time in June 2004, while trying to enter the PhD program in University of Lucknow. I was keen to do research on tigers and some one in the university advised me to convince Billy Sahib to be my co-guide for the same. This way, I was told, I could learn a lot more.

I still remember the rainy day when I traveled from Palia town to the Tiger Haven crossing in a public bus. Tiger Haven was Billy’s farm cum home and it was where he spent most of his life. It was monsoons and the onward path to Tiger Haven from the bus stop was deep in slush and water logged at many places. As it bordered the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, all along this walk I was scared by the possibility of a tiger blocking my way. When I told Billy Sahib about the purpose of my visit, he happily assured his help for my research. He went a step ahead and immediately typed the acceptance letter himself and handed it over to me. He even offered me a place to live in Tiger Haven for my research. It was because of his pure love for tigers that he was inviting an unknown person to live with him for the next few years. In this first meeting he advised me to work hard for the conservation of tigers. That was the time when my fascination and affection for wildlife and tiger conservation grew even stronger. 

Though I could not get admission into the PhD program, in August 2006, I got a chance to work for Dudhwa with WWF-India. I met Billy again. When I informed him about this development, he was very happy and asked me to meet him regularly. I often went to him around noon and he would inquire about my work and Dudhwa - especially the tiger activities and movements in the area. At times, when I would meet him after a long time gap, he would get angry with me. But immediately after, he would liken himself to my grand father and would ask me not to take his words otherwise. He had a great affection and regard for WWF-India, particularly its CEO & SG Mr. Ravi Singh. Mr. Ravi Singh in turn would advice me to always take guidance of Billy Sahib and that even his hard words were like blessings for me, as it showed his concern for wildlife.

Billy Sahib would often call me on phone to inquire about movement of tigers in and around Dudhwa. He once said, “Conservation of tigers in India is extremely difficult, simply because tigers do not have right to vote!” I find his words very true in the present scenario. I’m proud that he loved me a lot. He would often compel me to promise him that I would never leave Dudhwa and would devote my entire life to its conservation. In October 2009, when I was selected for the Mira Balram Singh Biodiversity and Conservation Award, he was thrilled. While handing over the award, he blessed me and wished that I would keep doing my work and hoped that I would win many other such awards.

With the advancement of age, he got weaker. He could not listen properly and was increasingly forgetful – some times even my name. But when I would start talking about tigers, it seemed all his senses jumped back to normal. It was as if all incidents and information related to tigers remained fresh in his mind. It seemed to me, he was surviving only for the conservation of tigers. 

On the late evening of 29th December 2009, just three days before his death, one of his staff informed me that Billy Sahib was admitted to a hospital and he wanted to see me. I immediately rushed there. Though Billy Sahib was complaining of pain in his stomach, he asked me about my health. He then held my hands in his and said “Yaar Mudit, main to jaa raha hoon. Ab tumhi ko yeh sab sambhalna hai. Bagh ke liye apni koshish jari rakhna (Dear Mudit, I am leaving. Now it’s for you to take care of all things. Keep trying to save the tigers)”. These were his last words for me. I consoled him that he would be all right and I would work as per his instructions. He then put his hand on my head. On the first evening of the New Year, his staff informed me that he had passed away.

Mudit Gupta is a Senior Project Officer with WWF-India’s Palia office, in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur-Kheri District, that works for the wildlife and communities of Dudhwa Tiger Reserve.

NOTE: The views expressed are the author’s personal and not that of WWF-India.
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