Updated: Jun 26, 2020
| This is the 379th story of Our Life Logs |
“Hope is the things with feathers.”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 relatives and family friends who taunted me on my failure, but after a while, my parents also insisted that I take up a job or follow a substantial career. At their insistence, I did my masters in Marketing and took up a sales job at a multi-national Life Insurance company. After years of volunteering, I had really honed my speaking skills, so selling insurance was easy. All I had to do was instill fear in the minds of people to buy insurance. The money was great, but I was miserable.
For two years, I lived for the weekend. I would go to the mountains, jungles, or somewhere for birdwatching to clear my head. In the moments alone, I reflected on my life. How did a little boy who carried wounded toads in his backpack end up with a desk job? I examined my mistakes and I told myself I needed to start again.
I started my company, Nature Walk Outdoors, in 2006, along with some like-minded volunteers. Our main focus was on conducting nature trails, resident jungle safaris, camps, and other outdoor activities. At the same time through my tours, we aimed to educate our clients on how to respect it by conserving it.
I worked from 9 AM to 6 PM at the insurance company, and from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM, I was working for my organization. I didn’t leave my job because I had already burnt my fingers before and wanted it as a safety net. But the plus side was that I had some good experiences and some bad experience. I could at least identify people better. But soon, business picked and I quit my sales job at the insurance company.
Thus began my true journey as a full-fledged entrepreneur and naturalist. It was exactly what I had envisioned a long time ago, to create a company that makes people aware of the beauty nature has to offer. However, I was not satisfied with limiting my conservation efforts only to the people around me.
Therefore, Nature Walk Outdoors teamed up with the Forest Department of India to work against poaching. We conducted raids in different places that indulged in illegal poaching and trading. We started an initiative of eco-tourism, where we gave employment opportunities to villagers as guides, waiters, or drivers so that instead of poaching, they could depend on conserving the forest for their livelihood.
My dream of educating people about wildlife and the importance of its conservation may have started small, but the reality manifested into something unimaginable. My tribe of activists and volunteers has multiplied so much that I can’t even count. To think, I almost gave up my passion. Never again!
This is the story of Anuj Khare
Anuj Khare is a well-known naturalist and avid bird-watcher of Pune, India. Born in an illustrious family of doctors, he was expected to follow a professional career. Instead, he followed his heart and opted for a career in wildlife camps which was not considered a very safe career option when he started. In his journey, he suffered several pitfalls. He was cheated by his former partner, had health problems and even survived death threats. He runs an organization called Nature Walk Outdoors that conducts wildlife camps to promote eco-tourism. He also conducts training programs for forest guides to facilitate eco-tourism.
In 2014, he was appointed as a member of the prestigious Wildlife Board and Eco-Tourism Development Board that make wildlife and eco-tourism policies responsible for safeguarding the interests of wildlife and the villages nearby. Anuj’s next project on his agenda is to present an introductory course on Indian wildlife with the Forest Department to educate nature and wildlife enthusiasts of all age groups. Anuj also plans to form an educational institute with formal education on Indian wildlife. It is his ultimate dream. He currently lives with his parents, beautiful wife Deepti, and son Arya in Pune, India.
This story first touched our hearts on June 20, 2019.
| Writer: Trupti Shetty | Editor: Colleen Walker |