Remembering Baba

Zafar Futehally's daughter pays tribute to the indefatigable conservationist who passed away last month

In the early '70s, when my father started the India chapter of World Wildlife Fund (WWF), money was very tight and it must have seemed a good idea to enlist two teenage daughters for free. My beloved sister Shama, who passed away in 2004, was the one who contributed substantially and in a much more cognitive way; my role was less intellectual and consisted of stapling, typing and running out for tea and coffee. Those were the days of the large Godrej typewriter and the messy inky cyclostyling machine, so sending out the early WWF newsletters required both brains (Shama) and brawn (myself).

It was a busy, lively office, with several part-time volunteers and there was a heady atmosphere of common purpose and greater good. Naturalists like George Schaller, Paul Joslin, Toby Hodd, Steve Berwick would pass through, as did Quentin Bloxam of the Jersey Wildlife Trust; he came to pick up a lion and lioness from Junagadh Zoo for Mr (Gerald) Durrell (author), and we helped him find accommodation for them at Victoria Gardens (in Mumbai) and then fly back with them to Jersey. They were named Zai and Zafar.Quentin later informed us that, unsurprisingly, Zafar was a very good lion but Zai was naughty and troublesome.

One day, our Chennai herpetologist Rom Whitaker arrived at WWF, to ask, very nervously, for Rs 5,000 to start his snake park in Madras. He had travelled third-class in the train and was a bit out of pocket, but wanted to do the right thing by my father, a great supporter of his work and aspirations. "Zafar," he said, "may I borrow Rs 100 from you?" Baba took out his wallet and handed over a note. Rom took a step back and said formally, "May I take you out to lunch today?"

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