When Karthi adopted Namrata, the white tiger at the Vandalur Zoo in 2011 and donated money towards her maintenance expenses, we were thrilled to see this caring side to his personality. As part of this exclusive photo shoot for our sister publication Southscope, Karthi opens up about his love for nature and wildlife, his travel adventures and more.
“It all started with my liking for Geography. Our geography teacher used to bring pictures and maps of places and literally bring geography to life. It was very exciting to learn about diverse cultures, habits, regions and people. I used to score well in Geography – always above 70%. The very thought of meeting strangers and talking to them would excite me a lot. And with time, I started liking history too. I was curious even as a child, and would always insist, ‘Tell me more…’
I was never satisfied with just a few details. I would want the whole picture. This was true particularly of World War 2. Remember how it is always exciting to hear an incident or a story from a grandparent? Well, I still remember my grandfather telling us how his uncle used to describe all that happened during World War 2 with the help of maps,” says Karthi.
It is but obvious that Karthi nurtured a love of nature, wildlife and travel even as a child. “I have always loved the outdoors. For our summer vacations, I always looked forward to visiting my grandmother in Coimbatore. I would insist on travelling in the second class compartment and not first class. I still remember all that time I spent traveling on the doorstep of the train speaking to the TTR or a family or a vendor. I used to love being among people,” he says. I am reminded of the saying, ‘The world is a book, and those who don’t travel only read one page.’ I ask Karthi for his most inspiring definition of travel and he quotes Robert Williams of Good Will Hunting. “I am reminded of this conversation between Will and Sean, where he explains that unless you have lived your experiences yourself, you won’t be able to comprehend things. It is a very, very inspiring dialogue relevant for travel.”
Karthi’s initiation into wildlife travel came through his good friend actor Sathyan. “Sathyan is a close family friend. We all grew up together. Once for the vacations, we went to his village of Madhampatti near Coimbatore. His ancestors were Zamindars and I had seen photographs of several of them posing near various animals killed during their hunting trips – a lion, bison, tiger or a bear. I don’t support hunting at all but the concept of going into a forest is what excites me immensely. We went on a safari ride in a local jeep. And just when we were entering the forest, we could sense elephants on both the sides of the road, walking amid the dense foliage. We were half way up there and were told to go back because the elephants could come on to the road at any time and it could all get very risky then. I remember feeling very scared for the first time. I could feel the elephants all around me already. Indeed, bears and elephants with their calves can be very dangerous,” he says.
Mention Top Slip and Karthi’s eyes light up. “If someone asked me to choose between going to Kulu-Manali or Top Slip, I would pick Top Slip in a heartbeat. As little children, we obviously weren’t allowed to go anywhere alone. But from my 8th grade onwards, I started travelling alone or with a group of close friends. The one experience I remember vividly is of being fed up one day of not getting to see a leopard, panther or tiger on one of our trips. We had got special permission from forest officials on that trip. I was walking in the forest calmly, when I saw something pop out from behind the grasslands. As I approached closer, I spotted a leopard, which upon seeing me, ran away…well, not so much ran away, but sauntered off! I was so excited. And just when I was about to go down the hills, I saw a bear cub running towards me, and moments later I saw the mother running after it. I was a little scared but couldn’t help thinking, ‘Man, what a day…!”
About dream trips, Karthi says that he wishes to go an African wild safari and also witness the monsoon migration. “It’s a beautiful sight from an altitude, to see huge groups of animals migrate. I have seen pictures shared by wildlife photographer friends of mine and it seems like heaven.”
Karthi is not the sort to relentlessly click pictures all through his safaris and adventure holidays. “For a while, I was also clicking away, but then I realised that I was never able to enjoy the sights entirely. By the time I see something marvelous in the forests, click a picture and tell someone, ‘Look what a beautiful thing it is,’ I have already lost that moment without enjoying it entirely.”
Karthi continues, “From New York to New Orleans – from the north to the south crossing North Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi, I have travelled the length and breadth of the US of A with my friends. I had a friend who wanted to see another friend and thus the chain built up. We started in the winter and as we drove down, the landscape changed completely. From snow to the plains and the sands. We noticed the change in food, the portions etc. The chicken down south was the best.
One of the highlights of the trip was that I drove all through. Although we decided that we would take turns to drive, none of the others were as deft in driving.” The worst travel experience for Karthi is undoubtedly the trip to Poland to shoot for Saguni. “We wanted to shoot in the beginning of Fall, but when we reached Poland, the weather had completely changed. The sun would rise at 8 and set by 3.30. It was misty right through. We had to travel long distances for the shoot, for hours together. And we hadn’t exactly packed for the winter. It was cold all the time. We had to get a mountain shot. And we could get it only when the breeze stopped. It was so cold that even standing around was difficult. But the DOP couldn’t budge and he held the camera to get the shot,” he adds.
Karthi loves visiting Kerala, Mudhumalai, Wayanad and Kulu-Manali. “You can spot huge bisons in the forests in Kerala. Shola forests are a beautiful sight here, and the purple leaves are a sight to behold. Believe me, this place looks like Scotland. There are lots of virgin forests. I remember going into a forest and seeing a huge bison. It was right in the centre. Standing there, looking at the majestic animal, I was reminded of a scene from a film where the protagonist comes in search of a bull and chances upon a valley infested with bulls!”
He continues, “It makes me very sad when forests are cleared to make way for people and plantations. Did you now that young tribal boys are employed the most by forest officials? And they literally risk their lives every day. They are taken into temporary jobs and face huge threats in areas where illegal cultivations or deforestations happen. If they are caught as a witness, they cannot come back alive. And still, they risk their lives each day, because they know nothing else, except the forests. We need to provide them with protective gear at the very least,” he says. Karthi is also concerned about the vandalism and littering that takes place in monuments of great importance. “You find these plastic bottles and rubbish everywhere. You visit the Taj Mahal and can’t help but notice that the surroundings are very dirty. Yet, Taj Mahal is the only beautiful object there. In summer, your feet cannot touch the marble floors there. Even then the beauty of the monument is priceless.”
The original version of this article was first published in our sister publication Southscope, India’s leading south film magazine.