Nakul Sarkar, the birdman cometh…

Nakul Sarkar, as I remember him , was a gaunt man , burned to the skin under the sun , barefooted with a rare bird in his shoulder. He visited Kumar once a year when he came down from his home in the forest. He was an officer of the Indian Forest Service and was posted somewhere in North Bengal, at the foot of the Himalayas. He is the only person with whom I have not been able to establish a contact, after the death of my father in 1978. Maybe, on reading my father’s obituary he felt that it would not be worthwhile to come to Kumars any more. He was right I knew nothing about ornithology. The strangest aspect of his appearance was the rare bird in his shoulder and him being barefoot. He said that in the forest the slightest noise from your shoe could scare the birds away…it is better to be barefoot.

His principal area of interest was
ornithology, which needed immense patience and perseverance. Every day, among the pine and
fir trees in the forest, he would devote most of his time in watching birds, their little ones, their art of making nests and their melodious notes. He had acquired, with the passage of time, experience to imitate their chirping. For bird watching, he had selected a few places in the forest where he invariably preferred to go in seasons. These places had vegetative strips and dense willows and poplar trees - where birds of all varieties, migratory and local, were conspicuous by their presence. He would spend hours there with a binocular to take close views of birds in their nests or on branches of trees and would immediately jot down his observations in a notebook.

Bird watching became his regular activity and he kept his eyes open for birds in high-altitude meadows and mountains during trekking. He had told my father that he had come across Himalayan black bulbul, Himalayan whistling thrust, Woodpecker, hoopoes, kingfisher, jungle crow, sandpiper, turtle doves, red-bowed finch, Himalayan brown dippler, Indian bushchat, blue headed rock thrush, Stoliczka mountain finch and mountain pigeons. All these birds he could identify from rare books collected from Nirmal Kumar.

Nakul Sarkar had a flair for studying wild
flowers, plants and mountain herbs which he found during his trekking in meadows and pastures in the forest. He made it a point to collect samples of these wild flowers, herbs and plants, and would carefully preserve them in between the leaves of his diary in a scientific manner till his return to his residence. These plants were later studied with the help of books he collected from Kumar .

He would come down to Kumars, like the migratory birds for a week or so and try to collect as much materials as possible. Rare books on birds and plants. Gould’s Bird of the Himalayas was obtained by my father from London especially for Sarkar…. and you should have seen his smile. He told my father that he will not be able to pay for it as it costs more than a flat in Calcutta. My father insisted that he take it . There was another rare book, which I can vaguely remember . I think it was William RoxburghsFlora Indica’. Nakul on receiving the same was moved to tears. That was the price for Kumar. Every year he waited for Nakul Sarkar to come down to his place in Lower Circular Road. Then after his death he stopped coming.

Images : Artist's impression of Birdman . John Gould . Birds of the Himalayas . William Roxburgh . Plate from Flora Indica .