The Fall of a Sparrow – my current read, is an autobiography of the maverick Indian Ornithologist Dr Salim Ali. He borrows the title from Shakespeare’s Hamlet – “…there’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow”. Striking is the man’s spirit for adventure and passion for studying birds. Birwatching, he writes is one of the most ‘peaceable pursuits of the out-of-doors’. With a field trip to a tiger reserve in BR Hills, I couldn’t agree more. The excitement for him lies in ‘ferreting clues and then following them up step by step to the discovery or confirmation of a fact or facts, of which one has obtained a suspicion or hunch’. Years back we named our startup after the Baya Weaver bird. It was good to know that it was Dr Salim Ali who first came up with the first correct interpretation of the extraordinary breeding biology of the Baya Weaver bird. He attributes this to the time he was ‘living jobless in the seaside cottage’ of a family.
He studied birds of the subcontinent and beyond. He does that from Tibet to Nilgiris down south of India and further to Indochina and onwards to Europe. Then on one of those conferences, he rides all the way to Uppasala, Sweden!
Riding through France, he writes –
“I had ample experience also of some other unlovable traits of the Frenchman- at least the Frenchman of the capital. It happened to me so many times before I decided to quit Paris that I cannot believe it was just individual lack of friendliness and courtesy, but perhaps a crude and deliberate display of the Frenchman’s notorious linguistic chauvinism. Paris was new to me, and in spite of a close study of the city’s road map before I started out each day, when one suddenly came upon a diversion for road repair, it was easy to get completely lost in that maze of streets and boulevards. Unfortunately I speak no French, and every time I pulled up by a pedestrian for help in the politest English I knew, he looked at me, then turned his back and walked away without even pretending to be apologetic.”
Many such delightful accounts and tales of admirable enthusiasm make up this biography. ‘A rattling good read’ as a review said.