In conversation with: Abhishek Ray, an Indian music composer who has built a wildlife reserve


A journey from a “composer” to the “conservationist”

Abhishek Ray is an Indian music composer and a singer. He has recently sung and composed the theme track of the blockbuster Bollywood super hit WELCOME BACK.

Abhishek has sung and composed for Hindi films like: 

WELCOME BACK, 
PAAN SINGH TOMAR, 
SAHEB BIWI AUR GANGSTER, 
SHAGIRD, 
YEH SAALI ZINDAGI, 
I AM KALAM, 
CHAAR DIN KI CHANDNI, 
TERA KYA HOGA JOHNNY, 
HAASIL, etc

He has also sung and composed for Tamil Films and Malayalam films.

Few of his Non-film albums are:

UDAAS PAANI WITH GULZAR. TIMES MUSIC, 
RAAT CHAND AUR MAIN WITH GULZAR. TIMES MUSIC, 
KAB AATE HO WITH GULZAR. TIMES MUSIC, 
SYMPHONIES OF THE TAJ. MUSIC TODAY, 
AMAZING INDIA JAISALMER. MUSIC TODAY
ECHOES OF KHAJURAHO. MUSIC TODAY, 
RITU -MAGIC OF THE 5 INDIAN SEASONS, 
RAGA RENDEZVOUS. T SERIES  

But not only this, he has also composed music for the documentaries The Maharaja of Jodhpur -the legacy lives on for which he got the Indian Telly Awards 2006 for best Music. Others include The Shiamans of the Himalayas, Apatanis of Arunachal Pradesh, Forced to Kill, Nirvana for Discovery Channel.

He began his career composing and singing for TV shows and ad films for all major channels. Today he is one of the most eminent classy composers of Bollywood.

Abhishek is a government bonafide Tiger and Leopard, tracker. He is a wildlife conservationist. He has built his own wildlife reserve next to Corbett National Park called ‘Sitabani Wildlife Reserve’. He is also a singer and composer of India's National Anthem on SAVE THE TIGER.

Let’s read Abhishek’s journey from a music composer to the conservationist in his own words:

What has brought you closer to nature and wildlife?

As I grew, my instincts led to reasoning and understanding of nature's intricate web of life in which every species is just a strand, interdependent on the other. Then this understanding led on to the deep spiritual bond that I share with all other living creatures of this one and
My mother tells me that as a child, I would cry whenever I saw caged birds and smile when I saw them in the sky. I was naturally attracted to trees and would be painting mountains and forests all the time. 
I guess it runs in me at a cellular level.
only magnificent blue planet.

When was the first time you were struck by the thought of running your own wildlife reserve?

I used to volunteer for the government as a tiger- leopard tracker for big cat census activities. I have taken part in wildlife census numerous times and have certificates for the same. It was while walking through tiger country absorbing the sights, sounds and smells of nature that it occurred to me that if I ever make any savings in life, it shall be on Mother Earth. Ever since the industrial revolution, we have continuously raped nature in the name of development and pushed all other forms of life into tiny islands of forests and conveniently coined a term 'wildlife' to categorize them. So I wanted to buy back erstwhile habitat and return it to the original inhabitants of the planet. 

What was your first move to reach here? 

After a lot of gruelling back, breaking work in Bollywood, I finally made a name with some award winning and super hit films. I had earlier set my eyes on a hill in the Corbett Landscape which was degraded farmland but surrounded by pristine Sal forest, home to some flagship species. After delivering 5 films hit in a row, I felt confident to channelize all my efforts and energy into gradually buying this land which was degraded and practically of no use to the villagers.

The first thing I did, was to make a waterbody in it. Since most water resources are monopolized by man, wild animals have a very hard time trying to quench their thirst. Soon enough, this became a magnet for thirsty wildlife. Simultaneously I started rainwater harvesting, planting endemic fruiting trees, eradicating weeds like Lanterna and sowing nutritious grass. The land which had been abused by years of slash and burns techniques sprang back into life and wildlife gradually followed.

The support you got from your family, friends and colleagues: 

"You have to be true to your dreams, the universe conspires to make them come true", I believe.

If you help nature just a bit, nature does the rest. My family and friends were enthusiastic and supportive though I was not investing in a typical, safe high ROI investment like a builder's posh flat in Delhi or Mumbai.

Describe your wildlife reserve in your words: 

The mellow golden sunlight filters through the canopy of trees etching mystical shapes on the forest floor. All day long, the wind from the valley sings a plaintive song with the wild grasses which nod their heads in unison.  Birds of every colour, size and shape fly in and out and make the valley resound with their vibrant melodies. 

