Ridleys in the Big Idly – ‘Down memory lane’

Copyright: Excerpted from ‘From soup to superstar: The story of sea turtle conservation along the Indian coast’ with permission from HarperCollins Publishers.

Down memory lane

Rom’s contribution, however, goes beyond setting up these institutions and field bases. More important than the places he set up were the people he set on their way. Amongst the first persons that Rom inspired to a career in wildlife was Satish Bhaskar. Satish, never really committed to his course at the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai, was dividing his time between the beach and the snake park. When I interviewed Rom at his home in Chengalpattu, he remembered telling Bhaskar:

If you just concentrate on sea turtles, you’ll become ‘Mr Sea Turtle’. Because there’s nobody else doing it! You know, there’s Archie Carr, and there’s George Hughes, and all these people (and he was probably wondering what the hell’s this guy ranting about). But he eventually read all these reprints that we’d started collecting and getting feedback from all these fantastic, wonderful people from all over the world   sending their reprints, folded carefully, and their notes all the way to India… and that was the thing that got us excited about continuing, because there were other people doing things much more seriously than we were.

Rom gives honourable mention to the girls (his sister, Nina, Satish’s wife Brenda, Ann Joseph, Wendy Bland) at the typewriters sending letter after letter to various famous sea turtle biologists around the world – Archie Carr in Florida, George Hughes in South Africa, George Balazs in Hawaii, Jack Frazier, and others. Many of Chennai’s conservationists started their careers at the snake park or on a turtle walk. Others dedicated a few years of their life to turtles and went on with their day jobs. Satish may be the best known for his work on sea turtles, but there are many others who cut their teeth as volunteers at the snake park, to whom Rom may have said: ‘Hey man, how do you feel about cleaning out a snake pit?

Main snake enclosure at the Madras Snake Park, 1972. Image: Fred Friedel