Indian children have always grown up surrounded by the rich flora and fauna of the country, often making a fuss about wanting to birdwatch while being fed by their mothers. What happens when a species of birds — small, curious, chirpy and sometimes annoying — suddenly disappears?
Only someone like Sadhana Rajkumar would realise their absence and try bringing them back into the lives of birdwatchers and children.
Many years ago, on the terrace of their house in the Perambur locality of Chennai, Sadhana’s mother pointed out that sparrows could not be spotted as often as they used to be spotted a decade ago.
This incident got her wodering if the sparrows had really disappeared and the possible reasons for the disappearance.
In 2009, when Sadhana read a write-up about how the birds were indeed slowly being lost to sight of human beings, she made up
her mind to do something to bring them back into existence.
Today, she distributes sparrow homes free to people around the city, hoping to be able to provide a place for sparrows to roost and breed during breeding season.
This diet and fitness consultant, who specialises in diabetes and obesity, started looking for ideas about sparrow homes on the Internet and found many models in various parts of Europe.
She had made up her mind to set up homes across the city, but importing them from abroad seemed a little too exorbitant. She spoke to a well-established carpenter, who had once been her student in the free classes she conducted for poor children in the neighbourhood. The carpenter helped her make simple sparrow homes, which she distributed to people who had spotted sparrows in their localities. Sadhana says, “I first distributed five sparrow homes around Perambur and I later made 25 for the St Bede’s cricket ground because people told me that it was infested with sparrows. I was thrilled that my sparrow homes are proving successful.” She later became the president of the Inner Wheel Club of Adyar, which was celebrating its silver jubilee. As the president, she undertook 25 projects — one of which was to distribute sparrow homes across the city. She was so passionate about that particular project, that people started calling her ‘Sparrow Queen’ and a few dailies featured her.
After going public, the demand for sparrow homes increased so dramatically that she had to think of a better plan to keep the costs in check. In 2011, she came up with the idea tof using clay sparrow homes — a pot with a lid and a feeder — which proved much easier on the pocket and would keep the birds cool.
Sadhana spoke about various things people could do to make life better for birds. She said that people could place water baths on their terraces and sprinkle grains around them to attract the birds. She started a Facebook page called ‘Sparrow Saviours’ and plans on registering it as a company in the future and building sparrow parks across the city. She says, “I know there are people waiting to make sparrow homes a business, but I will continue giving these homes for free, so that money does not become the motive behind it.”
People throng her house, each one asking for a sparrow home, which makes it difficult for her to manage. Her friends, Divya Reddy (treasurer, Sparrow Saviours) and Mallika Venkatramani (secretary, Sparrow Saviours) help distribute sparrow homes around their neighbourhood in Anna Nagar.
The organisation Sparrow Saviours is still in the pipeline and they plan to go official soon.
Sadhana, a 43-year-old nutritional dietician, has another side to her story that many people do not know about.
She is not just another Chennaiite, but comes from a family of freedom fighters, which has made her so patriotic that some people even consider her eccentric at times.
Sadhana recalls how her grandfather (Chengallvarayan), a Gandhian, was her inspiration to live a simple life and help people, rather than become self involved and materialistic. The Queen Mary’s College alumnus makes it a point to wear a Gandhi cap on her head, hoist the national flag and distribute sweets in the locality on every national festival. She says, “The current generation does not know the value of independence, but the stories that my grandfather told me, are still fresh in my mind and I do my bit to evoke the spirit of patriotism among the children of the locality.”