Updated: April 21, 2019 9:19:16 am
Joy can be a thing with wings — ask any serious birder and he will tell you why the sight of a tiny little sunbird fills him with wonder or the thrill that comes from watching a pied kingfisher swoop down to pick its prey out from water. Even a common jungle babbler with its relentless jabbering can lift your mood on a dull day. A look at a few books that explore this delightful world:
How does one cope with an uncle like Salim Ali, who just happens to be a “superstar in the world of animals and birds” and whose acquaintances include prime ministers and other very, very important people? Especially, given the fact that thanks to him the whole family was experts at birding, while one couldn’t even distinguish a cormorant from a darter? In the delightful book, Salim Mamoo and Me (2017, Tulika Books, appropriate for 6+ years), naturalist Zai Whitaker, who helped set up the Crocodile Bank in Chennai, remembers her childhood spent feeling abashed that she knew so little about birds despite her ornithologist uncle and bird-crazy family. It would only be later when she lets go of her fears that she truly begins to appreciate nature. Whitaker recalls her tribulations with humour while Prabha Mallya does a fine job of capturing not just the spirit of the story but also of the city of Mumbai and the different birding communities who populated it.
Unlike the “Birdman of India”, no one knows of Zakhuma Don, a forest guard with the anti-poaching team of the Mizoram Forest Department, who works in the Dampa Tiger Reserve, one of India’s more remote tiger sanctuaries. Don’s love for nature is no less — as he patrols the forest keeping a lookout for poachers, he also photographs all the wild and wonderful flora and fauna that he comes across. When he finally returns to the camp at day’s end, the self-taught photographer shares his archive of Dampa’s rich biodiversity on social media for others to learn from. In Walking in the Wild (2018, Pratham Books, appropriate for 6+ years), Sejal Mehta tells Don’s story and his commitment towards the forest, to which he is bound not just by duty but also by love. Accompanied by Barkha Lohia’s illustrations, this is an interesting primer not just on lesser-known forests of India but also on the people who protect them.
If it’s birds, there’s no escaping Salim Ali. In Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary: The Kingdom of Birds (2018, Mapin Publishing, appropriate for: 8+ years), part of a series on Unesco World Heritage Sites of India, Erich Bharucha tells the story of the sanctuary Ali helped create in Bharatpur. The writing is a little deadpan, but Bharucha does a decent job of explaining the diversity of the avian world and the topography and food chain that sustain it. That apart, the book also comes with practical conservation tips.
This article appeared in the print edition on April 21, 2019, under the title ‘The Thing With Feathers’.
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