Baba informs me, using his amputated forearm as a reference to the size. Donning a scarlet kurta with a mustard-coloured lungi and a pair of hawaai chappals that are about to give up, Sitaram Das, aka Baba, leads me to a mugger Crocodylus palustris, which is reportedly basking in a paddy field. Baba’s looks can be deceiving as there’s more to what meets the eye. He can be a Baba and a sought-after naturalist in a matter of sentences.
We’ve been in the fields for hours now but there’s no trace of the mugger yet. While Baba strides forward with ease, I struggle to keep up. “It is a lethargic animal that gets tired easily and sometimes it takes days to move,” he quips, indicating that we may be moments away from finding it. “Six months ago, during the summers, a female mugger had laid around 20 eggs. It takes about two months for the eggs to hatch,” he adds. During our conversation, Baba casually passes on a great deal of species-specific behavioural and nesting observations. The knowledge, attained in the wild through many years of observation, would perhaps impress the likes of John Thorbjarnarson even more. Inquisitive as I was, I asked about the people who were specially trained a few years ago to perform this task. “I don’t know, perhaps they’ve been trained to be scared,” he jokes.
We are in the Kotmi Sonar village of Chhattisgarh in the Janjgir-Champa district, 150 km. northeast of the