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A Lesser Known Royal Fact…

A question often plagues people, as to why did British hunter, tracker, naturalist and author Edward James Corbett (July 25, 1875 – April 19, 1955), known to the world as Jim Corbett or JC, leave India on more of a silent note? Arup Roychowdhury, an Indian Environmentalist, tried his best to find an answer to it in 1982-83. While going through Tree Tops – the last of Corbett’s books, and the only one not set in India, but Kenya, he came across two names: Princess Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. It may be noted that Corbett was at the Treetops, a hut built on the branches of a giant Ficus tree, as the bodyguard of Princess Elizabeth II, when she stayed there on February 5-6, 1952. That night, her father, King George VI (December 14, 1895 – February 2, 1952) died, and Elizabeth II ascended to the throne. Corbett wrote in the hotel’s visitors’ register: “For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day a Princess, and after having what she described as her most thrilling experience, she climbed down from the tree the next day as a Queen! God bless her.

Without giving much thought to it, the Environmentalist had sent a letter to Prince Philip. He had the idea that he would receive no reply from the Buckingham Palace. Well… Roychowdhury had been mistaken… he received a letter within a week. Soon after a postman handed over the envelope to him, the Indian realised that it had come from the British Royal Family and the sender was Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II!

Prince Philip

In his hand-written letter to Roychowdhury, Prince Philip stated that although he had met Corbett, he did not get a chance to know him, properly… the Indian environmentalist composed an article for a Bengali daily after the demise of Prince Philip on April 9, 2021 in which he said that the letter spoke of aristocracy, as well as grace and poise that unmistakably pertain to Royal behaviour. Prince Philip had further written to him: “Never lose faith in yourself. Remember, we are all children of Mother Nature.” Roychowdhury admitted that he had experienced a profound generosity and kindness that are rarely found in a man in that letter.

The Prince could not help him with further information about Corbett… however, he still remembered Roychowdhury. It was later that the Prince introduced him to Martin Booth (September 7, 1944 – February 12, 2004), a British novelist, screenwriter and film-maker. Booth did get to meet Roychowdhury upon his arrival in India. During their meeting, he also informed the environmentalist that the purpose of his visit was to pen a book on Corbett. According to Booth, Prince Philip had asked him to meet Roychowdhury as the latter carried out a research on Corbett. Booth did not forget to send a copy of his self-signed book, with a Christmas card, to the Indian after the book was published in 1986.

Biography of Jim Corbett signed by Prince Philip

Prince Philip also contacted Roychowdhury quite a few times thereafter, and expressed sincere interest in India’s wildlife, environment and nature. Upon his passing away, the Global Community has lost an honest environmentalist.

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