Saad Bin Jung, author and activist, tells how after a fleeting romance with cricket, he fell prey to the charms of wildlife and the tribals

One can’t help but notice the stark resemblance he bears to his maternal uncle, Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi . His unkempt salt and pepper hair complements his look and when he talks about his various projects he is like a school kid just back from his first trip to the zoo.

Saad Bin Jung hails from the erstwhile royal families of Bhopal, the Pataudis, and the aristocratic family of Paigah of Hyderabad. It was natural that he grew up with cricket and a love for wildlife. He is a low-key royal who prefers to work silently with the tribals in the jungles of Kabini. Like his uncle, he played cricket but retired when he was the peak of his career.

“I had seen everything in cricket,” says Saad, “the fame, the money, the treatment, and yet chose to retire early. Not that I wasn't playing well, but the calling was different. For two years I was in the hospital because of an illness and after that I played for a while and decided to retire from the sport which earned me international recognition.”

Saad can keep his audience engaged with the wonderful stories of his childhood and his adventures in the wild, but there is a serious side to him as well. When he comes to the topic of jungles and tribal living his tone quickly shifts to that of an activist. Living in the jungle and working for the tribals, Saad clearly feels their plight. While he is a conservationist, he also demands, “How do these people who were living and eating from the jungle live if they are banned from entering the forest? They aren’t the cause of deforestation. Where is the alternative for them? The same government who is banning them from entering the forests isn’t providing them with a means to make life liveable for them. Where do these people go?”

Saad chose to make the jungle his home because of the family disputes that arose when the privy purses were abolished. Royals had to live solely off their properties. “That decision of the government hit my parents first,” says Saad. “There was a lot to be done and salaries to be paid, added to this was the disputes which happen in any big family. We are four brothers and all of us decided to be on our own.”

The decision, he says, wouldn’t have been easy if it wasn’t for his wife. Sangeeta, Saad says, was more than happy to take up the work of conservation and helping the tribals. He adds, “From far it looked easy, once into it, the task looked daunting. Their interaction with the outside world was so less that they wouldn’t trust anyone and why should they? What have they been given?”

The slow task had to be approached one step at a time, first gaining their trust and then explaining the reasons to improve the people’s welfare. “We started by adopting 1000 houses at a time and from each family we would train one member for a livelihood. This member goes out, works and sends money home. Once they knew we didn’t mean harm or our motive was not to uproot them from their dwellings they accepted us with open arms,” beams Saad.

Saad says he and wife are glad that they faced the problems initially or else they wouldn’t have known or understood the plight of the people.

Subhan and I

In Hyderabad to launch his book and also showcase his son's wildlife photography at the Chowmahalla Palace, Saad explains the story behind Subhan and I: My Adventure with the Angling Legend of India.

After cricket, conservation and social work, Saad loves the sport of angling and in his book he pays tribute to Subhan, whom he regards as the Don Bradman of angling. “Subhan and I went on several angling trips and he is one of the world’s best anglers. While the world is ready to recognise him and his ability in the sport, his own country looks the other way. It is against this challenging backdrop that two men — Subhan and me — from socially different backgrounds battle hard to outwit and land the elusive mahseer in the turbulent waters of River Cauvery.” The book is a treasure trove of information on angling and life in the bush, and it is also about the trials faced by two men lost in the madness of trying to save the mahseer against all odds.