India Interior

From amateur lensman to Bharatpur’s birdman

N Shiva Kumar | Updated on January 08, 2018

Tweet dreams Veteran photographer Kailash Navrang waits for an elusive bird to pose for him at the Bharatpur bird sanctuary in Rajasthan. - n shiva kumar

The Blue Jay is one of the few species with powerful midair rolling display and is very difficult to capture says Navarang.

Tall tale The sarus crane is dwindling in numbers kailash navrang   -  kailash navrang

Passion turns into a legendary profession

Born in the small town of Bharatpur in Rajasthan, Kailash Navrang was a boisterous boy. Growing up during the 1970s, he had little interest in going to the ramshackle local government school and dropped out in Std X. However, curious by nature, he watched with interest the stream of foreigners who regularly visited the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary on the outskirts of town.

An adolescent Navrang observed the visitors descending on the sanctuary every winter with cameras, binoculars and even acoustic equipment to record birdcalls. His curiosity transformed over the years into serious bird-watching and photography.

By the time he turned 20 he realised that photography was his interest and promptly opened a tiny studio in the congested lanes of Bharatpur. Cameras were difficult to acquire and those available were mostly second-hand. With his meagre savings he slowly bought used cameras such as Yashica, Mamiya, Zenith, Praktica, Olympus and Pentax.

He struggled in his dingy studio to make ends meet and educate his five children. He took up photo assignments for marriage functions and private parties.

As Bharatpur lies within the tourist triangle of Agra, Delhi and Jaipur, it soon soared in popularity. Easily accessible from Agra and Delhi, the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary was a major draw for ornithologists from around the globe in the ’80s and ’90s. Besides the abundant bird-life and wildlife, the sanctuary boasted eco-friendly travel and afforded the chance to shoot pictures from dawn to dusk.

Even the rare Siberian crane was found in Bharatpur and became a major attraction.

Learning from the best

Alongside running the studio, Navrang made a daily three-hour trip into the sanctuary with his cameras to observe the professionals at work. Soon, bird photography turned into a full-fledged passion for him. “I do not smoke, drink or even partake of tea. I find my addiction to photography in the bird sanctuary intoxicating. My daily sojourns yielded good results because I shot at dawn and dusk, when the slanting rays of the sun highlight the features of the birds,” he says.

He recalls how technology was very rudimentary when he started clicking pictures 40 years ago. Using Orwo or Kodak films rolls that had only 12 frames, there was no option but to get the perfect shot every time. Processing and printing in pitch darkness, it was fascinating to see the image developing like magic.

All that is history now, as digital cameras have revolutionised photography and anybody can become a photographer today.

He, however, insists that perseverance and the urge to explore are the key to capturing unique images.

When luck clicked

The lucky break that catapulted him as a professional photographer came in 1995 when a Hindi newspaper published his photo of a kingfisher with a foot-long snake in its beak. The same photo also won him a cash award of ₹25,000 at a competition in Bhopal. Soon there was a demand for more of his bird pictures and Navrang had on offer a range of photos with fascinating facts and captions.

Today, at 61, he is still going strong. With more than 60,000 photographs in his collection, he has held 19 solo exhibitions in Jaipur, Bharatpur, Delhi, Kota, Udaipur and Agra, among other places. He is a happy man — his daughters are married and his two sons have a studio each to manage.

But he remains obsessed and is constantly searching for that elusive bird to pose for him. He also wants to bring out a coffee table book of his photo collection. “I want to leave behind a rich collection to educate future generations in the conservation of bird-life. The focus will naturally be the Bharatpur sanctuary, as it is an ecological storehouse,” he says.

The writer is a photographer and wildlife enthusiast based in Noida

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

Published on October 20, 2017
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor