Book Review: The Cat in the Ghat by Ambika Rao

posted by R's Mom , August 09, 2014

Have you heard of the Pogeyan? I hadn't earlier until I got this book. I must confess I had to rely on Google to tell me that the Pogeyan is a mysterious large cat which is long-tailed and has rounded ears, and uniform darkish color.

This book has been inspired by the real-life expedition by Sandesh Kadur, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, who has seen this elusive cat in the Western Ghats of India. A lot of locals also claim to have seen this creature which belongs to the cat family.

Uncle Sandy

The book talks about Uncle Sandy (inspired by Sandesh?) who likes his camera a lot.

It starts by telling us about Uncle Sandy's childhood, where he spent a lot of time reading books on magical creatures. He finally becomes a wildlife photographer while the others in the class at looking to become doctors and engineers. (Yay to this reference to a unique profession at least in the Indian context!)

As Uncle Sandy took off to the Western Ghats, he decided to search for this Cat in the Ghat. His plan is to speak to different animals there and find out where this elusive cat is.

On the way, he meets the mighty Tiger, a family of Elephants, a Barking Deer, a Lion-faced Macaque and then a clever frog, Nasikabatrachus.

He travels far and wide in the forest and finally meets a local man who claims to have seen the Pogeyan three times.

Does Uncle Sandy find the cat? Does he get the pictures of it? That's what the story is about.

What I loved about the book

1. I learned something new. I had never heard about the Pogeyan. It was fun to look up information about this creature and read about Sandesh Kadur's project with the BBC.

2. The entire book has a certain poetic feel to it without being poetry as such and had a gentle pace to it. I felt as if I was Uncle Sandy trying to find the cat.

3. Superb illustrations - Ruchi Shah has done a wonderful job illustrating Uncle Sandy and the animals and Uncle Sandy's adventures in the Western Ghats. The illustrations are funny and yet there is a sense of reality.

4. We learn about so many new creatures in the Western Ghats. I must admit I had no clue that the Western Ghats had Barking Deer and Lion-faced Macaques and of course the wonderful purple hued frog Nasikabatrachus. I think this book is a wonderful way to teach children about the kind of animals/ birds found in India

This book will be a wonderful addition to any school library or even a home library since it can be read and re-read again, thanks to the simple words, rhyming sentences, and lovely illustrations. Recommended especially if your child loves animals.

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Interview With Sandesh Kadur, the Inspiration Behind the Book 'The Cat in the Ghat'

When I finished reading the book 'The Cat in the Ghat', I was really fascinated by the Pogeyan. Then I read up on Sandesh Kadur, on whom the book is based. We decided to interview him to learn more about him and his work!

Sandesh Kadur is a renowned photographer and in 2013 was recognized by National Geographic Society as an Emerging Explorer. He also received the North American Nature Photographers (NANPA) Vision Award in recognition of early career excellence and continuation of vision and inspiration to others in nature photography, conservation, and education.

Here are his thoughts on how he got interested in wildlife photography, encouraging children to take up photography as a profession, and three things to be a successful photographer.

Thank you, for speaking to us Sandesh :)

IMC: How did you get interested in wildlife photography?

Sandesh: As a 14-year-old, I loved drawing and spent most of my time making sketches. At the same time, I liked being close to nature and spent my days and nights in the field. It was my early childhood curiosity that generated my interest in Natural History later. My father allowed me the use of his camera. It was an old manual camera which I used as a documenting tool, clicking the world around me. Before I went out with it, my father told me, “set the camera at F5.6 on a cloudy day and adjust to F11 on sunny days.” With as little information as that I used my camera to document everything from a bird to a grasshopper. Gradually, my love for the camera grew.

