Avijit completed his formal education with an honors degree in History from hometown Calcutta followed by a post graduate degree in Tourism Management. But it was his early years in school up in the Darjeeling hills where he developed a close affiliation to nature, the reason for which he chose the job of a Naturalist over that of a corporate career in an office. His first seven years of work took him to the Sunderbans to start with followed by Satpura and Kumaon before he spent almost four years of his most crucial time in the wild at Pench tiger reserve while being associated and working for Amit Sankhala’s property Jamtara Wilderness camp. Here he was fortunate to observe the competition and rivalry of India’s top predators including Tigers, Leopards and Wild Dogs.
For the last 1.5 years, Avijit has been developing experiences and tours to India’s north east India with Wildlife and ethnic tribes at its very core while also re-creating experiences on the side of Bengal’s vast history that date back to the Nawabs to the coming of European traders and the rise of the British east India rule. Apart from this, he has often contributed articles,stories and photo essays to Nature and Travel magazines and in this way has shared his experiences of the wild. He hopes that more of the younger generation will come up over the next few years to take on a career such as this, the reason for which he often gives talks and presentations at schools and universities whenever the opportunity arises.
- Who you are (naturally!)
Naturally, I am a fun and laid back person who loves being on the move and takes his food seriously too. Also, some one who continously tries not to get upset on the person he loves the most(my mother) yet fails miserably every time.
- What inspired you to become a naturalist?
I think my time at school for 13years in the mountains of Kalimpong at Dr.Graham’s is what stayed with me and that’s what really was the instigator for my choice of being a naturalist. Watching the Kangchenjunga peaks from my classroom to encountering porcupine, red fox and flying squirrel at dusk are some of my best memories from childhood. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have spent my growing years in those mountains which is really the main reason why I am doing the job that I am doing.
- An anecdote which epitomizes your India?
That in a country of 1.4 billion people, you could be walking up in the mountains with no one around for miles on end, and somehow you stumble upon a village house where the family who are complete strangers offer you chai with a smile and invites you to stay with them for the night. I think this unconditional warmth of making strangers feel at home is what epitomizes my country.
- One thing that you can’t live without?
My fair share of time in the wilderness is what I prize a lot. It is my drug to keep myself motivated and that is one thing I cannot live without I guess.
- One thing that you hate?
Arrogance and rudeness in people.
- If you could change one thing about India what would it be?
There are just too many things I would personally want to change in India. Maybe the education system first to start with where we could do away with the grade system for sure. The present scenario leaves the 90 percentile plus students think that they are king and questions the capability of the average 60’s scorer. This needs to change. It would help avoid so many student suicides in the country.
- Who is your greatest inspiration?
Quite a few actually.
On a personal front, the first person that comes to my mind is my mentor Late E.S.K Ghosh( an ex-professor of Psychology at Allahabad University) who always believed in me. He was way ahead of this generation in terms of his thinking.
On a professional front, two names that come to my mind and whom I have set as professional bench marks are Chris Caldicott, a photographer who has traveled to almost 115 countries and for the amazing work he has done yet is so humble and down to earth. Photo journalist Kate Eshelby is the other one who goes out of her way to cover stories on her own to places such as North Korea, Gabon and Mongolia yet finds the balance, power and will to see her husband through cancer. I feel blessed to have met and taken such people out on Safaris.
- What is your favourite quote?
It’s a liner from the movie Shawshank Redemption; ‘Hope…is a good thing’.
- I have noticed huge changes in India over the last few years but what is the biggest change you have noticed in India over the last 10 years?
Well, change is the only thing that is constant and India in its last few years is a perfect example of this. The most noticeable change probably in the last few years is the rising ideology of right wing extremist thinking.
- What do you think are the biggest challenges India faces over the next ten years?
The biggest of the many challenges the country faces over the next decade is to hold on to its last existing forests and manage its ever growing human population.
- Which is the destination at the top of your bucket list?
It has to be the Antarctic without a doubt.
- What is the one place you visited that you have NO desire to return to?
Well no such place to be honest. Every place I have been to has added some experience to my life and travel knowledge, so I’d say there is no such place that I do not want to return to.
- Book or Movie?
Movie without a doubt unless I’m traveling and have a short story book of Ruskin Bond in particular. Then I’d choose the book.
- I am doing a survey to find India’s most popular breakfast, what is yours?
Well I have tried more variations in lunches, dinners and evening street food as compared to popular breakfast joints. But if you’d still ask me, then I guess the Radhabollovi( a kind of a bengali puri) with chola in lentil on a cold winter morning in Calcutta at any small sweet/snack outlet is one of the most popular breakfasts you could do in India. Its very local but delicious though make sure it is served hot.
- In retrospect, what is the one thing you wish you could have told your 20 year old self/Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
I’d tell my 20 year old self ‘Keep calm even amidst the most hostile people.
20 years down, I’d see my self as a full time writer and hopefully somewhere up in the mountains in my own little place.
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