In this series, ‘True Story’, under Insights, I bring out human stories that will help us pause and reflect, stories that are certain to give us insights.
This time, I bring you the story of Sanjeev Pednekar. Sanjeev was deeply connected with Nature since his childhood in a world that refused to understand him. However, his teacher was the one who had full faith in him.
Sanjeev followed his heart and today he runs a pet sanctuary in Bangalore. His challenges are far from over but he seems to be in a state of bliss, a state that eludes most of us through our lives.
I had learnt of Sanjeev and met him at his sanctuary with his animal and bird friends and I came away hugely inspired.
The turning point of my life was the class conducted by Late Mr. M K Srinath, who was a former Director at WWF and a renowned wildlife conservationist. He had come into our class with an adult crocodile – its snout was tied up. He had also brought with him a large fruit basket containing snakes. There was pin-drop silence in the class as Srinath Sir began his demonstration. He had everyone’s complete attention. Watching him, I thought this was such a cool and meaningful job. At the end of the class, I ran up to him and asked him if I could volunteer with him. He agreed.
I must have gone to Srinath Sir’s home, which was like a mini zoo, about 50-60 times. Each time, I must have spent about 8 hours. This period changed my life forever. I decided that this is what I wanted to do.
My background was that I was ‘eased out’ of several mainstream schools. My teachers thought something was wrong with me. I was made to appear for an Aptitude Test conducted by a prominent Assessment organization in Bangalore. I was recommended Special Education. My parents tried to get me into other mainstream schools armed with an exemption in Math and such subjects. Meanwhile, a lady we knew, referred me to Kavitha Sameer Angre who runs Paatashaala. (Please read Kavitha’s story at http://ksramanan.com/true-story-powerful-school-thought/).
I joined Paatashaala. I felt very safe there. I was left to be myself. I would be always outside the class in the midst of nature and it was fine by Kavitha. My parents were quite surprised that I was so keen to go to Paatashaala. At Paatashaala, I learnt to dream. It dawned on me that there is a whole world outside of academics.
After Paatashaala, I moved away from Bangalore. I was trying to find an identity of my own, to discover the uniqueness in me. Paatashaala had taught me how to handle situations, rather than running away from them. More than focusing on the curriculum, I had learnt how to run my life.
I spent a year at Agumbe which is a high-altitude village in Karnataka. Surrounded by the Western Ghats mountains and lush rainforest, it is known for its many waterfalls.
Agumbe signified many beginnings for me. I was a part of the King Cobra Telemetry Project for a year, working alongside Romulus Whitaker & Gowrishankar, both great herpetologists (experts in snakes). I supported Gerry Martin in his farm, part of The Gerry Martin Project (TGMP). This period made me fully immerse in Nature and Nature taught me a lot. While my peers in school and college were fully immersed in their education, I too was immersed in my kind of education. This was the kind of education I truly enjoyed and valued.
Later, I played several roles, as an Education Officer conducting workshops, as a Coordinator with the BBMP (the Bangalore Municipality) under their Urban Wildlife Rescue Team. I was part of the National Geographic Team with Gerry Martin, the first Indian to be associated with National Geographic, as part of their outdoor and outreach staff for a conservation-based project. I joined Hike Easy, a travel-based company and navigated 400 destinations on foot for 2 years – they were building a GPS-like feature.
I joined Xplorers as their Ecology Partner. My role was to teach their curriculum based on wildlife. This was the time, I learnt some Business lessons and some hard lessons, as well. It was at this time that I decided that I should have something of my own.
Several years later, I set up ‘Into the Wild’ and later, ‘Prani’. Set up as a farm in about 2 acres, at Sunkatkatte in the outskirts of Bangalore, Prani today has hoofed animals, avians, reptiles, rodents and amphibians. 80% of the animals and birds at Prani have been rescued. Actually, I would think that these animals chose Prani.
Prani is set up as a Citizen Science Voluntary Service. I would want Prani to become a model in every school, park and mall in the country. I believe that when we work closely with animals and birds, it teaches us to become a better human being – kindness, empathy and compassion come naturally to those who are closely associated with other living beings.
Today, I am involved in a variety of pursuits. I support a Farmers Upliftment Program. I help in snakebite mitigation. I am active in the area of Human-Animal Conflict Management. I also help detect illegal wildlife trading. In the area of Outreach & Education, I can be seen with children in schools. I am also part of the team that supports prevention of animal cruelty. I get regular calls from the BBMP and from ordinary people to rescue animals. My contacts are available with agencies such as the Police Control Room, Fire Station and Just Dial Services.
I helped set up the 2-acre Esselworld Bird Park at Mumbai from scratch. I wanted to create a benchmark in India, a place where birds are not confined to small cages but are free to fly around a large area. If you get a chance to visit, do make it. It is not an aviary – it is a community space for birds, a complete ecosystem. I was instrumental in choosing the right materials, fabrication, camera location and water supply areas. I chose the kind of birds that could coexist. I leveraged all the experience I had. It was such a fulfilling experience. Many people got to know of me through the Esselworld Bird Park.
Prani, as a center, is host to several children and their families on a regular basis. When children get exposed to animals, there are several benefits. I help children manage their emotions through their interaction with animals and birds. For instance, I would pair up a domineering child with a horse, much larger in size – it brings balance in the child. Likewise, children who are shy are paired up with ducks – after some time, one can see them carrying on a conversation with their newly-found friends. Children who have anger-management issues or attention-deficit issues find relief when they are with animals because each animal is a character in itself and needs special handling. As children become more responsible, they are given tasks higher in the hierarchy of complexity. I have many regular children-volunteers at Prani. No wonder children don’t want to go home and are quick to return to Prani during the next weekend.
At Prani, we have only 7 staff members. The bulk of the work is managed by 45 active volunteers and supported by several well-wishers. From a funding perspective, it takes about Rs. 25 lacs per annum to keep this place running with just the essentials. If we get about Rs. 40 lacs per annum, we could take care of the animals much better and provide a great experience to our guests. We need funds.
Some of my insights based on my years of experience:
– Every human life has a purpose. It is important to recognize what we are meant for.
– Outdoors is the best teacher. Children today spend far too much time indoors.
– A child needs to be introduced to a variety of skill-based real-life situations from a young age. Children enjoy real-life experiences. They should be allowed to explore many opportunities before deciding what they really wish to do. Unless you experience something, how will you know whether you are good at it or not?
– In India, there are lots of alternate opportunities to complement mainstream education. Parents should encourage children to try such opportunities.
– ‘Teach me the way I learn’ should be the focus.
I am blessed. I followed my instincts to find my calling. How many of us have this privilege?
Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘a nation can be judged by the way it treats its animals.’ As a nation, there is a lot of work to be done. I hope, one day, Prani will show the way to the world.
Visit us at http://prani.co.in/.
Come over to Prani. We will be delighted to host you.