itni shiddat se maine tumhe paane ki koshish ki hai…
…ki har zarre ne mujhe tumse milane ki saazish ki hai"
Since my schooling years, I’ve been fascinated by the work of Dr. Jane Goodall, an English primatologist and anthropologist who in 1960, at the age of 26 years, braved a realm of unknowns and went to the forests of Tanzania to study and give the world a remarkable window into human’s closest living relative, the Chimpanzees. She studied the social & family interactions of the chimpanzees for almost 60 years and presented groundbreaking and award-winning works. I always aspired to be a Jane Goodall but somewhere in my growing years, I gave up, because I made myself believe I didn’t have it in me. Now after two decades of pursuing a totally different and unrelated profession, the universe recently decided to do course correction for me and put me back on the path similar to where I always wanted to be and that’s being a nature enthusiast. I realised I always had it in me, it was always my calling, I was just not ready to take up the challenge.
Someone once said, “Eventually you’ll end up where you need to be, with who you’re meant to be with, and doing what you should be doing.” I have literally missed my flights because I am a late riser and a big procrastinator but if I have to go bird watching or for a safari- I can wake up at 4:00 am and be ready for my birding excursion even if I’m back from a late-night party. If this is not a calling, what is?
It’s a funny story of how I got roped into this hobby of bird watching and wildlife photography. I’m an entrepreneur, married and settled in Dehradun the capital of Uttarakhand. We have a manufacturing unit and a few retail showrooms. One fine day, some 7-8 years back I heard of the annual bird festival held at Thano Forest Rest House, in the outskirts of the city. So, I made a plan with my partner in crime, my 10-year-old son, to participate in it. We drove there and noticed the place was buzzing with people in camouflage clothes, binoculars, cameras, and equipment of all sorts, and here we were completely lost. Luckily a few people were heading out for a bird watching trail and we decided to join them. After every few minutes someone in the group would point at a tree and the whole group would start clicking and my son and I would look at each other confused. Half an hour or so in the trail, someone pointed at something again and said, “Drongo, Drongo, fork tailed Drongo!”. By now I had lost it and said to my son, “These people are totally out of their mind, Congo is a huge chimpanzee in an English movie and a place in Africa, what are they pointing at here?” There were two bird scientists standing behind us who heard this but instead of making fun of us, opened a bird book (Birds of the Indian Subcontinent by Richard Grimmett.Carol Inskipp.Tim Inskipp) and showed us a crow lookalike bird called the Drongo. After that, they stuck with us through the trail and educated us about what all the others were observing.
That day was a game changer in my life. I love to drive and since that day I’ve been driving like a chameleon: one eye on the road and one scanning the environment around me for a bird or an animal. My motivation to go to work, driving 30 km one way, has been that I must cross a beautiful route rich with a boulevard of trees, with hidden treasures of birds and small animals. With the spark of birding was infused in me, I bought myself a DSLR camera from Canon, a very basic one to start with, as I wasn’t sure how long it would last. I joined a group of bird and wildlife enthusiasts and made some new acquaintances. Now bestowed with this new spark and enhanced with my new equipment- my camera and binoculars, I was out to prove myself… my biggest mistake and my biggest delusion. I had to deal with a lot of prejudiced behavior from some photographers. There was a lot of criticism, and hardly any valuable help that I was seeking. This was the time when social media was not so strong, I had no idea where I was going wrong or how to improve it. Few months into birdwatching and the spark was starting to die, I was depressed and underconfident and on the verge of giving up and that’s when a miracle happened… GURU.
One day while I was driving back from work, I checked my WhatsApp and some birders had posted some amazing pictures of migratory birds but no one wanted to disclose the location. I was so furious and distraught at their self-obsessed attitude that I started crying and I wrote something nasty on the group. 10 min later I got a call from a guy called Guru who said that he was studying at the Forest Research Institute (FRI) and I was welcome to come on campus for birdwatching anytime. Despite being a little apprehensive and very skeptical of meeting an unknown person in a secluded place like FRI, I took the risk and went there the next day. What I met was a ‘do pasli ka kangdi insaan’ who took me into the interiors of FRI and not only showed me some exotic birds but also corrected my camera settings and explained what I was doing wrong.
There has been no stopping me ever since…it’s been almost 7 years of active birding and wildlife safaris and the passion has only gotten stronger. I get a sense of calm and belonging whenever I’m amidst nature. I’ve sacrificed a lot to pursue my hobby and to get better at it – I skipped work, upgraded my camera, bought the required lenses, supporting accessory, got out of my comfort zone and have started travelling to birding & wildlife rich destinations. There have been a lot of ups & downs, but I’ve not given up since that call from Guru. Winston Churchill once said, ‘success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.’
Not all hobbies are easy to pursue but that shouldn’t discourage or deter ones purpose or determination. There will be struggles but there will always be solutions – as a woman to leave behind my house & kids was not easy, there are exams, visiting and nosey relatives add to that it’s not safe to go alone into the jungle, most of these bird or wildlife destinations are in the interiors of villages or forests where the safety & hygiene is very low, connectivity can be a problem. Sometimes destinations can be unapproachable, far away and tiring. I’ve had a python near my room on one such visit, leeches in my shoes and riding up my socks, I’ve had a lizard on the ceiling right above my bed at 2:00 am and I couldn’t step out of the room as a pair of leopards was spotted in the night cameras inside our resort two rooms away from mine, a day before.
Experiences are endless but not everything is picture-perfect. If you want to reap the benefits, you have to accept and go with the inconvenience and downsides too. Be proud of what you do and accept both the pros and cons attached to it. The rule is not to blindly listen to everyone you think is better than you or has been in the field longer, as they may still misguide or break your confidence. Always listen to your inner voice, go with your gut feeling, it’s mostly right. I am an entrepreneur, I love to go for long drives, I’m a very creative person, occasionally I write poetry, I’m the Charter Chairperson for Dehradun Ladies Circle 106, I’ve been on the National Board of Ladies Circle India twice, I’ve been the jury for Fashion institutes, I’ve anchored events like Dehradun Litreture Festival, I’m a mother, a wife, a nature enthusiast and a wildlife photographer.
What’s your calling?