And then suddenly an alarm call rings out. A barking deer has spotted the elusive ghost of the forest. The langurs start barking in their own peculiar manner. A large sambar freezes in its tracks and emits a loud hollow hoot....'Who goes there?' A mottled golden yellow form glides out of the undergrowth a makes a brief appearance on a naked rock at the edge of a cliff...the leopard, the enigmatic spirit of these woods is on the prowl. 

As night draws a dark curtain of mesmerizing silver jewels over the windswept grassland, all is still. Suddenly the unmistakable roar rings out from the eastern hillock. A huge male tiger calls out in his deep baritone voice evoking all that is untamed and untamable.  The night shudders as the moon peeps from over the dark hill. Then comes another roar from far, beyond the grassland, beyond the hills that overlook it, beyond the silvery stream that flows perennially. His mate, the resident tigress has answered. Tonight the two distant roars come closer and closer, crossing dark mountains, misty valleys and silvery streams. Tonight they will meet next to the waterbody and rub their furry cheeks together. Tonight the forest will bear testimony to this grand, secretive feline romance.

How do you see your journey from a “composer” to the “conservationist?”

The composer and the conservationist coexisted and didn't compete. In fact, one helped the other. When the composer was down and out, depressed with the cut-throat politics of Bollywood, the conservationist came to his rescue and took him to nature to cleanse him. And when the composer delivered hits, he used every available platform to cry out the unsung songs of India's fast-disappearing wilderness and take the conservationist's cause further and further.  

How do you keep the balance between the two very different fields of work? 

I inhale nature and exhale music. Bollywood is frantic and demanding. So I am at it, constantly churning out new melodies, sounds and arrangements from my hi-tech studio at Versova, Andheri, Mumbai.

But I don't drink, smoke, party or club. The moment I find a window from my crazy recording schedule, I disappear. The wilderness infuses me with primal creative energies and blesses me with fresh compositions.

How do you relate music and nature?

I am a travelling composer, a solivagant. My untamed travels are the source of my unusual melodies. For example, I could have never composed for a film locked in time and geography like Paan Singh Tomar, had I been just an urban composer producing music from the forewalls of a studio. My spirit roams the wilderness like a predator and I believe all life has originated from there in the recent past. We, our culture, our music is organically and genetically linked to the temple of life....the forest.  

Tell us about the variety of species the reserve shelters:

My reserve is contiguous with the surrounding reserve forest, adjacent to the magnificent Jim Corbett National Park. It boasts of flagship species like tiger, leopard, Asiatic Black Bear, Elephant, spotted deer, sambar, barking deer etc and over 600 species of birds. Being in the overlap zone of Sal and oak forest at an altitude of 1000 meters, both Himalayan and plain birds visit the area. Also, a lot of rare and lesser known species like a Striped Hyena, Himalayan Civet, Palm Civet, Otters, Himalayan weasel, Leopard cat, Jungle cat, Fishing cat, Rattel, Pine Marten have been spotted in the neighbouring forests.

Your views and work for the species which are about to extinct: 

Most countries in the world hardly have any wildlife left. For example, the largest wild animal in the UK is the red fox. India is a land of giants, blessed with a plethora of biodiversity. We have so much that we value very little. All limited funds are aimed at saving the tiger only. So many wild animals living in non-tiger landscapes are on the brink of extinction.

For example, the Himalayan Brown Bear which inhabits the glacial meadows of the Himalayas in almost extinct due to overgrazing by cattle of nomadic Gujjars and shepherds. Similarly, the Indian wolf, rhino, dhole( Indian wild dog), gharial, Gangetic river dolphin and so many others are critically endangered.

At my estate, I have built nesting sites for rare Himalayan songbirds, Owls, Raptors, Finches, Leafbirds, Tits, Buntings, Sibias, Pita, Robins etc. I have also planted fruiting trees and grasses so that there is plenty of natural food available for rare wild animals and birds. Also, I have built a water body with perennial spring water which is like a haven for thirsty animals.

A leopard pair is breeding in the cliffs around my land. My focus is on saving the Leopard, the most persecuted of all Indian animals. India has already lost its other spotted cat- the Cheetah to trigger happy Maharajas... And most Indians are oblivious of that.

To develop a reserve from the core is a difficult task. Which has been the biggest challenge you faced till now? 

The biggest challenge is to explain the surrounding villagers about the importance of wildlife. For most of them wildlife is just free meat or a nuisance. Any innocent animal which enters human habitation by mistake becomes fair game. 

