For over 300 years, the Shaikhs of Syohara have held on to their sprawling haveli. So have the sparrows.
Twenty-three years ago, Akbar Shaikh, the patriarch of the family, bequeathed his ancestral haveli to his eldest son Shaikh Jamal with an oath that had passed down generations – that the structure of the mansion never be altered and that the sparrows that have lived there for centuries not be displaced. Jamal agreed. His forefathers, too, had acquiesced to the “clause”.
The 52-year-old continues to fulfill his father’s wish.
According to estimates of the UP forest department, the mansion is currently home to over 2,000 sparrows. On Monday, World Sparrow Day, the sprawling mansion came alive with anevent held by the forest department in collaboration with Jamal’s family.
The mansion is popularly known as “Gauraiya walon ki haveli” and is home to close over 2,000 sparrows – this at a time when the population of the bird has drastically declined in the urban landscape owing to habitat loss and diminishing ecological resources for sustenance.
On Monday, 50 bags of grain and earthen pots were distributed to local residents with an appeal that they would look after the sparrows.”My father, Akbar Shaikh, had six sons. Three of them died early. I was then given the task to look after the haveli – and the birds that had made it their home. I have been ill lately. But my 22-year-old son Sheikh Faraz will take up the responsibility of looking after the sparrows,” Jamal toldTOl on Monday. Jamal added: “This has always been the tradition in our family. Elders while handing over the property to their scions ensure with an oath that the younger generation takes care of thesparrows in the haveli. Our love and affection towards these birds have been passed on through the ages. They are like our children.”
The sparrows can be seen everywhere at “Gauraiya walon ki haveli”. Baskets with grains are laid out for them. Locals do their bit. They contribute what they can.
Faraz said, “I’ve studied hotel management and am looking for a job now. But I have to say that I find so much peace amid my tiny friends. Serving them is not just a hobby, but our family tradition and duty.” With a coy smile, Faraz shares a secret: “The sparrows have helped me find my love. Before marrying Wania (Siddiqui), I used to send her videos of these birds. She was greatly impressed.”
Wania confessed, “These birds actually brought me to this house. If I don’t hear the chirping, I feel uneasy…”
Sub divisional forest officer Gyan Singh said, “They have set an example for all of us. Conserving sparrows for generations is not easy. Andthey have done it with so much love. Our department appreciates what they have achieved.” Jamal, though, is a tad worried. “The sudden decline in the sparrow population has been attributed to the felling of trees and excessive use of pesticides. Authorities should make it mandatory for residents to plant saplings when they build a house. Most of the houses in urban and semi-urban areas don’t have trees or even small plants these days. Where will the birds go?”