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She was very good-looking, still is," K. Ullas Karanth smiles. “Likewise," says his wife, Prathibha, when asked what first drew them to each other. “We were two people full of zest for life," she says. He is a well-known conservation scientist and tiger biologist and she is a speech language pathologist who has designed intervention programmes for children with autism spectrum disorders.

Their marriage of 39 years began three years after they first met through his sister in 1971. Born to Kannada writer Kota Shivaram Karanth, an iconoclast who married out of his clan in 1936, Ullas met with no objections from his family. Prathibha had to convince her mother for a marriage outside the Bunt community (from the Udupi and Dakshina Kannada districts of Karnataka).

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By the time their financial situation stabilized in 1988, when he got a job with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Ullas started travelling to the forest. “From 1988-96, I was a weekend husband," he recalls. “It was tough on them (Prathibha and daughter Krithi, who was born in 1979). I am obsessive when it comes to work," says Ullas. For Prathibha it was more lonely than difficult.

A DEMOCRACY OF TWO: Prathibha: It’s never what one of us wants. We talk and resolve everything. Ullas: The biggest decisions are made in less than half an hour.
WIDE ANGLE, SHARP FOCUS: Prathibha: It’s a sore point. I do all of the work at home. He’s theoretically open and genuinely so, but never manages to implement it. Ullas: I am trying to mend my ways at 64.
CROSS-CURRENTS: Prathibha: He is reactive and I take a while to build anger up. It works, else we’d both be fighting all the time.

Ullas is irked by the holiday career people make wildlife to be. “One needs to study these fields. You can’t just turn up in a forest on a weekend or gather a few kids and be cute," says Ullas.

DO NOT OPEN: They talk about everything.

Prathibha travels with friends in the travel group Women on Wanderlust (WOW). “I have gone to the forest as a tourist and admire it like any intelligent person who understands conservation does, but that’s it. I know what I vibe with," she says. “I am just happy the pressure is off me," he says, relieved he doesn’t have to take time off for the annual holiday.

“We are strong personalities. If I was in wildlife, I would have been very competitive there," she says.

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