Odd caption it may seem, but the life of the man you see in the picture above has a lot to do with grain - both in his profession and in his passion. What is so special about this man who looks so ordinary, that you decided to dedicate a separate post in your blog for him, one might ask me. If you have the patience to go through the following few paragraphs, you will realise that this man, or, to be more specific, his deed, is not just ordinary.
Sekar is camera mechanic by profession. His profession has exposed him (pun intended) to all varieties of cameras. Somehow, as a simple man of no further interests, he got involved so much into his profession that he developed (again, pun intended) an interest in the history of cameras and started collecting samples of cameras – old and new, simple and sophisticated, local or imported. His collection of cameras runs into several hundreds, taking up a large portion of the living space of his family, and a larger portion of the living expenses (no pun here). His concentration on his job has kept him a home bird.
As is the common practice in people of this country, particularly those who have migrated to the city from the suburbs or even from the interiors of the State, his family had a habit of placing a few handfuls of grains on the compound wall every morning, for the birds and ants to eat. Assured of grains, pigeons and squirrels visited regularly.
The tsunami of 2004 struck Sekar’s life differently. On that day, he says he saw a couple of parrots, for the first time, joining the pigeons. Attracted by their visit, he increased the quantity of grains he placed on the wall. As expected, he found more parrots coming for the grains. The more he added, the more were the parrots.
Wondering at the communication among the parrots, Sekar shifted the focus (sorry, I will stop the pun with this) to the unused open terrace and started keeping the grains on a larger area, keeping grains on the entire parapet wall of the terrace. He was surprised to find that the parrots brought more parrots, now that grain was regularly being made available to them.
Such is the dedication Sekar exhibits towards this activity that now Sekar feeds the birds twice a day. Handfuls of rice, neatly washed and soaked a little, is carefully placed in rows and rows of wooden planks across the terrace. And then he closes the doors of his house to prevent people from moving about near the terrace, making the birds feel more secure. He even stands guard at the entrance on the ground floor so that any prowling cat is scared of his presence and moves away. The entire activity stretches for about two hours, twice a day, early in the morning, and late in the afternoon.
There are a lot of pigeons all over Chennai, so also in Royapettah where he lives. Therefore, when he lays the grains, the pigeons are the first to come and occupy three or four rows of the wooden planks. The parrots arrive from all directions but on seeing the pigeons, they wait hanging on the electric cables cris-crossing atop buildings on the road. After the pigeons have had their quota, the parrots slowly start to come one by one and quickly occupy all the planks. It is a beautiful sight to watch them assemble and move away in a burst when there is any disturbance – such as the loud honk of a vehicle, or the noise of children shouting nearby, etc.
When asked what is the reason he doing this, his answer is “simple, basic love to all life beings, coupled with the difficulty to say “no” when those poor birds come to your doorstep assured of getting food there, whatever might be the weather that day. He says the numbers do see some change according to the weather – in summer, the numbers dwindle, as the birds are exhausted, and on rainy days, there is a sharp increase in their numbers. In fact, the day after the recent cyclone Vardah hit Chennai, he says an estimated five to six thousand parrots came for food!
While Sekar seems to be quite popular on the internet – there are quite many articles and interviews, both on his addiction to cameras and dedication to birds – he says this popularity has not helped him monetarily. Half of his earnings go to feed the birds. He says he is not getting any support from the Government or NGOs. He accepts gladly if help is given either in cash or kind, but is not after asking anyone. Come rain or shine, he goes on his job of feeding the birds every day, he has never pressed the shutter on them (oh no, sorry I forgot). This may sound simple, but he has been doing this for the past twelve years, yes more than a decade, without break for even a single day.