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Banerjee in his later years
12 August 1908|
Baharampur, West Bengal, India
|Died||6 August 2003(aged 94)|
|Occupation||environmentalist, painter, photographer, documentary filmmaker|
|Awards||Padma Shri (1971)|
Robin Banerjee was born on 12 August 1908 at Baharampur in West Bengal and received primary schooling at Santiniketan. He went on to pursue medical education at the prestigious Calcutta Medical College in Kolkata, and later at Liverpool (1934) and Edinburgh (1936).
Banerjee had joined the Royal Navy in 1937 at Liverpool, and saw action in World War II. After the war, Banerjee decided to move back to India. In 1952, he visited Assam as a locum-tenens to a Scottish doctor. in 1952 he joined Chabua Tea Estate, Assam, as Chief Medical Officer, and later moved to the Dhansiri Medical Association, Bokakhat as the Chief Medical Officer.
During a visit to Kaziranga National Park some time in the 1950s, Banerjee fell in love with the wilds of Assam and decided to settle down at Golaghat, near Kaziranga. Banerjee's first film on the Kaziranga National Park (one of the most important refuges of the Indian rhinoceros) on Berlin TV in 1961 was one of the first widely distributed media items on the park to reach Western audiences. It also garnered him international recognition as a wildlife film-maker. He made 32 documentaries in his career as a film-maker, and was the recipient of 14 international awards.
Banerjee remained a bachelor, and worked actively as an environmentalist besides his film-making career. Well known and loved among the local community as "Uncle Robin", he donated lands for setting up the local school, and health camps. He was particularly active regarding issues concerning Kaziranga National Park and was the founder of the non-governmental organization Kaziranga Wildlife Society, which actively protects the interests of the park.
Recognition and remembrance
He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1971, an honorary Doctorate of Science from Assam Agricultural University (AAU) in 1991, and also an honorary Ph.D. from Dibrugarh University. A book based on his life and experiences has been written in Assamese named "Xeujia Xopunar Manuh".
Robin Banerjee died at his residence suffering from old age ailments on 6 August 2003. The pyre of Dr Banerjee was lit by his caretaker Jitoo Tamuli. The cremation was attended by Assam Minister of State for Tourism Ajanta Neog. The Golaghat district administration declared a half-holiday in memory of Banerjee.
Robin Banerjee told everyone, "Think twice before you kill an animal, think twice before you catch a butterfly, think before you cut a tree, because it may be the last member of the species that is left in the world."[this quote needs a citation]
Uncle Robin's Museum
Banerjee's house on Mission Road in Golaghat is a tourist spot for wildlife lovers and, in 2009, was converted into a natural history museum and contains a large number of his photographs and paintings. It is named Uncle Robin's Museum, containing natural history items from all over India (especially Kaziranga), and other personal collections of Robin Banerjee, including a set of toys from across the world that he collected.
Robin Banerjee altogether made 32 documentaries, as listed below:
- Kaziranga (50 min)
- Wild Life of India (35 min)
- Rhino Capture (30 min)
- A Day at Zoo (45 min)
- Elephant Capture (20 min)
- Monsoon (20 min)
- Nagaland (30 min)
- Echidna, & On Wild Fowls (Australia)
- Lake Wildness (35 min)
- 26 January (India) (40 min)
- Flying Reptiles of Indonesia (50 min)
- Through These Doors (35 min)
- Animals of Africa (50 min)
- Underwater (50 min)
- Peace Game (30 min)
- Flowers of Africa (40 min)
- Adventures of Newfoundland (45 min)
- Dragons of Komodo Island (35 min)
- Underwater World of Snakes (50 min)
- White Wings in Slow Motion (winner of the Madame Pompidou Award) (60 min)
- The World of Flamingo (50 min)
- Wild but Friendly (55 min)
- Birds of Africa (45 min)
- Dresden (60 min)
- My Nature (60 min)
- Birds of India (50 min)
- Wild Flowers of the world (45 min)
- The Monarch Butterfly of Mexico (60 min)
- Alaskan Polar Bear (180 min)
- In the Pacific (55 min)
- Call of the Blue Pacific part I & II (45 min)
- So They May Survive (40 min)
- 1971: Padma Shri
- 1991: Honorary Doctorate of Science from Assam Agril University, Jorhat
- 1994: Honorary PhD from Dibrugarh University
- 2001: 'Prakiti Konwar' from Prakiti (an NGO), Jorhat, Assam
- 2001: Service to Society through individual excellence NECCL, Guwahati, Assam
- Swati Mitra, ed. (2011), Assam Travel Guide, Delhi: Eicher Goodearth, p. 107, ISBN 978-93-80262-04-8
- "Uncle Robin’s dream finally takes shape - DoNER ministry to preserve and turn wildlife expert’s house into nature tourism hub", The Telegraph (India), 12 August 2009. Retrieved 2 January 2017.