On a leisurely Sunday morning in June last year, Thomas Mathew, Additional Secretary to the President, was in his lawn reading when he heard koels call. He rushed to his 600 mm lens camera, which often sits in his lush green garden, to capture the male and the female koel on a peepal tree. The shiny, black-feathered male with bloodshot eyes was transferring a seed beak-to-beak to his female counterpart. A rare photograph of its kind is one of the many highlights of Mathew’s book The Winged Wonders of Rashtrapati Bhavan, which was released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Durbar Hall of Rashtrapati Bhavan last week.
More than 111 species of birds, including avian migrants who visit the 330 acres of land, engaged in their everyday acts, have been photographed in this book (Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting; Rs 2,850). “Bird habitats are shrinking and if the trend continues, we would be telling our grandchildren that once there was a bird called a koel. There is a need to preserve nature for them,” says Mathew.
Mathew’s inspiration came from an observation by President Pranab Mukherjee, who said that the bird habitat in the Rashtrapati Bhavan should be documented.
Mathew began his search across the Mughal Garden, the Dalikhana and the forests in the main estate, which had more than 5,000 shrubs and trees. His childhood hobby of spotting birds only made the task easier. “My deep interest in studying birds developed during childhood. I often visited my mother’s village in Kerala, which had a variety of birds. I would get a parrot and a myna every time I returned from my holidays,” he says.
A red-wattled lapwing juvenile appears tiptoeing in a vegetable garden of Dalikhana in one of the photographs. “I call it the ballerina,” says the author.
The book concludes with photographs of birds beating the Delhi heat “Bird Style”, captioned with funny titles. So a photograph of a brown-headed barbet with water dripping out of his orange beak has been titled “Did I gulp too much?” while a black crow enjoys a bath in a vessel as it says “My black absorbs too much heat”.