That Guy: Roshan Patel travels the world

Roshan Patel is talented, playful and creative. Glossy pictures of elephants, zebras and young children laughing on a dirt road hang from the wall of his dorm room, defying the rules of time — moments frozen in frames which serve as fond reminders of his summer in Kenya and family trips back to India. They grant us a series of small windows into a place where existence is tenuous and not to be taken for granted, vignettes of afternoons in an African village, or a rhino’s alertness when it suspects itself being photographed. There is no doubt these snapshots are beautiful, but the man responsible for them is even more captivating. This week’s That Guy regales us with stories of winning a wife, tracking the grieving habits of elephants and getting slapped by a monkey.

p. **Where did you grow up?**

p. I was actually born in Williamsburg, at the Sentara that W&M is now tearing down, and lived here for a whole 10 days. We moved to Danville, Va. and that’s where I’ve grown up and lived since. My parents both grew up in India, so we try to go back every few years to visit all our extended family and see the village.

p. **When did you start taking photos or realize it was something you were passionate about?**

p. I actually only started becoming interested in photography after coming to college. Our family used to go on vacations all the time and I always ended up being the one taking pictures, and after one of our trips I realized that it was something I really had fun with. Unfortunately there aren’t really photography classes at W&M so I had to do research and teach myself a lot about it, but I think that made me more and more passionate about it.

p. **Do you think you want to do something related to photography after you graduate?**

p. Yes, actually. I don’t want to be a photographer necessarily, but I have thought a lot about what pictures can do. I want to teach photography to elementary school students to get them more involved with wildlife and the world around them.

p. **Out of the photos you’ve taken, what would you say is your favorite?**

p. Wow, I’ve never really thought about that before. I guess the picture I like the most is actually of a hippo. While I was in Kenya I was taught to never go near hippos. The one time I did, I took this picture of one of the hippos just showing his teeth, which was probably one of the most frightening experiences I’ve ever had. But it made for a good picture.

p. **Kenya? What were you doing there?**

p. I was there teaching photography to get the school more involved with their forest and I was also helping a couple of researchers by taking pictures as they followed elephant migration, which was a very fascinating experience.

p. **Is that why you love elephants?**

p. Before Kenya, I actually was a little bit ambivalent with elephants. I liked them, but I wasn’t fascinated. But there’s something very powerful about the way they express themselves that makes it impossible to be ambivalent. We also spent a lot of our observation time studying grieving behaviors (the rituals surrounding the death of an elephant) which was something I’ve never really seen in other species, but makes it very easy to connect, at least on some level, with the elephants.

p. **That must have been an incredible experience. Were you ever scared?**

p. I think driving in Kenya. We had these Land Rovers at our campsite with no roads within about two hours. We had to drive through the forest for awhile to get to our location, which meant making our own paths. At one point, I had to drive down an 80 degree hill into a creek, but I went down a little too fast and flipped the car. Fortunately, those things are pretty heavy-duty.
What is one thing about you that few others, if any, know?
I jumped pretty high at a ceremony held for me this summer by the tribe I was staying with, which resulted in me winning a wife, apparently. I didn’t officially accept because I thought it’d be in poor taste to get married and then leave the country, among other reasons.

p. **Other than jumping, I hear you can break dance pretty well.**

p. [laughs] I did gymnastics for a few years in elementary school, partly in hopes that I could be a good break dancer. It didn’t lead to any success, so I just pretend like I can break dance. I love dancing but I’d be lying if I said I could do anything worth noticing.

p. **Describe your most embarrassing moment**

p. My most embarrassing moment was the last time I was in India (2005). My brother used to tell everyone this story of how I was slapped by a monkey when we were little. Everyone believed him and just said I was in denial. It didn’t actually happen, and finally he was ready to stop sharing that story. Then a monkey slapped me. Poor timing, I think.

p. **What is your biggest fear?**

p. Whales. I love whales, but I think my biggest fear stems from a dream I had; I was SCUBA diving and I looked over, and there was an eye of a blue whale. From a distance, I think they’re calming. Up close, the idea is terrifying.

p. **What is your favorite childhood memory?**

p. In 1992 our family went to India for a few weddings, but it was the first memory I had of being there. It was during monsoon season, which I know has terrible consequences, but at the time it was fun. There was a huge rain storm and we couldn’t really go anywhere, so the entire village just had a big party out in the square. I can’t remember any other time such huge groups of people randomly came together. It reminds me of a large-scale version of when we get our big rain storms here and everyone runs around the Sunken Garden.


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