Things came to a head two weeks ago on one of the family’s monthly visits to Delhi Zoo.
“Look at those birds standing there,” said the wife to the son.
My son, about to turn six this month, looked for a minute.
“Adjutant storks,” he said firmly, but with no trace of disdain.
Watchers’ club: Your child’s interest can become a family hobby. Jupiterimages, India
He was right, of course.
I do not remember when my wife and I discovered that our son had a thing for birds and animals.
And it wasn’t one of those passing superficial obsessions.
Because he had learnt to read early—about the only thing he did before other children—he would read. Not just the books children his age or a little older are supposed to read, but other books as well.
Encyclopaedias. Instruction manuals. Wall posters. His reading was indiscriminate.
Richard Grimmett, Caroll Inskipp and Tim Inskipp’s Birds of the Indian Subcontinent was his favourite for a while.
He would look at the plates, match numbers with the text, and, as we were to discover later, file everything away in his head.
The discovery came during a March trip to Corbett national park.
We were parked in a quiet and dense corner of the reserve forest. A bird had just descended on a nearby tree. Our guide couldn’t identify it. Nor could the wife. “Black-lored Yellow tit,” said the boy.
A copy of Inskipp was produced and checked. He was right.
My son’s fascination for birds and animals has changed our lives.
Two years ago, when this fascination first began to manifest itself, we knew little about birds, hadn’t really noticed any around our house—in a leafy and quiet corner of Vasant Vihar, one of the several green colonies that Delhi surprises people with—and didn’t own a decent pair of binoculars or any books on birds.
Now, both the wife and I are avid amateur birdwatchers (the wife more than me; She is even up to driving to Okhla at the crack of dawn on weekends for birding walks with our dog). We have spotted several species of birds in our garden and around the house (including a Greater Coucal who came visiting once, an Indian Grey Hornbill, a Spotted Owlet, a pair of Lesser Flameback Woodpeckers, Barbets, Green Bee-eaters, parakeets, black kites, bulbuls, mynahs, magpie-robins, Oriental White-Eyes, starlings, lapwings, sparrows, crows, and the Rosy Starlings that visit every year), own a very good pair of binoculars, and at least a dozen books on birds (including a literary anthology that a friend presented us with after she discovered our new-found enthusiasm).
A few years ago, Ananda Banerjee, who used to work with me then and who has since written a great book for birding beginners (Common Birds of the Indian Subcontinent: A Field Guide for Beginners), told me that Delhi was the city with the second highest number of bird species in the world, after Nairobi.
The number he put to the bird species in Delhi was around 400, I think.
That makes this city the best place to be if you are a birder (unless you can find a career doing something at the Silent Valley National Park (Thattekad) where my wife tells me that a certain guide is so much in demand that he is booked for the next six months).
It also means there is no shortage of places to go to over the weekend, the only time when we usually get to function like a normal family.
There’s Okhla Bird Park or OBP where, depending on the season, you can see flamingoes, bitterns, pelicans and scores of other bird species.
There’s the district park at Hauz Khas (next to Delhi Lawn Tennis Association), where you can see geese, several kinds of residential and migratory ducks, lapwings, Black-winged Stilts, parakeets, Bee-eaters, the occasional peacock, hornbills, Golden Orioles, and swallows.
There’s Lodhi Garden.
There’s Nehru Park.
There are the Aravalli and the Yamuna biodiversity parks.
These are just some of the places we’ve been to (full disclosure; I haven’t been to all but most; there are some trips the wife and son have made without me).
The funny thing is, this isn’t something we do because my son likes it or because it’s something the entire family can do together.
My wife and I (and the wife more than me, I must admit) are now genuinely interested in birds.
And so, even as I’ve introduced my son to Tolkein (Roverrandom, not The Hobbit), Tea Leaf Green and Steely Dan (his favourite band), he has introduced my wife and me to to the wonderful world of birds.
Now that I think about it, the whole thing is kind of magical.
There we were, going about our lives and work in a world where the sky was bereft of birds.
Then, with a metaphorical snap of his fingers, my son populated the world around us with all manners of wondrous birds.
R. Sukumar is the managing editor of Mint.
Want to try your hand at bird watching? Contact these networks in your city to get started
The Northern India Bird Network is a society that offers online discussions and photograph postings. Membership is free.
Green Bee-eaters (www.kolkatabirds.com)
You can become a member of the Bombay Natural History Society for Rs50. The annual fee for a couple with two children is Rs1,300. You get updates on camps being organized around the country, and ‘Hornbill’, the quarterly magazine.
Birdwatchers’ Field Club of Bangalore meets every second Sunday at 7.30am in the Lal Bagh Glass House. Membership is free.