Opposite the Red Fort, tucked away in the temple complex of the Jain Digambar Mandir, is a veterinary clinic founded around 85 years ago. The Charity Birds Hospital, popularly known as Jain Bird Hospital, caters to the well being of birds.
But why just birds?
“Because if you look around, there are clinics for dogs, even for cows. But there are very few facilities for birds. This hospital is the first of its kind,” says Rachit, the supervisor on the shift. And sure enough Rachit’s claims are corroborated by a quick Google search. Bird-speciality hospitals do not feature anywhere on the first page of the results or on popular yellow pages websites, while dogs and cats seem to be quite spoilt for choice.
No wonder then that the Jain Bird Hospital has emerged as the most sought after healing destination for bird owners and lovers alike. Pramod Kumar Jain, the manager, says they have people visiting from far flung areas of the National Capital Region like Ghaziabad, Noida, Mehrauli etc. After a pause, he recollects having visitors coming from all over the country as well.
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What is the reason behind this popularity? “It’s because of its uniqueness. It is the only fully equipped bird hospital in the world that renders its services absolutely free of charge,” says Dr. Sunil, who provides his services on a voluntary basis whenever he is in the city. To put things in perspective, treatment charges in private set-ups can sometimes go up to Rs 20,000 and more. Even “private” birds, as Jain refers to pets, are provided treatment free of charge.
That this charitable nature of the hospital has sustained for so long is a commendable feat. Though located inside the Jain Digambar Mandir since 1957, the hospital operates quite independent of the temple’s affairs. Even government aid is not asked for.
Jain stresses that they get only ‘public support’. “The benefactors provide not just monetary support, but also in kind. They pitch in with help when there is a requirement of drugs and “daana paani”. It’s not only the treatment charges that are taken care of as there has never been a slump in salaries bagged by the staff. The hospital has surely earned the affection of assorted bird lovers. It is difficult to find veterinary doctors since most of them prefer a government job or private practice,” says Jain.
The hospital has two dedicated doctors who have been associated with it for many years, bringing with them their expertise in handling critical cases like complex surgeries, tumour removal etc. Jain himself has been with the hospital for 7-8 years now. It also attracts several bird lovers, for whom referring an injured bird or two is a regular undertaking. “There is one Kamal from Connaught Place who alone brings in 15-20 birds a month. A woman from sabzi mandi has actually put up a board at her residence asking passersby to drop in an injured bird, which is at once rushed to Jain Bird Hospital,” says Jain.
Though the official working hours of the hospital last till about 9 pm, Jain informs that post the doctors’ shifts an attendant is still available to take care of the needs and tackling any emergencies that arise. The hospital is open for service 24/7/365. Even major Jain festivals and national holidays are not spared.
The hospital has a fully functional ICU ward that houses over 200 birds at a time. The ‘patients’ are accommodated and classified on the basis of their condition, mostly to avoid the spread of communicable diseases, and birds troubling each other (an occasional instance of a pigeon harassing another is not unheard of). If a predatory bird like an injured eagle finds its way into the hospital, it is housed in solitary confinement due to its tendency to eat other patients. The meals too are accordingly customised and provided to each bird admitted. The most common patients are Pigeons, Doves, Parrots and Budgies, while some Peacocks and Crows also grace the hospital with their presence.
Birds flying in from the Jama Masjid, Jantar Mantar, Baptist Church and even a nearby Gurudwara can find respite on the hospital’s rooftop, where water and bird feed are stored. Perhaps as a sign of gratitude, the healed birds often circle around in the area and pay a visit to the rooftop to quench their thirst and feast on the assortment of bird feed available.
Jain speaks lovingly of the birds and the hospital’s Jainism-inspired approach to treatment- holistic, non-violent and arising from a place of love. “Yahaan bahut shanti milti hai,” says Jain. For him and other caretakers at Jain Bird Hospital, tending to an ailing bird is a labour of love.