He may be a top corporate professional. A Member of Parliament. A Cricket buff. A community leader. He can afford and avail of holidays anywhere in the world but for Parimal Nathwani, Sasan Gir is what gives him the maximum solace. And this is not a new phenomenon cultivated after creating wealth or professional recognition. “When I was nothing, a very common citizen of India, I used to come here by bus or train and stay for days together. These lions of Gir give me an unimaginable peace and satisfaction of being one with nature”, says Parimalbhai or PN as he is known.
Gir is the only abode of Asiatic lions in the world and now Parimalbhai is also constructing a home there to spend more time observing his favourite animals in the wilderness. Sasan Gir, as he calls it is ” Point of Peace”. Amidst the chirping of birds, the soothing breeze, the silence of the wilderness that pauses only with lion roars; Parimalbhai feels at home, here.
Ï belong to Jam Khambaliya. I would often travel these 215 kilometers in whatever means of transport available to me, he recalls. More than 35 years seem to have elapsed in a blink of an eye, for Parimalbhai visiting Gir regularly. Most shop keepers from Rajshree cha and nashta, to the trackers and forest keepers of Gir, know Parimalbhai and talk of his humility and contribution in the conservation of the lions.
Now Parimalbhai is President, Corporate Affairs with Reliance,(again another family with his close ties to Dhirubhai Ambani from whose vision, he humbly admits to having grown in life), a Rajya Sabha MP from Telangana, a philanthropist and community leader. Life has changed but that has not changed his love and attachment for Sasan Gir and the Lions of Gujarat.
“Bov thayu, have maru Ghar j Gir maa hovu joiye” (enough. Now I should have a home in Gir”), the wildlife enthusiast Parimalbhai told Vibes of India. He doesn’t need much company. “There are around 700 lions in Gir. Observing them, working for their conversation, enhancing facilities for them as special lion ambulances gives me enough work”, he smiles.
Reminiscing how 35 years ago, he could not afford a dry cleaner, he says he would move around the jungle after coming by a normal State transport bus, then wash his clothes and stay in a cheap accommodation where every night tariff was Rs 10 inclusive of all taxes.
His lovely bond with Gir and its Pride, the Asiatic lions begins this way and sustains till today. Under the aegis of Reliance, Parimalbhai has constructed and still, plans are on to have at least 3000 modernised wells that can ensure that no lion falls in it. We at Vibes of India didn’t know that when lions walk in the nights, they look straight or upwards and risk falling in the wells. This issue has been taken care of by Parimalbhai.
Secondly, the Maldharis who live there has an unexplainable bond with the lions who often eat away their cattle. Still, they worship the lions and refuse to move out. Parimalbhai respects this bond and wants to ensure that even the next coming generations abide by it.
Now, he can sip tea at the super five stars but Parimalbhai says that he still remembers the taste of the one rupee chai he used to have at Rajashri. The Rajashri tea owner tells Vibes of India, “Parimalbhai is still the same man. He knows all workers and villagers by name. For us also he is like family only. Money or exposure has not changed him at all”, they equivocally say. So much is Parimalbhai in love with the Lions that he even proposed to the government of India to replace our existing national animal (tiger) with lion as the national animal. His justification is very valid. It is only India that has these lions. Even our preamble, constitution, the Asoka stambh has lions in it.
To mark the National Wild Life Week that began on October 2, Parimalbhai shared a special 15-minute documentary Gir Lion: My First Love. This documentary is available for Vibes of India viewers here: About three years back, Parimal Nathwani also wrote a book called ‘Gir Lion: Pride of Gujarat’. Because of Government and Parimalbhai’s personal attention, the population of Gir lions has gone up from 30 to 700 in these last few decades. “
Nathwani has taken a vow to give back to the lions their rightful place in the jungle. “Lion is the king here and this jungle is no more sufficient for them. “Aa jungle have nanu pade chhe.”. Because of people encroaching on natural habitats, the jungle residents have no option but to venture out. “Also during recent cyclones, over three lac trees fell down in the jungle and we had to write to the Government for aid, If trees fall down, they block the lions inside a confined place and this way also the jungle starts getting smaller. Due to issues of the Gir Lion sanctuary being small in size, there have been proposals to shift the lions to Madhya Pradesh or even within Gujarat. But Parimalbhai strongly believes, “this is the lion home. Sasan Gir is the Lion King’s home. Do we have the moral right to uproot them from their homes? Instead, we should think of expanding the jungle here only”.
The word lion conjures up an image of a wild creature that is meant to harm human life and livestock. But the lions in Sasan Gir live in harmony with the locals. “Instead of shifting them, we can create more space for these lions. We don’t need to relocate people as maldharis in the area are in complete harmony with lions. Even if a lion harms their livestock, villagers don’t express resentment. The Forest department reimburses them. When it comes to harming human life, lions only harm when we attack or harm them. “Jungle ma mangal karvu hoi to sinh ne jayya aapvi j pade.”
His concern over the fatal deaths of the Lion, due to train and vehicle accidents, falling in the open well made him work towards the betterment of the royal lion-king. He along with Reliance Group of Industries covered 2,000 open wells with grills on all four sides preventing accidents during the nighttime. “Our target is to cover 3,000 wells and safeguard lions from falling in it.”
The cases of lions being hit by trains is another issue Nathwani is working upon. “Trains in Gir come with a fixed speed and that’s the reason that it becomes difficult to save lions. I had put up this issue to the Railway Department and we were told that they might revise the speed limit of trains to safeguard lions. This needs to be implemented better and we are working on it.”
In addition, a well-equipped lion hospital with state-of-the-art infrastructure and a well-qualified team of doctors for protecting the lion family, are also in place. “Healthcare facilities are over 3 km away from the main jungle and before lions reach the centre, they are dead. We wanted to work on this issue and so we got ambulances where lions can be treated even on their way and better healthcare facilities.”