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How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?
A dreary PS2 in a grey New Delhi, a couple of hikes in the Garhwal Himalayas and a trip to Corbett National park, and I had the epiphany of my life: being a computer scientist was clearly not for me. I returned home to Chennai to reexamine my choices, and decided to work towards joining the Master’s program at the Salim Ali School of Ecology in Pondicherry . I passed the entrance exam, but whether I would have made it through the interview had not Dr. Rauf Ali, one of the interview panelists, chosen to do no more than merely raise an enquiring eyebrow at my less-than-heavy CGPA, will always be a question in my mind.
Can you describe your work as behavioral ecologist?
In what followed, I graduated with a master’s under Rauf’s aegis, trained as a behavioral ecologist. It was my good fortune to wander the forests of southern India and the Andaman islands in search of birds and lizards during this time. ( Well, one type of lizard…a gecko actually. It was bright green and hung out on coconut leaves-RA) This was followed by a year of studying captive monitor lizards at the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust in Mammallapuram (I Do recommend a visit – its denizens of open-mouthed, apparently indifferent crocodiles and turtles in fact have a fascinating evolutionary history and resilience). From there to the cold northern climes of upstate New York for a PhD program at Syracuse University , where I continued to train as a behavioral & evolutionary ecologist and conservation biologist.
In a truly strange series of coincidences, I ended up studying decision-making behavior in bonnet macaques in the Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in southern India for my dissertation; the coincidence being that I studied the same troop of bonnets that Rauf had studied in 1976 for his PhD. Indeed, we believe one of the females he had studied was still alive, albeit very old at the time of my study 22 years later. Her thoughts on the predilections of some graduates from Pilani for staring curiously at her for hours, I am sad to report I don’t know.
As of the current moment, I am a research scientist at the Natural Resource Ecology Labs of Colorado State University. I now study patterns of herbivory and the morpho-physiological adaptations of trees in the semi-arid and arid savannas of Africa . This is a necessary detour- any biologist must needs see Africa – after all, it is the cradle- and an incredibly beautiful one. I imagine I will eventually be back in the forests of southern India , hopefully to study and work in them for the rest of my life.