The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Flights of fancy on wings of pets

Manowara Qasem

Her love is animals, and her life’s work is with pigeons. Manowara Qasem’s claim to fame is being the “only woman pigeon racer in Calcutta”. The 33-year-old breeds, hatches, feeds, cleans and trains her husband’s birds for the annual races.

And the fact that the ultimate honour goes to her other half, who, as a member of the Calcutta Racing Pigeon Club, is the one racing the pigeons, is no deterrent. “Everyone in the Club and the racing circuit knows I am the one behind the victories,” she laughs.

The political science honours graduate, after leaving St Xavier’s College, did her systems management in computers from Uptron. Teaching Class IV students was the profession she took up.

“After my marriage five years ago, I had to give up my job. So, since my husband, who runs a restaurant on Park Street, had no time to look after his pigeons, I took it up. I always loved animals anyway and used to have hens of my own. Now, it’s a full-time occupation and I enjoy it,” Qasem says.

The racing season, with a total of nine annual events, begins in winter, in around October. The training begins from August, which involves flying the birds for about 45-minute periods, around three times a day, every day.

“Basically, you let them fly, and wave a white flag in the air to stop them from coming back. When you bring the flag down, they come back,” she explains. “But most importantly, you have to fly the males and females separately, or else they’ll get distracted and won’t fly.”

Breeding the birds, too, requires special knowledge. The young pigeons, under 12 months old, are not mated. It’s only when the birds get too old to race that they become fit for breeding.

“We put them, one pair at a time, in a cage. The eggs hatch after 18 days. Although the parents feed the chicks, we have to make sure that they are doing it properly,” says the woman who has bred past and present winners of the 458-km Gaya Derby.

With an Alsatian guard dog, a parakeet, hens and cocks, around 60 racing pigeons and 70 breeding pigeons at her Picnic Garden home, the mother of two has her hands more than full.

Raising race-winning birds and even a former Best Bird of the Year is not an easy task, particularly when the pigeons require constant watching and cleaning.

“I have an ayah who helps me with my daughter and son, although I make time to be with them. Cleaning the pigeons’ lofts and feeding them takes up a lot of my attention. I really don’t have much time for anything else. This is what I love doing, though.” Qasem signs off.

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