The Magician of Masinagudi

Mark Davidar, a blessed son of the well-known conservationist E.R.C Davidar is no more.

Rivaldo, his most cherished tusker will miss him more than anyone else. Having lost a good portion of his cheek and trunk to heartless poachers, Rivaldo was all at bay, when Mark decided to take care of him, and the rest is history.

Though fortunate to have spent a bit of time during my visits to his wonderful place, it took me a long time to see beneath and beyond Mark's complex, sometimes intimidating yet mature persona.  Yes, he had a short fuse, true the huge influence of alcohol was disturbing, agreed that his profanities (especially when drunk) were annoying, yet here was a simple man, with a mature head on his frail shoulders. A man who had an uncanny ability to have a serene, calming approach to the wildest of the wild, and a love for the wilderness which is simply unmatched even today.

A wonderful human being, like his illustrious father, Mark was a great lover of the wild from his early days. For his unique ability to calm and care elephants, Mark is a legend in the Masinagudi – Segur region. His cherished abode “Cheetal Walk” just by the side of the Segur stream, is a Mecca of the wildlife photographer and his tales with massive pachyderms are folklore. 

I do recall my first meeting with Mark, way back in 2007-2008. It certainly was not a pleasant one. A common friend took me over to his home in the midst of the thick jungle and after initial pleasantries, he rattled off a list of rules of the home “Mobiles on silent mode, do not take calls when elephants are around, no talking to each other when the animals are around, no flash photography . . . “the list went on and on much to my annoyance. I chose to look the other way and on the Che Guevara portrait adorning his walls. This did not go down well with Mark who demanded attention to his banter.

It was a warm afternoon and we did settle into the chairs on the veranda when a wild tusker made a grand entry as if on cue. Emerging out of the bamboo clusters, he charged straight at the veranda with a shrill trumpet. The usually composed Mark (I learnt it after my multiple visits) stood up from his chair and yelled at the top of his voice and the elephant stopped on its tracks, yet slowly grumbling stretched its trunk towards the veranda, feeling the air and slowly began to settle down.

It was then I first broke Mark’s rule: I was on a 70-300 lens and badly needed to switch to a 50mm or even less for a full portrait. Sitting close to the door, I abruptly got up, to the annoyance of the tusker, who took a few menacing steps towards the veranda and much to the annoyance of Mark.

I had moved inside the house by then and Mark's stern voice calmed down the tusker who stood there for a few more minutes and slowly left. Mark took off on me with a barrage of profanities, which was too much for me. He simply would not stop and when the ‘F’ words were getting too frequent, I  flew off my handle – staring close to his face, I was screaming and yelling back that while he had the right not to have me in his place, he had no rights to use the words he did and he better watch his words or face my music. Fuming with rage, i charged inside, preparing to leave and started packing my camera and lenses, least expecting any remorse from him, when he casually strolled in as if nothing had happened and said “This time keep you longest lens ready, there’s a mother bear and a cub in the far clearing”. There was such a sense of calmness in his voice that all my hate and anger vanished in a jiffy. This was possibly the same comforting tone which probably had Carlos, Ronaldo and Rivaldo (all wild elephants he had named after his soccer hero's) dancing to his tunes.

Later that day, sitting in the same veranda, we spent hours together leading into the late evening, sharing our jungle experiences and watching Gaur, Cheetal, Boars passing by. Obviously, he was doing the talking most of the time and I was sitting there absorbing the immense and bountiful experiences of the wilderness and animal behaviors that no documented book or journal could ever provide. I was also feeling guilty for having been rude to this gifted guy and at one point even ventured to apologize for what happened that afternoon. “No sentimental shit brother” he said “don’t ask for more F***** trouble” he joked. Later, we hit it off quite well.

We did remain in touch and I  had visited him at least half a dozen times since then. I did see his health deteriorating but also understood there was no point blowing sunshine on his backside for he had his own opinions and it wasn't that he did not know the consequences of his actions.

I tried to contact him one last time during July 2013, but was told he was in a hospital and could not be reached. Later in October, his trusted man Friday Murugan, called to inform of the demise of Mark. 

The animals and birds of Masinagudi have indeed lost a great friend, the wildlife fraternity has lost a
wonderful crusader and above all, we have lost a great human being.

Rest in peace beloved friend, may you find peace at the feet of the almighty.

P.S: Thanks to N.A.Naser and Frontline for Two of the pictures above.

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