For a number of years I hardly took any notice of them, till one day a remarkably beautiful gray and chestnut red bird flew in and sat on a branch of a tree close to the tee box [square piece of levelled turf]. I asked one of my regular foursome who has had some rural upbringing and knows a thing or two about birds, as to what sort of a bird this is? He said it was a crow pheasant and commonly found in all rural areas. That was the beginning. Interest in crow pheasant led to other birds mostly heard and rarely seen. My friend would, whenever asked would give a name to the bird we saw in the course of our play. This I suspected more to shut me up rather than to improve my knowledge of ornithology. I soon realised that there is a great verity of them out there that I did not know and what I did know was far from satisfactory [even now, after nearly ten years of bird watching].
Thus began my quest for knowledge about avian life around me. My partners attributed my enthusiasm to the onset of senility. Having lost interest in one form of birdlife due to aging, you have taken to this form of bird watching, they said. My attempts at informing these ignorants that this is far more satisfying and rewarding, brought forth great guffaws of laughter. One of them began asking me, every time a woman dressed in bright coloured clothes passes by, to name and identify the species!
Armed with a pair of binoculars and that bible of bird watchers, Dr Salim Ali's book on Indian birds, I became an odd fixture on the golf course in the mornings. It provided amusement to my fellow golfers to see me on the course in a pursuit different from that of golf. Recently one of them in trying to draw my attention away from the bird I was watching missed his step and fell into a trench. This obviously succeeded in distracting me and seeing him prone on the ground I rushed only to see him not only unharmed but also full of, according to him, well meant abuses at me for being responsible for his fall.
On another occasion two golfers approached me to find out what I am up to. Finding that I am not there to steal their golf balls [easy to mistake in my shorts and nondescript shirt] they became less hostile and warned me of dire consequences if I trespassed onto the course once again as it is private territory. Needless to say they were beginners and therefore did not know that I was also one of them and pretty senior! But I liked their attitude of saving the course from itinerant birdwatchers and other such unwanted elements. Instead of getting into needless argument, I agreed to abide by their instructions. Few days later when I wished good morning while playing golf to the pair, there was an embarrassed silence and one of them rather sheepishly managed to return my greeting.
It did not take long for me to realise that book and binoculars are not sufficient help when it came to the minutiae of bird watching, especially identifying small pale coloured birds. These were also friskier and it was difficult to hold them in view for more than a few seconds at a time. I needed an expert bird watcher to assist me in the details. Through a mutual friend of mine I got in touch with Mr. T.N.A.Perumal.
Mr. Perumal is a gentleman of indeterminate age. He could be 60 or 70 or more. Because of watching and listening to birds he has developed a keen sense of sight and hearing. However this is restricted to only birdsong and sight was made clear to me on my very first outing with him on the course. He was overwhelmed at the abundance of bird life; [sadly the number and variety has greatly diminished now] he profusely complimented me and the club for planting so many trees and also thoughtfully providing the many waterbodies, an ideal habitat for birdlife. I prudently kept quiet [the water bodies are intentionally created hazards to make the game challenging]. Next to the first green there is an area of scrub jungle [no more] with many tall trees and I have found this a favorite of many birds and I proceeded to take him there.
While we were approaching the green he heard some bird calling and he stood still and to have a better look and inadvertently went on to the middle of the fair way [danger zone]. Sure enough and soon enough there were loud shouts of 'Fore' from the foursome which was teeing off. I had to physically drag him aside away from danger. He was naturally upset at my indiscretion because the bird had stopped calling and he could not properly spot it and wanted to know why I had to drag him away just because few people [bird brains?] shouted. I told him it was the golfer’s call of warning. He gave a grunt and said, ‘such loud shouts will disturb the birds!' We went to the edge of the out of the bound fence and spent the next hour or so watching and identifying. All the time, while we were talking I had to keep telling him to keep the tone of his voice down so as not to disturb the players on the green. This seemed to surprise him. Clearly he thought that birds are more important than golfers and if the game of golf had to be played then it should be done with out disturbing the birdlife!' Successive four balls followed one after the other and as many of them knew me they came up to us and wished me and wanted to know what mischief I am up to. Mr. Perumal did not take kindly to this kind of camaraderie between me and these people who have no respect for birds. He did not say so in as many words but the frown on his face said that.
Later in the clubhouse I told him but for these golfers the golfcourse wouldn't be here and there would be also no birds. Instead there would be another concrete jungle. [All around it has indeed become one now] 'Yes, yes, but they should play their game quietly with out all that shouting' he said somewhat mollified.
In the 12 hours or so I spent with him, over a two months period, we identified and documented more than 50 verities of birds in our course and at the time of writing [that is, when this article was written ten years ago.], I am still at it. In Mr Perumal I have met another of those unsung individuals who persue an interest for the pure joy of it and take pleasure in educating impatient and rather below average students like me.
My near and dear have begun telling me that I am afflicted with one more wasteful habit, this time that of bird watching.
This article was published in a golf magazine some ten years ago.