Upon our recent visit to the park, I met an extraordinary man who earns his bread by ferrying tourists on his cycle rickshaw across the 29 sq.km paradise, frequented by birds from around the world. He has been doing it for more than three decades and after two trips to the park where he doubled up as our guide, I felt privileged to have met someone who seemed as exotic as any of our avian friends who refer the bird sanctuary as their home.
Here is a quick list of my lessons learned from him.
Do what you love to do: The wise man of Bharatpur reaches the sanctuary gate at 5.30am every morning with the same enthusiasm that our eight year old daughter exuded when we entered the park for the first time. He informed us that over the last thirty years, he has never failed to reach the gate in time to pick up wide eyed tourists eager to lap up his stories on the park. He has accompanied the legendary Salim Ali tagging birds for his research activities and has probably ferried countless urban folks like us who struggle to spot anything beyond the peacocks, painted storks or the cormorants with the naked eye. But rather than feeling despondent, he weaves his magic. As he helps the tourists spot the birds in the bushes, treetops and water bodies, he adds anecdotes and stories. During our two trips, he made it a point that our daughter ticks off the birds that she had seen on the book that was bought from the souvenir shop located at the park gate. He was quick to realize where our interests lie and left no stones unturned to make us happy with an elusive sighting. It was his persistence that resulted in us having a sneak peek at the large-tailed nightjar.
During the six hours that we spent with him, it became evident that 30 years of doing the same thing has not dampened his enthusiasm. When asked how long he wants to continue, he smiled cheerfully and responded – till the time I am fit enough to ride the cycle rickshaw and till the time our rickshaws continue to stay relevant in the days of battery operated carts.
Stories over facts: During our first trip, he gauged our interests and probably classified us as amateurs who love birds but whose knowledge is somewhat limited. From that moment onwards, he switched on to a storytelling mode. Every bird that we spotted was tagged to a story. With effortless ease he kept our daughter enthralled with stories around the courtship dance of the sarus crane, the nesting patterns of the migrant ducks, the difference between a dotted and a spotted owl etc. He reiterated my belief that facts are for PowerPoint slides but stories are for moments that lives on in our memories.
The power of experiential learning: During his eventful journey traversing the three decades, he has taught himself to learn from his experiences. He was quick to point out that he benefitted from the innovative measure taken by the sanctuary authorities to train the rickshaw pullers to evolve into guides as well. However, it is experiential learning that allows him to go beyond rattling names of birds and add a bit more spice in his knowledge sharing sessions. It is this unique ability to personalize a sighting that puts him in a league of his own.
If you have reached thus far, you may be interested in knowing his name. While I deliberated on sharing his name and number, I felt it would be more fun if you discover him on your next trip to the sanctuary using these clues below:
• He belongs to the Labana Sikh community, who are originally from the Sindh province, and who settled in India after Partition
• He has been featured in an article on Livemint on the sanctuary
• He has published two books on the birds of Bharatpur
Would love to know if you were able to spot him during your next trip to Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary and the lessons that you had learned.
And here are some images from our trip.