[pullquote]During school, biology interested me the most, but later on I got forced into the mainstream. My family sent me to the US to study hotel management. This was not what I wanted to do. But being in the US gave me a lot of freedom to explore my love for wildlife and photography[/pullquote]

During school, biology interested me the most, but later on, I got forced into the mainstream. My family sent me to the US to study hotel management. This was not what I wanted to do. But being in the US gave me a lot of freedom to explore my love for wildlife and photography. A brief stay in the US expanded my view of the world and made me realize that I could actually build a career in photography and documentary filmmaking. I started with three jobs while in college – a photojournalist at the college newspaper, a lab assistant for my research station in Mexico (Gorgas Science Foundation) during the weekdays and on the weekends I worked at a sanctuary called – Sabal Palm Grove. I earned my first camera, a NIKON 6006 out of these jobs. All three jobs were interconnected.

It was also the time when not much wildlife photography was done and the epitome was National Geographic Magazine. The pictures fascinated me and I dreamt of doing something of that scale. At that time (the early 90s) internet was in its infancy, so it was difficult to get direction about where to go. With no direction, I felt like a frog in the well, as there was no interaction with the outer world.

Sandesh Kadur

IMC: Today's parents seem to have become so much more competitive as far as their children's academics are concerned. What is your message to parents whose children want to do something different in their career (Funny that we call photography as something different, but its true I think)

[pullquote]I see a lot more parents interested in taking up photography as a hobby and as a consequence allow their children to take it one step further perhaps. [/pullquote]

Sandesh: I think…. I think, things are changing. Rather, I hope that things are changing. I see a lot more parents interested in taking up photography as a hobby and as a consequence allow their children to take it one step further perhaps. But certainly Photography is not seen as mainstream and that’s probably a good thing. I probably wouldn't be doing it if it was mainstream!

My message to parents is to allow their children to explore the world around them and develop a passion based on experience. It's only when parents are less confining and allow their kids to really immerse themselves in the vast world around them that they begin to have experiences that will all around make them a better individual. If parents can allow their children to explore what interests them, then that’s all that’s required to have kids begin to think out of the box and do things and create careers rather than conform to a career.

IMC: How do you think photography/ creating documentaries as a profession can be encouraged in children at grassroots level or school level?

[pullquote]All of us are very visual people - we are primates and as primates, one of our greatest senses is that of sight[/pullquote]

Sandesh: All of us are very visual people - we are primates and as primates, one of our greatest senses is that of sight. All of us are influenced most by what we see and photography and documentaries are simply channels by which we are exposed to a world that we may not otherwise see. Schools can add into their stringent curriculum some of these aspects that in my opinion will really provide an expansive thought process and at the same time help serve to educate and entertain young minds. I for one was certainly exposed to a lot of wildlife magazines in the form of National Geographic and was highly influenced by the images I saw. Of course, I never dreamed that I’d be making documentaries for them - but that’s another story. I hope that my work now plays a small part in influencing young minds to think and care about wildlife and the natural world.

IMC: What are the three things one needs to be a successful wildlife photographer?

[pullquote]Patience, Passion and perseverance are the essential 3 P’s in order to be a wildlife Photographer.[/pullquote]

Sandesh: Patience, Passion, and Perseverance are the essential 3 P’s in order to be a wildlife Photographer.

IMC: I am sure you would have been overjoyed when you read 'The Cat in the Ghat'. What books have inspired you as a child and what kind of books do you like reading now?

Sandesh: I don’t remember any children’s books while I was growing up the only books around me were magazines by National Geographic. I devoured every one of them. I didn’t need to be able to read the words as images transcend boundaries of language & script.

Sandesh Kadur

IMC: Lastly, Pogeyan - Tell us more about it and what were your experiences when you went to the Western Ghats in search for it?

Sandesh: The Pogeyan has come to represent the beauty and mystery of nature. The tribal people have named it the Pogeyan the cat the comes and goes like the mist very reminiscent of how the environment of the place is. It’s magical and mystical and the Pogeyan is at the center of it all and even though I never found the species again, it’s helped create an aura and an interest in people about caring for a world we know very little about. Even now, many new species are being discovered in the western ghats. That itself is amazing and a small reason why the natural world will never cease to amaze me!

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