The universe has a strange way of showing you your blessings. For Nandu H. Shirgudi, he believes it was the thousands of birds he saved over the years, that collectively saved him. In the very midst of Khar Danda, among the chaotic clamour of people, animals and traffic, is a yellow construction shop on whose walls you’ll find several hawks perched (in stark contrast to their environment) rather calmly. To most people in Khar Danda, this is regular as Nandu has made this their home for the last fifteen years or so. For us on the other hand, seeing birds of prey aligned along the wall in a formation that strangely resembled a prospective boy band’s album cover — you could say we were a little surprised.
We trudged past the construction work at hand and the hawks who closely watched our every move, into the little shop. What followed was a rather broken conversation in Hindi, until my colleague intervened to simply ask if the ‘Doctor of Hawks’ was in. At this, the man and woman in the store simply nodded and pointed aimlessly in another direction, saying he was at the bakery. Suspicious but in pursuit of this doctor, we plowed through till we got to the aforementioned bakery, where we decided to go with what worked, “Doctor of Hawks?”
Two men pointedly turned to look at a man in a red shirt, who gave us a curt nod and ushered us towards the back of his store. Before he could say much else, our volleyed questions startled him before he cracked a smile and began his tale, “I’ve always been an animal lover, especially when it comes to birds. Initially, I used to take care of pigeons but my people back at home kept trying to remove them due to the mess they’d create. It was about 15 to 20 years ago that an incident occurred near Carter Road. I was walking with a friend when a car grievously injured a hawk. The bird was bleeding, so I caught him and brought him back to my shop. His leg was broken as well so I put some turmeric on the wound and used a stick as support for his leg.”
Since that day on, the hawk continued to sit at his shop until he got better. As expected, this majestic bird of prey drew attention from people, leading to some even bringing him more injured birds. When asked if he had any prior experience taking care of animals, he chuckles, “It’s all just experience over the years. Nowadays, some doctors also bring me eagles to take care of. The police station has my number and they call me to take care of or rescue injured birds too.”
As his reputation grew, the media attention he received resulted in his number getting around to those in need of an avian saviour — a title he had no issue living up to. “I catch them and bring them here till they’re all healed up. If they’re okay, they will fly away. If they’re injured, they stay here and I feed them.” He refuses to even consider cages, simply putting out food (raw meat) along the wall upon which they remain perched.
In certain cases, he feeds them himself by opening up their beak — which leads us to question if they’ve ever injured him whilst under his care. He pauses to think about this but then shakes his head, “These birds aren’t dangerous to people unless you try to catch them in which case, be warned, their claws are incredibly powerful. Over the years, I’ve developed a method to catch them so I remain unharmed.”
If a bird is injured beyond the help he can offer them, Nandu takes them to the vet or calls his friend Purnima, a fellow animal lover from Goregaon. “She often sends me names of the medicine the birds would require and sometimes, injured birds too.”
As we draw closer to 2pm, their designated feeding time, we walk towards the construction shop with him. The birds begin to flutter, recognizing the man that they associate with food. He unfolds some newspaper atop a cement mound, lays out the meat near a cement bowl filled with water and stands back. He looks at us shrugging, “I don’t like to interfere with them unless I absolutely need to.”
Feeding these birds every day for the last two decades would not have been an easy task to fund, but he takes no donations. “People often come here to donate money but I don’t take anything. It’s these birds and their blessing that have kept me alive,” he says. At our quizzical expressions, he elaborates, “The doctors gave me two years to live when I was in a coma back in 2003. I’m not sure what it was but I do know this — it was their blessing that I’m living my life today, 17 years down the line.” His 7-year-old son too, has learned to love birds like his father.
We watch in wonder at the hawks, as they stare back at us stoically without moving towards the meat. Nandu whispers, “They’re probably afraid of you or are confused by your presence.” We back away into the shop, peeking around the wall like amateur birdwatchers and then like clockwork at 2pm, they swoop in on the meat, scaring away the crows that have gathered.
Nandu smiles — his work here is done.
If you’re looking for someone to rescue a bird or two, you can reach out to Nandu H. Shirgudi on 9820013894.
[Due credit also goes to Ravi Nair for tipping us off as well as giving us incredibly accurate directions towards Nandu’s little sanctuary in Khar Danda.]
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