Three years back, Jaspreet Singh suffered from depression and indulged in the idle, wasteful pastimes of the Chandigarh youth. This resident of Sector 30B went through a string of jobs, none of which left him satisfied. Browsing the internet one day, he chanced upon the hobby of keeping pigeons and was charmed. He ordered pigeons straight off OLX, the online marketplace much favoured by breeders. His significant purchase was of four ‘Pakistani Siraj’ pigeons, much valued as display birds, from a Moga breeder. Such is the grace of the Siraj and the colours they flash that these feathered delights readily evoke visions of voluptuous Lahore belles, heavily ornamented and turned out in rich clothing.
Jaspreet now owns 20 pigeons of different bloodlines. The pigeons have introduced much joy into his life and lent him emotional stability. He has constructed a pigeon loft above his apartment and his terrace resonates with cooing and vivid eruptions of colour as pigeons take flight and flutter as they feed, court females and bask in the sun. He is well-settled now with a wife and kid and is a commercial photographer. Jaspreet is one of the growing tribe of pigeon hobbyists in the tricity and its peripheral colonies and villages. “Pigeons, if kept in small numbers, do not litter neighbours’ houses with excreta and, anyways, do not bark and bite like dogs!” says Jaspreet.
He cares for his pigeons in winter with a diet of minerals, calcium, mustard oil, condiments and grains. A vital component is dousing their water with two caps of XXX rum (his late father was a retired army major) once in 15 days for warmth. Female pigeons are more stable on eggs after this shot of rum and water!
Unspoken and unwritten episodes may tumble out of the closet when one of society’s luminaries passes away. Punjab’s former governor, the late Lt Gen JFR Jacob (retd), was a man devoted to public causes. It was, therefore, somewhat in the nature of a surprise when the press corps arrived at the Chhatbir zoo on December 5, 2002, to report the governor’s visit and discovered it had been declared out-of-bounds. Lt Gen Jacob and his relatives were being escorted around the zoo by the then chief warden, zoos, Punjab, Dr Vinod Sharma. The daily visitors, many of whom were from far-off places with kids, were left gaping outside the entry gates along with the press corps. They were as inconvenienced as the common citizen and the PGIMER patients are by the visits of Prime Ministers to Chandigarh.
After the tour, Lt Gen Jacob was ushered to the zoo’s rest house. Dr Sharma was facing flak over scams and was locked in a power struggle with the then Chhatbir director, RK Luna. With his back to the wall, Dr Sharma had manoeuvred adroitly to display his clout in the corridors of power by organising the tour. As a reporter, I was present and asked Lt Gen Jacob if he had bought tickets for his relatives? His florid, fair face went beetroot-red and he stormed out after terming my query a ‘’very nasty’’ one.
I was summoned that evening by my then editorial head and told the governor had phoned the big boss in Delhi and complained that since he enjoyed a constitutional position, why should the petty issue of tickets concern a reporter? But on the zoo’s side, my question so rattled Dr Sharma that he directed his subordinate officer, Arun Kumar (now the zoo’s deputy director), to shell out money from his own pocket and buy post factum entry tickets worth Rs 700-800 on behalf of the governor and his entire entourage.
A parting shot or post script would be in order. Lt Gen Jacob left a signed note in the zoo visitors’ book of December 5, 2002: “This zoo has great potential. We should try to increase the number of species, as also facilitate movement of visitors.”
Lost at the border
When the conservationist and birder Shashank Dalvi set his sights on recording the maximum number of birds in India in one calendar year, the lost bird of the Ferozepur borders, the Sind woodpecker, was high on his list of “proclaimed absconders”. But his search for the woodpecker went in vain during his November-December tour of Punjab. Barring a few misses on his wish list like the woodpecker, the Mumbai-based Dalvi was successful in recording 1,128 species in 2015 by traversing 22 states and some UTs. He was taking part in the global competition known as the ‘Big Year’ and his record tally includes birds spotted at Harike (Punjab), Dighal (Haryana) and Chitkul (Himachal Pradesh). A total of 1,306 bird species -- migratory, vagrant and resident -- have been recorded in India over time.
The first photo record of the woodpecker from India came on August 9, 2011, from a remote border area of Shahgarh (Jaisalmer), and this had lent hope to Dalvi that the bird may still be around in Ferozepur. This woodpecker is otherwise a common bird in most parts of Pakistan.
“The last woodpecker specimens collected in India were by the British and these were from Ferozepur and Sirsa. When I visited the Ferozepur spot, the habitat had changed from acacia trees to exotics, and it was not as dry as preferred by this woodpecker,” said Dalvi. One specimen is preserved at the British Museum of Natural History, London, and was collected by AO Hume on February 4, 1870, from Arniwalla, Sirsa.