Srimonti Dutta, assistant professor of physics at a college in Kolkata, can talk about fractals and chaos theory as fluently as she can discuss bl
Srimonti Dutta, assistant professor of physics at a college in Kolkata, can talk about fractals and chaos theory as fluently as she can discuss black-tailed godwits and camera lenses. Her students are lucky — after college hours, they get to discuss birdwatching treks and climate change; their professor even organises annual trips to watch migratory birds. But Dutta laments that she herself was introduced to birding too late in life.
It started during her honeymoon in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. She had been taking in the beauty of Radhanagar beach when she realised her husband, Argha Banerjee, had disappeared. “What sort of man abandons his bride on their honeymoon?” she fumed. The sort who is a keen birdwatcher, she would learn after a few agonising moments. Her husband had spotted a bird and followed it into the forest. Avid travellers, the couple later went to Karnala Bird Sanctuary and Phansad Wildlife Sanctuary. This was when Dutta began to develop a passion for photography and birding.
A collared kingfisher photographed by Srimonti Dutta.
Dutta’s Ph.D in high-energy physics took her to the National University of Singapore as a visiting research fellow. The birds in the island country and her Nikon D5000 kept her busy. The photography opened up a new line of interest — nature and conservation. Now she uses a Tamron 150-600 mm lens with her Nikon, a Hoya circular polariser, and edits minimally. “Nature is beautiful in itself,” she says.
Two of her landscape photos were featured on the Facebook page of Incredible India, and one was published in the Bombay Natural History Society’s calendar. Her paper about the sighting of the Mongolian gull was published in the magazine, Indian Birds.
In a unique gesture, Dutta embroidered a quilt with the images of birds as a “pictorial guide” for her daughter, with the hope that they would not become extinct by the time she grew up, especially because a lot of the birds have stopped visiting Kolkata. The photograph of the quilt on Facebook was shared 1,805 times. It was accompanied by the caption “Will you be able to see these?”
The quilt is the traditional kantha that all Bengali mothers make at home using soft old sarees and dhotis layered and stitched together using a small running stitch. Dutta chose images of birds she found most visually appealing and those she would definitely want her child to see. Some were modelled on birds she had photographed, like the collared kingfisher, but others were from photographs taken by other birders or from paintings in guidebooks.
It was tedious work, but after 14 months, the quilt with 49 birds was ready. Dutta thinks the images of the Indian roller, Himalayan monal, chestnut-headed tesia, collared kingfisher, velvet-fronted nuthatch, scarlet minivet and golden bush robin have come out particularly well.
Dutta hopes to go birding with her daughter in a few years. Till then, Alaknanda has the quilt to look at. And it will probably be passed down the line, encouraging generations of Duttas to become birders.
The freelance writer is a children’s author and editor.