Arjun Singh, 48, lost his father and wife in quick succession, in 2004 and 2005. Then followed a long spell of depression and “utter loneliness”, until in 2007 a sparrow chick that had fallen from a tree in the courtyard of his house transformed his life for good.
He tended to the bird for a few days. It recovered and flew off, kicking off a passionate association with sparrows. Today, about 8,000 birds of this fast disappearing specie live in and around his sprawling ancestral home in Neraipur village of Rohtas district, about 170km south east of Bihar capital Patna.
At his call, aao aao (come, come), the birds descend from skies and eat the grains he offers them every day. It has been estimated that every year he feeds at least six quintals of rice grains to the birds.
“When I sit down for lunch, these lovely birds gather around me and try to pick food from my plate. When I walk around in my house they don’t fly away, but just step aside and keep chirping. They have accepted me as their own. They have removed my loneliness,” said Singh.
“The death of my father and wife left I was completely clueless. The mental agony was unbearable. My daughter was just five that time and my brothers living in Sasaram took care of her, but I just felt lonely and deeply depressed,” added Singh, a post-graduate in chemistry.
But the encounter with the ailing chick changed it all the flock only kept on swelling in number. His compassion has touched the people in nearby villages and they have started providing food and shelter to sparrows.
In fact, the state government that declared sparrow the state bird only last year has consulted him as a resource person in its efforts to conserve the small birds disappearing fast from urban as well as rural settings.
Not resting on his laurels, Singh is racing against time to provide about 1,000 nesting holes made of mud, bamboo and plastic bottles for the birds by December. These will allow the bird couples to nest safely and mate around February. Sparrows lay eggs till May-June, four to six at a time.
Spending years with these birds, Singh has gained much knowledge about them.
"Pollution, radiation from mobile towers, use of insecticides and pesticides, rampant urbanisation, hunting and loss of habitat are the major reasons behind the decline in their numbers. The use of harvester machines have checked falling of grains on the ground, robbing the birds of their food," says Singh.
Singh said these beautiful winged creatures are an indicator of the health of the environment and public awareness is needed to save them.