“Saayibre”, the Kannada word for “sir”, rings in my mind whenever I think of S. Manikandan, IFS, who was director of Nagarhole Tiger Reserve till this month. He was my senior in Agri College, but being a junior in service, from the 2001 batch, he used to call me ‘Saayibre’—consciously and with grace, not even with mild sarcasm—even though I’d told him several times not to address me thus. It came without warning...03.03.2018…what a fateful day! He had been invited to the World Wildlife Day celebration in Aranyabhavan, Mysore. If he had submitted to routine and attended that, he would still have been with us. But a forest warbler sings its own tunes, and fate makes its own decisions.
Last week, we had given a farewell in Mysore for the principal chief conservator of forests, head of forest force—PCCF (HoFF)—and Manikandan was missing for that too. I called him up and enquired. His words were simple and made of pure commitment: “Boss, celebrations may come and go, but if something goes wrong inside the forest...say, a forest fire or something, it’s me that the whole department will question. This year, the PCCF (Wildlife) had especially told me to maintain a zero fire forest area. So it’s better that I stay here in the forest than come to Mysore to attend a function, boss....” One has to picture these words spoken from the lonely outpost of a forest reserve, where officer-level creatures are rare sightings. Such is the man—truly an officer and a gentleman—who is no more now.