Gentle Birdman Leaves Us

Many mornings, sitting in our little garden with our cups of tea, as we watch the birds already busy going about their day’s business, we may spot one that we had not seen before. And before it disappears we say, “Bring Lalsinhbhai’s book and let’s find out what this is.” Lalsinhbhai’s handy bird book is always close at hand. With the help of the beautiful life-like illustrations we open to the description, and always learn so much more than the name of the bird. Written in simple conversational Gujarati, Lalsinhbhai’s bird books are over and above the traditional description of birds. They capture nuances of birds that make them truly our Lifelong Companions, as one of his books is titled.

Lalsinhbhai Raol, passionate nature lover, the birdman of Gujarat, and an inspiration to countless nature lovers, passed away recently. For the Matriarchs, who both stepped into the charmed campus of CEE with relatively little prior exposure to the natural world, he was one of the wonderful guides that gently led us to explore and discover the world of birds.

Lalsinhbhai was then working with CEE on a book series called Introduction to Nature. For many generations, Salim Ali’s book had been the Bible for all birdwatchers. Lalsinhbhai’s series, in Gujarati, not only opened up the fascinating world of birds to non-English speaking audiences, but also opened windows to the birds of Gujarat—starting with the most commonly found birds, to birds of wetlands, of grasslands, and of the forest and its environs. Lalsinhbhai not only translated his long years of bird observation into succinct, interesting descriptions, but also coined appropriate Gujarati names for several of these.

His was a quiet, unobtrusive presence on CEE campus, but whenever you met him, he would always have a gentle word of concern and encouragement, and an exciting bird fact to share.IMG_20190801_110849.jpg

I had the privilege of sharing his great knowledge and passion when he kindly agreed to be the author of NatureScope Birds, one of a series of Teachers’ Manuals that I was editor of. This involved not only putting together a compendium of information about Indian birds in a teacher and student-friendly style, and also linking this with relevant and exciting activities that could be easily done. For me this was a greatly enriching and inspiring collaboration. Even today, I often dip into the book for facts, ideas, and activities with the confidence that every word is accurate and vetted by an expert ornithologist.

Meena has her own special memories of learning from Lalsinhbhai. I had the privilege to work with Lalsinhbhai on developing a proposal for a project of Bird Study for the Visually Challenged almost 30 years ago. It was a unique project, in that its purpose was to make ‘bird watching’ possible without the ‘watching’. Recorded bird sounds were of course an important part; but we also proposed providing tactile experiences such as touch-and-feel albums of feathers; collection of birds’ nests; true-size models of birds, birds’ feet, beaks, eggs; and trips to bird areas to experience the environment, sounds, etc. As always, Lalsinhbhai could empathise with the needs, and gave wonderful insights and ideas. The Ministry of Human Resources accepted the proposal and the team carried out a very successful project in Ahmedabad.

We feel fortunate for having known, and learnt from this gentle soul. May his spirit always soar high with the birds that he so loved.

–Mamata and Meena