Riahn Pieris is 11 years old, as is Noah Geelan. Riahn lives in Sri Lanka and takes pictures with his digital camera. Noah lives in London and is a poet and writer. Though they have created a book together, they are yet to meet.
Their partnership is instead built around the special relationship they both shared with another little boy, Vikram Lissenburgh, who would have been their age, if he had not been in the Yala wildlife park on the terrible day the tsunami hit Sri Lanka. Vikram’s younger brother Nikhil, 5, his father Steve and his Sri Lankan grandparents also lost their lives that day.
‘Yala – A Special Place’ is a small, slim tome, filled with beautiful shots of the animals of Yala. The text is fun and informative – a combination of snappy little factoids, often humorous poetry and lucid prose. It is also a remarkably poignant tribute. Starting with the white bellied sea eagle on the cover (Vikram’s favourite bird) the book celebrates one of the Lissenburgh family’s favourite places. “Vikram and Nikhil loved Yala; they visited Yala almost every time they came to Sri Lanka,” says Riahn.
Riahn who wants to be a wildlife photographer when he grows up shows us thousands of photographs taken on his Canon PowerShot A610, pointing out the picture on the cover. “One of my memories of Vikram is a poem that he wrote about the white-bellied sea eagle which was his favourite bird and which is still one of my favourites...since we were small we always liked the same things like dinosaurs, cricket and eagles.”
It’s a passion that Noah shares too, though he has never been to Sri Lanka or even visited a jungle. “He (Noah) was so inspired by the photos of the different animals that he researched them and wrote these poems and facts and figures...and so from both sides of the world, it was put together,” says Riahn’s mother Amrita.
In a speech written for the book’s launch Noah says , “Whenever Vikram came back from Sri Lanka he would tell us amazing stories of the animals he had seen in Yala. At the time I didn't know what Yala was, couldn't quite imagine being able to get right up close to a leopard or being able to watch white-bellied sea eagles.”
When Vikram’s mother Sonali showed Noah Riahn’s pictures, Noah says he was inspired to create a book, “to write some poems and some jokes around the photos.”
Noah, Vikram and Nikhil all attended the Holly Park Primary School in England.
The school has since created the Vikram and Nikhil Lissenburgh Trust in memory of the two boys. Funds were directed towards refurbishing the Yala Wildlife Park Museum in 2007, and some of Riahn’s pictures are already on display there.