Change begins in us, in the choices we make for the things we believe in, says Sanjay Sondhi who took to full-time conservation at the age of 45.
My love affair with nature began as a young child. During summer vacations in the serene hill station of Dalhousie, where my grandparents lived, long walks livened up the holidays. Loads of early memories linger… the sight of a Himalayan yellow weasel climbing up a pine tree in order to get to a bee hive, and scurrying back comically, after being stung by the bees. Plucking wild strawberries to make home-made jam, or just feasting on raspberries directly off the bush. Holidays apart, my father had an interest in duck shooting and, well before I was old enough to make choices, I would jump at the idea of accompanying him. Getting up at 4.00 a.m. on cold winter mornings was no deterrent; in fact, I would be up all night, excitedly waiting for the Nature outing. Even as a student, I recall dragging my parents to Simlipal National Park in Orissa and being absolutely thrilled when the car broke down at the forest rest house leaving us stranded there for days!
I graduated as an engineer, but my romance with the wilds continued. An interest in birds grew to embrace butterflies, moths, snakes, amphibians; if it moved, I would love to watch them! Along the way, my affair with Nature included a courtship which resulted in marriage to my wife, Anchal, whose passion for Nature and environment matched mine. A son followed, as did birding sessions with him in Bhimashankar when he was three months old. Child in a halter, binoculars around the neck, and birds up in the trees! Don’t tell my parents, I whispered to my wife! Despite a successful corporate career, I ensured that my passion for Nature stayed alive. Numerous visits every year to the forests, some with the family, others alone, ensured that I got many hours of unending pleasure in the wilds. I travelled to every part of India and, despite enjoying my work in the office, the time I really felt alive was in the forests. This was home to me.
A reasonably successful corporate career culminated as the managing director of a mid-sized business for a U.S. multinational in India, but throughout my working life, a thought nagged me; for all the pleasure that I had received, when was I going to give something back to nature? Family discussions ensued, financial planning followed, and very early in my career, with complete support from my wife, we decided that at the age of 45, I was going to quit my job, and devote the rest of my life to Nature conservation; an attempt to make a difference, and help make the planet a better place to live in. There were plenty of questions. Would I be able to earn enough? What contribution could I make in Nature conservation? Would this contribution be meaningful? What if my efforts made no difference? Would the family adjust to a new life? What about education for my son?
Though we had no answers to many of these questions, in 2008, we took the plunge. I quit my job, relocated to the greener environs of Dehra Dun (from the maddening city of Pune), and devoted myself to Nature conservation. Three years down the line, I don’t have answers to all the questions that I had to begin with. But some answers are clear. Do I miss the corporate world? Not a chance! Am I enjoying myself? Tune in, folks, I am doing what I am passionate about; this is what I always wanted! Are we managing financially? Sure, but remember, if you are doing something you really like, then money pales into insignificance!
Three years on, we have our own Nature conservation non-profit organisation, Titli Trust ( www.titlitrust.com). I spend my time working on numerous exciting conservation initiatives: supporting butterfly eco-tourism with the local communities in Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya, studying the problem of crop damage by monkeys in Uttarakhand, discovering a new frog species, conducting conservation education sessions with children, loads of writing and photography….the list goes on.
No Going Back
Three years on; am I really making a difference? It’s too early to tell, but I sure am trying, and having a whale of a time while I do this. I spend at least three months in a year exploring the wilds and every moment in the forests makes me feel alive!
I get periodic calls from executive search firms: Do you want to come back? Are you kidding; never! Friends and colleagues often ask me enviously: How have you made this move? The answer is simple: A passion for nature, some financial planning, family support, and the courage to walk down a different path, in an attempt to make your contribution to make this a better planet. Often a thought lingers: What if other people in my generation make a choice, quit their jobs (and most of them are financially well off by now), and devote themselves to an issue of their calling: conservation, education, poverty eradication… the problems faced by this country are many. What if we were to unleash the power of the motivated individuals in each of these fields, they could make a world of difference! I sign off with a message for all the corporate head honchos out there: make a choice, give something back, and you will relish every moment of the rest of your life!
This article was published in The Hindu on 5th June 2011.
Author: Sanjay Sondhi
Sanjay Sondhi is a Dehradun-based naturalist with an interest in writing and photography. Though an engineer by qualification, he quit his job in 2008 to devote his time to nature conservation and environment protection. He is mainly interested in birds, butterflies and moths and herpetofauna. He is also the Founder Trustee of TITLI TRUST and associated with Kalpavriksh, an environmental NGO. His work includes conducting biodiversity assessments, conservation education, studying man-animal conflicts and promoting community based eco-tourism. He stays in the serene town of Dehradun in Uttarakhand. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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