I try hard to explain to surrounding villagers about the importance of predators. The right number of tigers and leopards in the forest keeps the population of monkeys, langurs, wild boar etc at bay. So they, in turn, protect the farmers’ crops.

Your views on the most frightening issue: Global Warming

The planet is like a living body. Today it has a constant fever because it's infected by a dangerous virus called ‘Homo sapiens’ (humans).  If this virus keeps on populating and polluting at the current rate, all life will surely be destroyed and then nature will start a fresh without us. 

Do you ever feel like giving up?  

No. I believe if you do your bit with passion, the whole universe conspires to make things work.

Is there any weakness?  

A limited lifespan and little time are the greatest weakness. After delivering 5 consecutive hits in Bollywood ( Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster, I am Kalam, Yeh Saali Zindagi, Paan Singh Tomar & Welcome Back), my hands are full working on some great films. And films try to keep me locked at Mumbai. My soul wanders the wilderness and I always wish that I had more time for conservation.

Tell us about your biggest strength:  

My greatest strength is my uncanny connection with wild animals. I have come face to face with huge tigers, leopards, elephants and other dangerous wildlife. After making eye contact, no wild animal has ever harmed me. In fact, there is a truce in that silence and they seem to read my soul.

Dealing with wild animals is never an easy task. How do you do that? What does give you courage apart from your love for them? 

Wild animals are very sensitive to the person’s energy. They are very quick to judge who wants to harm them. They are also quick to sense where they are safe and where there are food and water. And above all, they understand the silent language of love much more than humans.

We have always heard that wild animals have their own language, can you feel that? If yes, then please share your experience with us. 

When a tiger moves through my estate, the surrounding hills ring with alarm calls. These are emitted by prey species when they see a predator to alert the others. In November-December when big cats mate, the male and female are constantly in touch through long distance roars. When an elephant gets separated from its herd, it emits low frequency rumbles calling its group members to help it. Similarly, every species of bird has distinct territorial, alarm and mating calls. The forest is resounding with calls and music..There is language everywhere. You just have to understand it.

Which has been the most beautiful experience with animals? 

Two years back, I was taking a stroll of my estate on a moonlit night and I stumbled upon a tigress who was lying in the grass. Initially, she was nervous and looked at me sceptically. Then she lay down calmly and let me photograph her in the torchlight. After half an hour went by, she casually turned around and showed me her back. No wild animal would ever drop its guard completely in front of a human at night and turn its back to him unless that animal has implicit trust in the human.

(Abhishek has shared the images of the Tigress exclusively with C4N India.) 

This was a moment of truth, joy and inner gratification. It was a spiritual moment in which the wild tigress accepted me completely in her domain. This moment gave me the power and belief that lets me fight so many hindrances that life throws my way.

animals can give you unconditional love and trust you blindly. Once you achieve that bond, it takes you to a very high level of spiritual bliss. This experience completely changes the way you look at life.

What would you like to do against animal torturing? 

I think every sensitive human should stand firm and strong against any form of animal torture. The power that nature has bestowed upon man is evil if it is used for torturing our kindred spirits. We should have stronger laws in place to punish those who seek perverse pleasure in tormenting the voiceless and the oppressed.

How can a common man help the animals in a common way

“By being tolerant towards all forms of life”

Just because someone has bought a house or a land from another human, he does not have the right to kill all other creatures that enter his premises unknowingly. All creatures have equal rights over this land and it's free flowing water.

Your views on deforestation: 

In the last century, after the industrial revolution, the main contribution of humans towards this planet has been rampant deforestation and making the planet bald. We are acting purely like a virus which believes in populating, consuming and polluting its host. But most viruses have a clever strategy. When the host dies, it comes out of the dead body to infect another. But humans are the only foolish virus which would die with their host as they have no other body to infect.

Your message to the world:

We don't need to save the planet. The planet has a lot of time. After the human virus is dead and gone, the planet can start a fresh.  
Wildlife is the greatest indicator of fresh water, clean air, fertile soil and silver raindrops....if we save wildlife today, we save our own tomorrow.

We definitely need to save ourselves.
It's already late...

C4N India congratulates Abhishek for his initiative towards nature and Mother Earth. We strongly believe that having such a vision, courage and a very positive approach is an achievement in itself. It will be a great learning for the youth. We thank him for setting a milestone which will be a greater lesson of awareness for the upcoming generations.

All the best for you future goals. Keep shining and keeping spreading Green Awareness!

 

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September 22, 2016