T.N.A. Perumal's wild life photographs transport Akila Kannadasan to another world

I felt as if I was in a tent pitched deep inside the karian sholas of the Western Ghats. In reality, I was in a wildlife photographic workshop organized by the Environmental Conservation Group, SACON and the Central Academy of State Forest Services as part of Coimbatore Vizha. From the dark, makeshift viewing room, I travelled to Mudumalai and Topslip, Bandipur and Bannerghatta, as photographic masterpieces of wildlife photographer TNA Perumal flitted across the screen. Each photograph had an adventure behind it, and we sat there riveted as Perumal narrated them firsthand.

As the honorary guest, he delighted budding wildlife photographers and enthusiasts alike.

“My journey into wildlife photography started in 1960,” he began. “Those days, I believed that you needed sophisticated equipment for taking good pictures.” However, he conceded that O.C. Edwards, his school master and ‘guru', proved him wrong - with the most basic of equipment, the man had produced brilliant photographs.

Perumal was among the very few who took to the camera instead of the rifle during a time when hunting was considered a recreation. He took the audience back in time, recalling the photographic techniques followed by Jim Corbett and Edwards. Corbett, he said, used an arduous ‘trip-wire' method in which a tiger took its own picture by triggering the camera through a wire that was placed in its path. Perumal spent a major part of his life in the jungles, in close quarters with the animals he photographed. He waited for hours on end on tree branches, trundled on elephant backs, scaled dense foliage by foot, spending endless days under a scorching sun. He undertook back-breaking journeys in jeeps and pickup trucks – all for the sake of a good photograph.

Pointing at his picture of two tuskers in which one had the tip of it's trunk wrapped around the other's tusk, he said, “This was taken from the top of another elephant; the animal kept on swaying like a ship”. The trick, he said, was to click exactly when the mount came to a halt. “Elephants are one of my favourite subjects. They are almost human,” he said. Perumal's fancy for the gentle giant was evident in his pictures of a lone tusker nudging a shoot of bamboo out of its way, a herd of elephants lolling about a pond, an adolescent elephant charging at a gaur, another enjoying a scrub after a mud bath and a cow elephant and a tusker in a tender embrace.

The subject's habitat and behaviour is incorporated into his photographs. His picture of a Malabar squirrel, for example clearly depicted that the animal lived high in the trees. “I like to make a composition whenever possible. In this picture, it's the hanging branch that tells the story of the squirrel's living pattern,” he explained.

Several of the master photographer's pictures elicited oohs and aahs from the audience. One of my favourites was that of a spotted deer flaunting its velvety antelope. With light falling from behind, the animal seemed to have a halo. Photographs of a watchful animal on a rocky outcrop, a hoopoe in flight, a sunbird feeding its hatchlings, a blood-red landscape and a peacock preening it's plumage in the morning mist were breathtaking. Perumal's technique while photographing wildlife is amazing. He even makes a croc appear cuddlesome.