Tuesday, August 28, 2012

An Eco-Warrior's Story

Continuing with my series of human interest stories about real world inspirations I meet in the most unlikely of places. This time it’s about a young and dedicated wildlife conservationist working on preserving the fast disappearing wetlands of Chennai for migratory birds to come every year in their migratory cycle- a topic I was not aware much of, until I learned about it from the person seated next to me, a few days ago.

I met this young person recently at a public event where everyone was discussing about their hobbies and spending their spare time usefully, and then, when the talk came around to birds, I was my usual wise-cracking self and went on to describe to the company present my adventures in sampling the various varieties of birds hunted and cooked by the Narikuruvas of the Pallikarani marshlands, near Adyar. The swamps of Palikaranai- before a certain to-be-unnamed politician decided to “develop” Velachery- was an outdoor lover’s paradise- in the late 90's- with marshes and lake and teeming with varieties of wildlife and so near to the city too, perfect for a sudden and impulsive day trip with buddies.

Many's the time, me and a few friends from Guru Nanak college- my school buddies- have traipsed around on a full day picnic of the marshes, with homemade poles to catch fish, spending an entire day just fishing and swapping  stories, until we caught at least one or two and then we would take them to the Narikuruvas (the Gypsies) who lived on the marshes in tents on the fringes of the dry lands and embankments and who still hunt with priceless old match-lock rifles and are sharp-shooters too and these gypsies would then clean, gut and fry the fish for us. Of course, they also had a stock of their own catch ready to taste- including, to my great regret (now in my old age) Siberian Storks, Wild Geese and turtles. But the thought of experimenting with culinary adventures tempted and got over any inhibitory complexes and I have tasted them at least once just to see how they are.

I was blithely sharing this story around when I happened to glance over at my neighbor’s face which showed an absolute “O” with horror at me. Intrigued by her reaction, I got her to slowly share the reason for the disgust on her face at me and then she told me all about her work. But before that a little something about her background first.

Ms.G as she is known, has been a total animal person from her childhood- something which she  attributes to her dad. Although she wanted to do Veterinary Medicine, she ended up doing Zoology with plans of working with conservation groups and wildlife enthusiasts. But practicality and family sentiment won, and she ended up doing business administration, after which she landed into an IT firm. And there her dreams should have died, like so many others dreams do.

But she was made of sterner stuff- she dint let the long work hours, exhausting commute and the lack of support from others stop her. She volunteered with all sorts of wildlife groups and NGO's trying to do her little mite for our speechless cousins. She enjoys the little pleasures that wildlife offers, She travels to Vedanthangal, Pallikarnai and Pulicat to spot/ identify/gaze at the migrant birds. She works with Blue Cross for the cause of abandoned animals that need shelters.

And all of this had been done anonymously, without any self publicity or advertising. She was even reluctant to share her story with me. But hey, you know me; I have a way of making people comfortable enough to talk their life stories with me. And so I ended up hearing from her, all her dreams about looking forward to someday dedicating herself full-time to bird conservation and research about migratory birds in wetlands

And this was the person, I was telling stories from my past about tasting rare birds. Consider the pickle I was in. So, instantly adapting to the changed circumstances, I told her I am now a reformed ex-rare bird eater and would gladly join any new nature trek their group organizes in the near future. What better way to exculpate past sins? And I vowed to henceforth look at bird for their plumage and beauty and not to wonder how they would taste, properly prepared. Anyway, the point of this post is not my culinary tastes and exotic dishes I have tasted in the past. It’s about what a privileged life I (And a lot of us) lead daily without giving anything back to anyone while people who have the heart to do so, transcend their circumstances to help in ways we can’t even think of.

I am especially impressed with Ms.G's mother for being so supportive of her interests and standing by her. Most single mothers would actively discourage their children from pursuing any passion which is not strictly mainstream. And it is even worse when it comes to unmarried girls, because the mothers (rightly or wrongly?) consider their girls as a burden which must be passed off to the right person at the first opportunity available- the first suitable alliance which turns up. But here the mother trusts her daughter to pursue her own interests without piling any additional pressure on her to get married soon. An exemplary, supportive and understanding mother.

And what can I say about my friend herself? She truly is an inspiration to lazy bums everywhere, who with no fixed ambition, drift around taking life as it comes philosophically. There is no great big cause, no driving force behind most youth of today, beyond personal ambition. They have not yet paid their dues to society or to this earth for sustaining them all these years without demanding anything back. Its only when you meet people like this- who are silent achievers in their own sphere, you realize that there is so much more everyone, including yours truly, can do too, if only you want to. Mere online ranting, is not enough, it’s the real world doing that counts. Go out and do something, anything, contribute your mite to mama earth. It’s your planet too.

So, here’s to wishing Ms.G that she becomes the Salim Ali of our generation. Salut.

(P.S. And in addition to all her social obligations, she finds the time to blog too. The link to her blog is http://rhapsodic-xana.blogspot.in )

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