Dhaniram sets up his shop under the roof of a broken Maruti 800 frame and has birds for his salesmen. They flock near him at the crack of dawn and attract customers with their chirpy sounds. All this is not staged – it is business as usual for Dhaniram, a bird feed seller who sits at the Panchkuian Road roundabout near Videocon Tower.
Every day, this 34-year-old makes an investment of two buckets of bajra and makka (corn) to sell to passers-by. “There are some people who bring their own foodstuff to feed these birds,” he says, raising no apparent objection to the practice.
There are four steel plates to serve the birds. Dhaniram measures the quantity by hand. “Three to four handfuls make a plate worth Rs 5,” he explains. However, his customers have the freedom to ask for anything between Rs 1 to Rs 100 worth of feed. If it gets him a profit of Rs 100 or above, he is happy to call it a day by 6 pm.
Birds have a good appetite during the winter. “They eat less in the summer,” says Dhaniram, riding high on profits these days. However, rainy days mean no business at all. “Birds go and hide in their nests.” With jetset lifestyles, do people really care about feeding a flock of grey-feathered birds at the crossing? “All kinds of people come and feed these pigeons. Schoolchildren get very fascinated,” he says. And the scenario gets reaffirmed as one sees a young boy removing his flip-flops and bowing his head before feeding the birds. “They have no one to take care of them,” says the loyal patron.
Meanwhile, Dhaniram produces a whistling sound and bangs on his Maruti roof to gather the flying birds into a group. “It’s not just me, they listen to everybody,” he says.
Besides pigeons, one can spot a few sparrows, and even dogs and cows sharing the meal together.
Dhaniram’s memory fails to recall when his brother set up the ‘shop’. But over the years, he has developed his own perspective on the winged creatures. “If a bird falls ill, it becomes lazy in its flight,” he warns. In such a case, he asks his regular clients to provide medication.
Dhaniram wraps up his day watching — no surprises — Animal Planet on TV with his children. “I love to see these birds flapping their wings in the mud ponds full of water.” Call it bird watching and Dhaniram relishes every bit of it!