The Birdman of India

The Birdman of India

Salim Ali, (1896-1987) referred to as ‘India’s bird man,’ was a famous naturalist and ornithologist. Interestingly, his interest in birds began in Chembur.

By the time he was three years old, Salim was orphaned. Salim and his eight siblings were then looked after by their maternal uncle Amiruddin Tyabji.  Uncle Amir often took his large family to spend the summer in Chembur. In his autobiography ‘The Fall of a Sparrow,’ Ali describes Chembur – “ Chembur – now a noisy part of the metropolitan Bombay but in those days a delightfully quiet sylvan haven of secondary moist-deciduous jungle set among outlying hillocks of the Western Ghats.” 

On one vacation one of the sparrows that Salim Ali shot down from the trees looked different from the others, since it had a yellow patch on its throat. Amir Ali suggested that Salim take the bird to the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) of which he was a member. The dead sparrow was identified as the Yellow throated Sparrow. This event sparked Salim Ali’s lifelong interest in birds.

After Indian independence, Salim Ali became a key figure in the BNHS. Salim Ali was awarded the Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India. 
Jabir Ali, Salim Ali’s eldest brother was a graduate from Cambridge University. He was an ardent supporter of the Congress party and went to jail several times during the freedom struggle. Jal Naoroji, the grandson of Dadabhai Naoroji, the scholarly political leader, had been Jabir’s classmate at Cambridge, and often visited his friend’s home at Deonar in Chembur.

Jal was working for the Tata group of companies and was in charge of the Indian Hotels, of which the Taj Hotel of Bombay was the flagship. Jal was eager to make the Taj a world class hotel but was found it hard to find high quality vegetables and fruits in large quantities. After discussing his problem with his friend Jabir Ali who had a diploma in Agriculture from Cambridge, it was decided that Jal Naoroji would buy 25 acres of land and start a farm that Jabir Ali would run. The land that Naroji purchased was at the foot of the Trombay hill, and it produced fruits, vegetables and even flowers that were used by the Taj Hotel.


Share on facebook Share on twitter Share on linkedin

Reader Comments

  1. This trivia is so interesting especially the land at the foot of the Trombay hill was cultivated to grow fruits, vegetables and flowers for The Taj Hotel. It would be interesting to know if The Taj Hotel has any correspondence between Jal and Jabbir.

  2. We don’t know if the Taj Hotel has any record of correspondence between Jabir Ali and Jal Naoroji. At that time, Jabir Ali had decided to give up active politics, and it was serendipity when his friend Jal suggested that he develop and farm the land that he had bought in Deonar into a modern horticultural centre producing fruits, vegetables and flowers of the best quality. In fact the two friends located the land together (land in Deonar cost a princely rupees 500 per acre at the time!) This farm was the first one in the area to use farm machinery like bulldozers and tractors.

Comments are closed.