Mumbai: Unknown to many, India's renowned cardiac surgeon Dr Ramakanta Panda - who performed a heart bypass surgery on former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh 10 years ago - harbours a private and consuming passion: Wildlife and nature photography.
Emerging from the sanitised confines of his Asian Heart Institute (AHI) in Mumbai, Panda has for the first time unveiled a selection of around 30 awesome photographs at the three-day DCP Fourth Grant Annual Photography Exhibition in neighbouring Thane.
The collection spans rare, exotic birds and animals in their natural habitat, including a bewildered owlet, a pair of frolicking flamingos and a couple of tigers silently on the prowl, blissfully unaware of a quiet Panda on their trail to "shoot" them with a camera click.
With photography, an almost obsessive passion, every month, Panda, 63, sheds his operation theatre garb and slips into jungle casuals. Armed with his Nikon camera system, he then indulges in "shoot-outs" to produce stunning images of nature and its creations.
Though preferring groups of like-minded wildlife enthusiasts - occasionally, his daughter Sonal accompanies him on his jungle sojourns - since the past two decades, he has emerged as a "serious" wildlife and nature photographer since the past five years.
He especially loves to "kill stress" by clicking in and around Mumbai, the Chilka Lake in Odisha (his home state), the Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan and the Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh. He has also "shot" in Africa, among other locations.
"If you look around, it is amazing to see the bird life in Mumbai; ditto with Chilka Lake. Kanha is the best-maintained wildlife sanctuary in India," says Panda with a grin, describing himself as "a self-taught photographer, learning from blunders".
"At one point in time, India was blessed with the richest wildlife. But unfortunately, in the past few decades, the wildlife population is virtually decimated due to various reasons," a concerned Panda told IANS.
However, he is grateful to the consistent efforts of many dedicated wildlife conservationists and enthusiasts owing to which the jungles are gradually getting enlivened again.
Recounting a memorable jungle experience, he said once in Kanha, he was informed that a famed male tiger, Munna, was so smart that the moment he espied a tracking elephant or tourist vehicles, he would quickly emerge from the forests.
"That is exactly what happened. When Munna saw our vehicle and the tracking elephant, he leapt out of the forest, came in front and quietly sat down for nearly half an hour. Like in a professional modelling shoot, he gave us all possible angles and poses and we returned delighted," Panda smiled.
Asked what is more difficult - wildlife photography or heart surgery - Panda replied: "Both are easy or difficult, depending on how you look at it. Sometimes, when I sit for hours to get that perfect shot, I start thinking that surgery is probably easier."
He has over 20,000 heart surgeries under his belt and a portfolio of over 10,000 wildlife-nature photographs.
Making his own contribution to the conservation efforts, Panda said that proceeds from the sale of his photographs would go towards funding an ambulance service for wildlife through an NGO, Resqink Association for Wildlife Welfare (RAWW).
The exhibition, which will run till Sunday, altogether features another 350 works from 150 photographers around India and is proving to be a big draw.
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