Looks can be deceptive. It is particularly true for a woman like Kiran Bishnoi, a young Rajasthani woman, who saved a chinkara fawn from a pack of dogs which had surrounded the little animal. What followed thereafter is an even more moving story that has put her on the cover of a just released coffee table book, 'Rajasthan: Under the Desert Sky' by Rajesh Bedi. Published by Roli Books, the book offers a different take on Rajasthan, and at the photo exhibition of the veteran lensman, on the day of the launch, Kiran Bishnoi, a native of Jodhpur district, was present with her family.
While her husband Shyam Sunder Bishnoi did most of the talking, Kiran uttered a few things. But to save the three-month-old chinkara, risking her own life, was Kiran’s own decision. 'Women walk for many kilometres to collect firewood for cooking in Rajasthan. So she had walked up to some two kilometres when she saw this chinkara baby being attacked by dogs. The dogs had already killed the mother. Kiran was all alone but somehow managed to save the animal and shooed away the dogs. It was a long distance, so she couldn’t have possibly carried the wood and the chinkara together, so she had to throw away all the wood she had collected,' says Shyam Sunder.
Back home, they tried to bottle feed the chinkara fawn but she wouldn’t take it. 'She then offered a suckle and she was all eager. That’s how Kiran started breastfeeding her. Our own daughter Pooja was six months old at that time. Pooja and the baby chinkara were given a feed simultaneously. She would know that Pooja is about to be fed and she would start prancing around,' recalls Shyam Sunder. Kiran chips in, 'I treated her like my own child. I felt for her the same affection that I felt for my daughter. After all, how big is a three-month-old chinkara baby? She had to be taken care of. My daughter’s name was Pooja and she was named Aarti.'
That care and warmth comes through amply in another picture in which Kiran Bishnoi is rocking the chinkara in a cloth cradle. Bishnois are worshippers of nature in all its manifestations, which is why to the couple and other members of the Bishnoi community around them, what happened was not other-worldly.
'Our founder Guru Jambeshwar Maharaj has laid down 29 rules and one of them is to save the life of trees and animals at any cost, so what we did was our duty,' says Shyam Sunder.
Now, as the chinkara baby grew old, it was decided to let her back into the natural environment, the space she belongs to. Shyam Sunder recalls that the chinkara had grown in size and the house was getting to be constricting for her. 'She was jumping from one place to another. So we left her near our Bishnoi ashram, which is about three kilometres away. People there tell us Aarti comes to the ashram very often and sometimes she is there when we visit the ashram. Aarti is now six, healthy and safe. We miss her but we couldn’t have kept her with us forever. Her life is in the open,' says Shyam Sunder, adding how Kiran has become a role model for many in her village. Kiran’s photograph adorns the Veterinary Hospital in Jodhpur and even the textbooks for seventh standard in Rajasthan government schools.
But Kiran is unfazed by all this popularity and all the buzz around her at the book launch function at the India Habitat Centre. Probably what’s unbelievable for us is just so natural for her.