A Wild Calling

Updated: Jun 26, 2020

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| This is the 379th story of Our Life Logs |

“Hope is the things with feathers.”

—Emily Dickinson

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I was born on October 30, 1980, in Pune, Maharashtra, India. My parents were both renowned doctors of the city, and despite their demanding profession, they always seemed to make time for me and my older brother. I looked forward to spending time with my father especially, because we shared a passion for wildlife. Oh, how I loved those animated conversations we had!

Me as a young nature lover!
Me as a young nature lover!

My father was brought up in Tanzania, East Africa. He would tell his stories about living in a town called Lindi and his weekend escapades to the world-famous wildlife reserves. He would describe the wilderness, the night sounds, the graceful movements of different animals like giraffes or leopards, and recount the vibrant colors of birds. It was as if Africa visited our home with each discussion. We would play make-believe and try to reimagine his life there by birdwatching or animal spotting from our window.

It wasn’t so difficult, my home was surrounded by fruit-bearing trees, frequented by various birds and animals. Every day after school, I would sit and write down the descriptions of my sightings for the day. I didn’t know the names then. Looking at my interest in birdwatching, my father even bought me a pair of binoculars and some books. By elementary school, I had started identifying the birds and understanding what habitats they lived in.

Walking with my family on a nature trail.
Walking with my family on a nature trail.

Once when I was walking back from a friend’s home, I saw a neighbor boy hovering over an Indian robin just for fun and was laughing at its suffering. The state of the dying bird and my neighbor’s insensitivity pained me so much. I am usually a peace-loving person, but I remember ranting like a wild man. I was seething with anger. My friend, who had never seen this side of me, apologized immediately and promised to me that he would never do it again. Still, I was shaking with sadness because it felt so personal.

That day, a little crusader was born in me.

When I buried the bird, I promised myself that day that I would be the voice that stands up for the cause of these voiceless birds and animals.

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Slowly and steadily, everything in my life got sidelined, and my hobby started taking center stage. It grew larger than what I had ever expected.

While walking home from school each day, I took a small road that had a canal flowing by.  Lots of injured animals like birds, puppies, and even snakes would take refuge there. I would empty my school books and bring them back home in my bag, treat them, and rehabilitate them to a safer place. A lot of my friends from school and my neighborhood, including the one who killed the bird, started taking interest in birdwatching and wildlife. My tribe of followers had started increasing and I felt this could be my calling.

My parents were a bit miffed, especially with the endless trips to the bookshops and, of course, housing all the rescued animals, but they were still not as bad as my nosy relatives and family friends who thought I should be following in my parents’ footsteps instead of wasting their money on a futile activity. “You’re disgracing your parents’ name, running behind animals and rescuing them,” they’d say. “What a waste of time.”

I was only 12 years old. I would be lying if I said that these things didn’t hurt me. But at the same time, I started questioning the callous attitude that these people had towards birds and animals. I wanted to educate them. I knew how wonderfully peaceful and addicting birdwatching really was. I knew what it was like to set a tiny creature free. I wanted to show them that the world was not just for us and that their insensitivity towards animals had consequences.

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In 1996, I was in my second year of high school, which is a very crucial time in India to decide on your career options. My parents were now getting really concerned about my studies, as all parents do. However, I did not see that there was anything to worry about. I scored good marks and by then, I was fully engrossed in my passion.

In the middle of birdwatching—do you see my binocular bag?
In the middle of birdwatching—do you see my binocular bag?

Every holiday I got, I traveled to different jungle reserves in my country. On one of my trips to a nature camp organized by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) India, I met Kiran Purandare, a famous ornithologist and author.

Kiran was not just an expert in birdwatching. He possessed a talent of captivating his audience. After his presentation, we got talking and realized that we have so much in common. He thought that I too had the gift of gab and took me under his wings. According to him, I was the most eager student he ever had. After some time, Kiran urged me to take up volunteering because he felt I was ready for it. I knew this was where I belonged.

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After years of serving my community, I felt it was time for me to take my passion further. I knew the ins and outs of the jungles and had a knack for teaching. I was also getting well-versed with the administration part of it, getting permissions from the forest government and understanding how the system works.

But after a failed attempt in co-founding a wildlife camp upon my graduation in 2002, I went through a lot of pressure. Initially, it was my nosy relat