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My Fundays

I was born on the outskirts of Pune, close to the hill ranges of Western Ghats. From the terrace of our house I could see Torna, Rajgad and Sinhagad, the hill forts conquered by Shivaji and his general Tanaji. Every year our school used to organise an annual climbing expedition along the steep slopes of Sinhagad, to relive the adventures of the medieval Maratha warriors.

Although the hills bustled with wildlife, we never got to see any big animal, except for a variety of birds. I could spot handsome crested buntings, for my father had groomed me to be a bird-watcher as well as a naturalist early in my childhood. My father, Dhananjay Ramachandra Gadgil, an economist, had very broad intellectual interests ranging from sociology, public affairs and history to biology and astronomy. He had a personal library of over 3,000 books and I would read them voraciously. I had decided quite early that I would pursue an academic career.

In spite of my academic bent of mind, I was very naughty. Because my parents never persuaded me to study hard, I, along with my younger brother, would explore the woods accompanied by three pet dogs. Both of us were avid athletes ' I was a champion long jumper and my brother, a swimmer. I hated school because, except for the sports teacher, the others were strict disciplinarians. They also disliked a disobedient pupil like me but couldnít complain much because I was also the topper in my class.

The high points in my childhood were opportunities to interact with great biologists like Salim Ali and Irawati Karve. I was barely 12 when I wrote a letter to the great ornithologist, after having noticed an anomalous feature of a bird called the common bee eater, which used to play cheerfully on electric wires close to our house. To my utter surprise, Ali replied to my letter enthusiastically, explaining the birdís behavioural anomaly. Karve, a family friend, had taken us to Coorg valley in Karnataka on course of her research on ecological anthropology. When I came home, after exploring the unique flora and fauna of the jungles, I made up my mind to be an ecologist and work in India.

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