Babush’s steadfast inscrutable gaze rests on us as we walk warily toward him; he is so obviously the symbol of wisdom! Yes, Babush is an owl – one who can no longer fly but who is a much loved presence in the home of Pradeep, popularly known as the ‘Birdman’ to everyone who is a friend (or maybe not) of the avian community.
Pradeep rescues, treats and shelters birds. He cares for the ones that are unwanted, injured or left to fend for themselves when they are not in a state to do so. He receives no tangible reward. Then why does he do what he does?
Well, the story goes, a younger Pradeep would read medical books in order to treat the sick birds that his brother kept as pets. Many medical journals later, even more pet birds and the experience from working for Welfare for Stray Dogs, he is now equipped with the know-how to care for these little creatures. His day spans from a 5 A.M. visit to Crawford Market to buy food for his patients to a 7 P.M. bike ride to ‘pick-up spots’ at Mahalaxmi and CP Tank from where he returns with new patients. It has become his passion. He even has custom-made cotton bags that he uses to carry the injured birds.
Beginning our tour of recuperating birds is Babush, the owl, who was rescued by an NGO and is now recovering under Pradeep’s care. Babush had his feathers plucked out for the purpose of black magic, which is why he cannot fly and is now on perpetual kitchen duty. Later, we encounter almost every bird seen in Mumbai in the small but cozy space of a terrace – mynahs, seagulls, eagles, kites, bats, crows, pigeons, black hens and more owls. These birds have all been rescued and are sheltered until they are well enough to fly away.
Pradeep’s brother, mother, sister-in-law and niece, too, help him look after their avian friends.
“Pradeep has a healing touch,” Jonita, Pradeep’s sister-in-law, tells us. Along with treating the birds, medically, he cares for them. After handling them for 25 years, he understands them – what scares them, what hurts them and how to heal them. The birds are free to leave whenever they find themselves strong enough. When that time comes, the cages that hold them are built in such a way that the birds can leave of their own free will. Most of the birds that have flown away return almost everyday because they feel secure, cared for and mainly because they know what time is feeding time!
As Pradeep continues to help God’s feathered creatures simply because “it is a passion”, he unknowingly sets an example for us all to extend our hand to help, showing compassion without expecting anything in return. For birds, too, share our common home.
If you come across an injured or sick bird or a bird that is stuck someplace that is not a tree, then you can contact Pradeep on 8655370005/6 or, if possible, drop the bird off at Queen’s Mansion, Fort, in baskets placed for that very reason.