A story of disciplined passion begins at the age of only thirteen, and four years later, it’s only growing more impactful, soaring high while standing its ground strong. On Children’s Day, we bring you the story of Dheeraj M. Nanda, an 11th grade student who is a wildlife and underwater photographer.
Dheeraj’s father and brother had been into photography, and the art of making images was something that Dheeraj was acquainted to at a very young age. When he expressed his own interest in photography, his parents were very supportive of him instead of advising him to concentrate only on academia. His father started looking out for photography courses for kids and soon found Toehold Kids Workshops and Camps.
After attending a Kids Workshop, Dheeraj was so inspired that he started following the work of the masters at Toehold, and kept an eye out on their Kids Camps and Tours. He soon signed up for the Bandipur and Mudumalai Photo Tour without much ado.
“Until then, I had only been on family tours,” says Dheeraj. “But I always wanted to do more and different. Most of my friends were into gaming but I wanted to spend time on learning.”
Dheeraj says he loves the range of destinations to which Toehold offers kids tours, which makes them unique, and it has bolstered his passion for adventure and photography.
He continues, “I have always loved being outdoors. Observing animals in their home on wildlife safaris means so much learning. I go back home and read everything I can about them and their behaviour in their natural habitat.”
He says this is how he has been practising wildlife photography for the past four years. He took an advanced scuba diving course in 2012, which propelled him to take up underwater photography seriously for the past year, discovering the diverse underwater species. “It’s exhilarating,” he beams.
In the near future, Dheeraj wants to try aerial photography. And the 11th grader is already clear about what he wants to do in life while keeping his current academic interest intact, by scoring above-average marks. He also wants to contribute to wildlife conservation through his travel and photography experiences.
Explains Dheeraj, “I want to create awareness in young minds, as animals need more protection and care to be saved from the damage we do to the environment with our lifestyle choices.”
One cannot ignore the unconditional support Dheeraj’s parents are capable of. His mother is a professor and his father, a businessman turned traveller-and-explorer himself.
Testifies Dheeraj, “They never force me into anything, really; I am not pestered to be the topper in my class. As long as my marks stay above average, they don’t make me think about academics more than necessary.” With a chuckle, he adds, “In fact, I do more of photography homework every day than anything else.”
Dheeraj’s most memorable experience in the wild has been going on Toehold’s Kenya Tour. He says that everything about the Tour was planned perfectly.
He elucidates, “We were so comfortable with one another throughout. The Skippers never let anyone down, never compared one’s skills to another’s, but instead, encouraged us to first learn what we were going to do and then actually do it. I don’t know of any other travel company offering kids tours to Kenya. When I first learned of the tour, I went through the website thoroughly and asked my parents if they would send me there. My dad and brother had been there before but after I came back from the Tour, I must say that I have had the best pictures of the wildlife there!”
Dheeraj likes how being in the wild, even if it’s the same forest, the experience is never the same.
“I have been to Kabini about five times,” he explains, “and it’s amazing how each time it felt like a new experience. There’s always something new to learn. The forest sweetly compels one to be adventurous and keep one’s senses alert, and the curiosity never ends.”
When asked what photography means to him, Dheeraj tells us, “Photography helps me express my vision – of what I see at a particular moment – and also all the analysis the mind performs, the thought that’s put into making it a special memory after an inspiring vision. It’s fascinating how all this happens in a split second. One photographer always sees something very differently from another.”
Dheeraj foresees a long-lasting relationship with Toehold. He says, “I make sure that I go on at least two Toehold Camps every year. Such expeditions inspire me. The Camps are organised flawlessly and it’s not just about photography, but mostly about enjoying the sightings first, followed by a lot of learning.”
Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Goa and the Andaman islands are some of the places Dheeraj wants to visit in the coming days, mostly for underwater photography, and we wish that he gets to tread his planned path into a glorious future just the way he envisages it.