The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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An eye for feathered friends

He’s a bird watcher with an ear for sounds. He can recognise 200 birdcalls. He’s an avid trekker, too. Nature is his only love in life, and walking through jungles and climbing up mountains is how he pursues his passion. For Arup Chakraborty, it’s all a challenge, because he’s blind.

Having lost his eyesight at the age of two through malarial meningitis, the former student of Calcutta Blind School in Behala learnt to hone his other senses. “Brought up in Haltu, surrounded by open fields, trees and a varied wildlife, I learnt to love nature,” he smiles in reminiscence. “While others were attracted by sights and colours, I was drawn by sounds, smells and the sensation of touch.”

The 48-year-old spent his childhood walking through fields and listening to birds and insects. “Everything about forests fascinates me. When I was told stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, I loved the jungle adventures the best,” he laughs. Chakraborty found the perfect opportunity to roam the country when he got a job as an announcer at Sealdah station in 1978. “Working in the railways, we get passes to travel. I take about three or four trips a year,” he adds.

With younger brother Apurba – “our interests are alike, so he is my most reliable companion” – sometimes an assistant, or a group of friends with an addiction for adventure, Chakraborty has hotfooted across the Himalayas and journeyed through jungles.

From Amarnath and Kedarnath, to an expedition to Koteshwar, and walking into thick forests, be it in Bastar, Kaziranga or the Dooars, he has ventured wherever his heart desired. His favourite season is spring. “But every season has its charm, just as every hour of the day has its special qualities in the forest,” stresses the man from Kasba, for whom the villages of Palamau were once like second home, given the amount of time he would spend there.

“Being blind has never been an obstacle for me. Sometimes, it slows me down. It’s difficult to walk over boulders, near glaciers. But I manage, with help,” says Chakraborty.

He and a few of his blind friends even inspired the Society for Visually Handicapped to request the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute to organise a course for the visually impaired. Joining Prakriti Sansad, a nature lovers’ group in 1997, was the turning point, feels Chakraborty.

On his next trip, he hopes to head for Orissa. At the moment, he’s working on how to record the sound of the Indian cuckoo on his cellphone. His wish is to travel the world on foot, someday. “Nature is my reason to live and walking is my lifeblood. I want to see how far I can go,” Chakraborty signs off.

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