"I will not move from here till I know that there is an alternative arrangement made for the birds," says Sekhar.

Chennais Birdman faces eviction What will happen to the 2000 parakeets he feeds
news Human Interest Tuesday, May 22, 2018 - 19:00

It was close to 4pm in the afternoon and the harsh summer sun was still making its presence felt in the narrow lanes of Royapettah in Chennai. As this reporter made her way down Pycrofts Road, enquiries about the 'Birdman' were met with both incredulity and familiarity. But a short walk down the road led to large posters of parrots on a dilapidated acid-green building. 

And on the terrace, a man with a white cap was meticulously laying out rice on wooden slabs for his feathered friends. 'Birdman' Sekhar has been carrying out this altruistic task without fail for the last 15 years. His efforts to feed the thousands of parakeets that flock to his humble home every morning and evening have garnered international recognition. 

But today, this camera-repair man is a picture of concern and worry. 

"The owners of the building have asked all the tenants to move out. They want to sell the building and split the money. If it was just me, I would leave. But what about my 2,000 children?" asks the 65-year-old, his eyes welling up as he talks about the birds that have come to depend on him.

"Human beings have taken away their forests, the trees in the cities and we even lock them up in cages. I am trying to help them sustain themselves in a world that is being destroyed by our greed. Who will feed them if I am evicted?" he asks. 

The building that he currently resides in is divided amongst five tenants and the structure itself is close to five decades old. Sekhar has lived with his family in the rented accommodation for 27 years. He first began feeding the parakeets when a couple of them appeared on his terrace after the 2004 tsunami in Tamil Nadu. Soon, he was caring for 2,000 of them in the summer and close to 6,000 during the winters. 

"They are a part of my life now. I spend 40% of my income looking after them and for their food expenses. I stock rice and medicine on a regular basis. I am not saying the building should not be sold or I should not be evicted," says Sekhar. "All I am saying is that whoever takes it over must continue to care for the birds.” 

Ready to buy the building?

While the discussions for eviction have been underway for a year, in the last months, Sekhar alleges, he has been threatened and harassed by the building owners. 

"They send the police to harass me, call me over to the station and threaten me to leave," alleges the Birdman. "But I will not move from here till I know that there is an alternative arrangement made for the birds.” 

Sekhar himself in fact is willing to buy the building, which the owners have tagged to be Rs 5 crore. Not only is he a camera repairman, but he also has one of India's largest collections of vintage cameras. Step into his home and you will find rows of cameras stacked one after the other, transporting you to a different era. 

"These cameras have been procured with great difficulty over the years from across the country," says Sekhar proudly displaying his wealth. "Even a single one of them if auctioned, could fetch the required amount to buy the building. But I don't want them to leave India. I would be grateful if the state or central government bought it to be displayed in a museum. The money can then either be used to help me acquire this building or even to ensure the birds are taken care of.” 

Animal activists, meanwhile, tell TNM that the situation is not as alarming as it sounds. 

"Yes, the birds are used to the regular feeding time and they may initially suffer without the readily available food. This is why we don't encourage feeding of wild or stray animals," says Antony Rubin. "But the birds are wild creatures after all. They will find other sources of nutrition. My guess is that they will move to the Guindy National Park as it will also provide the necessary tree cover."

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