| OBE ODE: Belinda Wright with parents Bob and Anne at Kipling’s Camp, in Kanha
One family, united “For God and the Empire”. But the Wrights — Bob, Anne and Belinda: husband, wife and daughter — who have all been honoured with the Order of the British Empire — have chosen a life in service of their home country rather than their hereditary one.
The Wrights have enjoyed their place in the Calcutta social spotlight. Both Anne and Bob have relinquished British roots for the country they call home. The Empire, however, has acknowledged their contribution with this honour, considered “the order of chivalry of the British democracy”. Starting with Anne in the early 80s, who was conferred the title of “Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire” or MBE, the next in line was Robert Hamilton Wright — or Bob — in 1988, with the “Officer of the Order of the British Empire” or OBE. The most recent is Belinda, who was honoured with the OBE earlier this month.
Belinda, born in Calcutta in 1953, launched a crusade against tiger poaching and the shahtoosh trade, and in 1994, founded the Delhi-based Wildlife Protection Society of India. The conservation activist, who started as a wildlife photographer freelancing with National Geographic, has made her dramatic mark, going undercover — disguised as a buyer, and even as a man — to bust the tiger trade.
She is yet undecided whether to make the trip to Buckingham Palace to receive — as her father did 15 years ago — the “gilt medal medallion of Britannia, encircled by the motto ‘For God and the Empire’ set in red enamel…” (according to the Crown’s official website). “I want to make it a bit more desi,” laughs Belinda, the winner of two Emmy awards for Land of the Tiger in 1985. “The award is for my colleagues and the subjects of our work as well.”
She now runs conservation activities in 14 states, with around 150 cases against violators pending in courts across the country. A picture of Belinda and Bill Cinton shaking hands hangs on the wall at her parents’ Tollygunge Club ‘penthouse’. “She was appointed to brief him about the tiger situation in India,” recalls Anne. “He didn’t want to let go of her hand!” laughs Bob.
Belinda’s love for animals is, by all accounts, something that started when she was just a child. Perhaps it was inherited from her mother. Born in 1929, Anne, whose father was an ICS officer, grew up in the “wild” Madhya Pradesh. She earned the MBE for her efforts to preserve India’s environmental heritage, as founder-trustee of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), India, in the late 1960s. At 74, she is still actively involved with numerous environmental causes. Anne and Bob fondly remember lunches with Indira Gandhi, one of the “greatest assets” to environmental issues.
Though both Anne and Bob have, like most other ‘sahibs’ of their time, dabbled in “social hunting”, that stopped once they saw “the animals disappearing around them”. Bob, too, shares his daughter’s love for the wild, spending time every month at his “baby”, Kipling’s Camp, a semi-commercial retreat in the Kanha reserve. But that is not what won the 79-year-old the honour from the Crown.
It was his dedicated service to British citizens in India. Bob has headed the British Citizen’s Association for years, serves on the board of Dr Graham’s Homes, Kalimpong, and spends much time working with the East India Charitable Trust.
The verdant view from Wrights’ south Calcutta home may belie such commitment. Leiba and Kimmy, elderly spaniels, and Becky, a golden lab, are their pets here. But at Kanha, two dogs keep company with an elegant elephant, Tara, and the playmates of Belinda’s youth were animals of a wilder kind.
“We took our tiger to a party once, where Cary Grant was present… But we had to let her go when she got bigger. They can be quite dangerous with kids around,” smiles Anne.
Polo was once their passionate pastime, “wicked evenings” at Firpo’s and The Golden Slipper cherished memories. In memory, cushy comforts fight for space with the wild jungles. Perhaps that is what keeps the Wright family’s fire burning.