As a `fan’ of Gerald Durrell:
Since I was 14 years old, I have been reading Gerald Durrell’s books, dreaming his life, carrying fancy imaginations of Corfu, and then Channel Islands (where his home, wildlife park and the institute is located).
I think the first book I read was `A zoo in my luggage’. His sense of humor had me in from this very book!
After all, staying in Rajajinagar, Bangalore, each book I read felt like something that happened to someone, somewhere in another world. You could live it through dreaming and fantasizing and in deep awe that there were people who actually got to experience all this – THAT beautiful life of being in nature as your profession, interacting with exotic animals, having a family to support you in such `freak’ thinking besides banking, engineering and medicine! This had to be the freedom the `west’ gave!
And yet, like all `fans’ do – I carried a dream. There was no internet, or any relatives who lived abroad who could research on this man -Gerald Durrell. It’s like, you can be in a middle class conservative Iyer family, secretly love Michael Jackson (ok, or anybody else), knowing fully well, you might never get to see him/her, but yet are downright certain that life will bring that person to you, right?
Not to mention that he was born in Jamshedpur, India before the family moved to England and then to Corfu, Greece. That `Indian’ connection sealed my love for him.
So I told myself, that someday I will certainly meet him (and I still categorized him as an author, who is also a naturalist) and learn from him. As years passed, and my connection to nature and all living creatures became stronger, I could buy more of his books, fall in love with more of his work, and meanwhile trek, explore, travel to places within India and satisfy some parts of this `exploring’ desire in me that I owe so much to his writing, to his books.
Of course in 1995, Gerald Durrell passed away, and I got the news much later. Sir David Attenborough, his good friend had said, “I do assure you, the world needs Durrell”. Can Sir David Attenborough ever be wrong?!
And so the seeds for what I pursue today, were sown right back then. It had to be nurtured, nourished, fed for several years thereafter.
The story goes, that with a good job in advertising, and access to internet and information, I adopted 3 beautiful creatures at the park (through their online adoption scheme), and became a proud parent. I was a mother, finally, and much after my marriage whenever someone asked whether we were planning to have children, I had to just point to the wall with the 3 pictures on them.
SO – when in 2008, I entered the gate of the Durrell Park for the first time, it was my `Secret Garden’. Tears filled my eyes and I had goose-bumps, as the naturalist took me through the entire park, filling me in on details about each species, the conservation work underway in several countries, their rehabilitation programs etc. The grin on my face, the joy of fulfilling my dream, and then soaking in all the good work that the Durrell Conservation team continued to do much after he had passed, those seeds sprouted that day!
I watched my 3 children – Ya Kwanza (my handsome Gorilla), George (the radiated tortoise) and Evander (the one ear mongoose), with such joy, that my husband thought I might stay back and nurture them everyday. This institution and its work was more than what I had imagined!
Not to mention that I met Lee Durrell, who took me to the room in which Gerald Durrell held all his meetings, autographed some more books by him, took my picture next to his favourite portrait, and deep down, the `fan’ in me made peace with not getting an opportunity to see him.
More than just a `fan’:
In 2012, I went back to Durrell to study `Endangered Species Recovery Program’ and then stayed on to volunteer at the park, wanting to connect to every species that both Gerald and Lee Durrell passionately worked with, apart from wanting to learn from their dedicated team.
I walked past his grave at Les Augres Manor (inside the park) everyday, at least once. Such places and people carry a certain energy that is infectious. The vision of Gerald & Lee Durrell, to save endangered species from extinction and the deep awareness they carry that as humans we ONLY share this earth with other species, is the very vision the rest of the team at Durrell continue to hold and fulfill. They are not just inspiring, but make you want to get down on your feet and get your hands dirty, which I did!
Facts have it that the first word Durrell uttered was `zoo’. Almost home-schooled as he used to fall sick often, his love for animals and other forms of life, was nourished and nurtured by his mother and the entire family. He said, “My childhood in Corfu shaped my life. If I had the craft of Merlin, I would give every child the gift of my childhood.”
This support of his family, friends and his partner, and his ability to dream big, led to the The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.
He always said that he would be very happy the day he could close his zoo. It meant that all the species were safe in their respective habitats.
During my volunteer work there, I realized – The Durrell Team have several success stories and many failed ones too. Challenges, obstacles, funding issues, unsuccessful rehabilitation work and yet the strength in their vision, their focus on the larger purpose, energizes them and they have evolved to look at barriers as an opportunity for `growth’.
They do not work with `excuses’ but with `intention’. When you carry the right intention, all challenges and obstacles only become your learning curve to do a better job, to discover a better you!
Everyday I observed, the team showed up to work – with hope, joy, plans, faith, trust, a deep desire to push boundaries, and the line between personal and professional merged. It merged because, where there is `joy’ and `meaning’ to what we show up to do everyday, those boundaries fade away too.
While Gerald Durrell is more famous across the world for the books he wrote, he never enjoyed writing. He wrote books to raise funds for the park, for his work, to ensure that his `little brown job’ can sustain and flourish. In fact, this is what he said of his writing when compared to the books his brother, Lawrence Durrell (yes, Lawrence Durrell was his brother) wrote:
“The subtle difference between us is that he loves writing and I don’t. To me it’s simply a way to make money which enables me to do my animal work, nothing more.”
This post is to share that Durrell as a man, and Durrell as an institute are not separate. It is a physical manifestation of everything he believed in. Saving several species from extinction, honouring their space on this earth, sowing the seeds of love in so many children across the world through his books, the team today have a presence in Mauritius, Madagascar, India, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia, and across several countries.
He travelled for days and months on ships to collect species, his sweat were words in a book to raise funds, his humour was its best when he was with the beautiful creatures, and he built a team to carry forward his work just as passionately.
Even as I write these words, tears roll down my eyes. You know, there are institutions like this peppered across the world. We have to choose to see them, love them, and `act’ upon them.
It is obvious by now, there are many things I can share about Gerald Durrell, his entire team and the work they are doing. And yet I invite you to:
- Visit their website: http://www.durrell.org and introduce his books to your children, or any other child in your life (godchild, nephews, niece, students, anybody). And don’t forget to read them yourself. Link to his books: http://www.durrell.org/shop/books/
- Allow your children to adopt animals at the park (or let it inspire them to adopt animals within India. It really doesn’t matter where, as the Earth is One). You can even gift animals as `return gifts’ on birthdays. Most of the institutes send out beautiful adoption packages – with the photo of the animal, details about its birth, and scientific facts etc. Link for adoption at Durrell: http://www.durrell.org/adopt-today.
- Study at the Durrell Wildlife Institute. They have their institute in Jersey, UK, and the other on the beautiful island of Mauritius.
- Plan a beautiful holiday to Channel Island, Jersey, UK. When you are in London next, take a flight to Channel Islands. Enjoy a day at the park. Encourage the team in the fabulous work they are doing.
- Or simply still – just read about them, their work, and send them love and great energies, so they can continue to do their good work.
Thank you for reading.
An interesting thing: After writing this post last week, the discussion/mention about `intention’ came up thrice on 3 different platforms. It surely is a Universally resonating word for now!