If you grew up in India, you must have spent a considerable part of your childhood running after the marvellous creatures that are butterflies. Those tints of colour they left on our fingers have been imprinted in our memories forever. What if we told you that you can relive those memories again, but this time, really understanding the world of butterflies and finding answers to all that has intrigued you about them.
The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) has designed and launched a ‘Certificate Course in Butterfly Studies’ focusing exclusively on studying butterflies under the guidance of Mr Isaac Kehimkar, fondly called the butterfly man. He’s an eminent naturalist and author of a bestselling book on Indian butterflies.
In an interview with IndiBeat, Mr Kehimkar talks about his love for nature, especially butterflies.
IB: Tell us a little about yourself and your love for nature.
I grew up in Deonar, a suburb of Mumbai. I was in school, when black and white television started in India with only one channel and there were no video games available either. But Nature offered many other options. Deonar was still green and water in the streams was sparkling clean.
Weak in maths, I could not go for science, so I graduated in Political Science and Psychology from Mumbai University. However, my affinity towards nature remained strong as ever. Soon after graduating I did a brief stint in the Tata-owned Lakme. That is when I got the opportunity to join the Bombay Natural History Society as a volunteer in 1978, with a low-paying job there as Library Assistant. My mother warned me that no girl would marry me with this meager salary. But my father came to my rescue and convinced her that it’s more difficult to get a job that will give satisfaction and happiness.
IB: How did you cultivate an interest in nature in the early years, when internet as well as cameras weren’t as easily available?
The house we lived in had good lot of trees and my interest in gardening grew so much that I started a plant nursery. My parents encouraged me to keep pets and allowed me to do whatever made me happy. I had dogs, cats, rabbits, hens, ducks and fishes. Pets taught me to take responsibility and learn to accept loss in life. My father gave me a box camera when I was in ninth standard, and my first photography started with my pets. From that day onwards, my camera has always been with me.
In BNHS I was in a treasure house of knowledge on nature. Here, I grew up while lapping up as much as I could from the library and learning from people like Dr Salim Ali and Vyankatesh Madgulkar who often visited the BNHS library. Sanctuary magazine offered me good opportunities to hone my writing skills and I could publish several of my natural history photos and articles. I did a story on butterfly lifecycles and found it so fascinating that then onwards, butterflies took over my life. My books on Indian Wildflowers and Indian Butterflies were then published by the BNHS and Oxford University Press. The book on butterflies turned out to be the bestseller among BNHS publications. I now am the Deputy Director (Natural History) for the BNHS.
IB: Can butterfly gardening can be taken up professionally? What are some of the pros/ cons of it?
The concept of butterfly gardens is slowly getting popular in India, and yes those interested in gardening as well as in nature can take it up as a career option. It can be done on a consultancy basis, as several corporates are ready to sponsor such projects for schools and public utility.
IB: Your thoughts on nature conservation in India; have things changed over the years?
There is a lot more awareness about butterflies and nature conservation today. We have good sets of wildlife laws and protected areas to take care of the wildlife. Today, thanks to social media, the awareness level is lot higher and it helps too.
IB: What is your favourite butterfly hotspot in India?
In India, the Northeast region, which is actually a biodiversity hotspot, is my favourite for butterflies. I have stopped going abroad for butterflies. India has so much diversity and natural beauty that one lifetime is not enough to see and know India.
IB: What are your expectations from people who enrol for the Certificate Course?
The (six-month) online course is designed to provide systematic information to the candidates and make them more aware about the butterfly and its biology, besides pursuing it as an enjoyable hobby.
IB: Your 1-day butterfly-spotting workshop is popular! Tell us more.
All our workshops aim at making people aware and get first-hand information. (They start with) a lecture and then we take participants for nature trails in the BNHS forest reserve itself–that’s 33 acres of forest reserve adjoining the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Here, the participants learn to observe, document and report their findings in a more organised way.
We also offer options like higher studies on butterflies, developing conservation projects to study butterfly ecology, and other careers like butterfly eco-tourism and butterfly gardening.
You can find the details of the Certificate Course on Butterfly Studies here. The next batch begins in June 2017.
Image Credit: BNHS India