Zafar Futehally (July 2000)
Zafar Futehally lives in the tranquil precincts of Oakwood apartments in Koramangala's 3rd block. Often sitting on the balcony that overlooks a small, but very green expanse of land. Happiness is writ all over his wrinkled face as he points it out to us. Tall and erect in gait even at the ripe age of 80, he seems to draw strength from the greenery across, fuelling him to continue with the only passion that has dominated his life - conservation of the environment.
For a person who "always liked birds", love for the environment and its conservation was a natural transition in his early years. Fifty years ago when the conservation movement started with no recognition of any sorts, he was lucky to be associated with Dr. Salim Ali the famous Ornithologist and a cousin of his. From 1962 to 1974 he was the Honorary Secretary of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) a leading organization in Asia and the only spokesman for conservation in India at that time. One of the things he achieved that were important for Bombay was the creation of the Karnala Bird Sanctuary, a remarkable evergreen forest patch 60 miles from Bombay. A large portion of the forest was earmarked for industrial development. But strong protests and intervention by Dr. Futehally, backed by the BNHS, lay put the government's plans.
In 1969 he was called upon to start the World Wild Life fund (WWF) and became its Honorary Secretary, while retaining his key position at the BNHS as well. However, in 1973 they decided to move to Bangalore and soon built their own home 20 kms away on the outskirts of Bangalore. "It was a lovely place," recounts Dr. Futehally, obvious reference being to the natural countryside of those bygone days. Till one day in 1985, a dacoity took place and both, he and his wife were wounded in the attack. Enough was enough and so they decided to sell that isolated place and moved to Kodaikanal with their daughter, where they lived for 4 years. But his wife couldn't adjust to the cold weather at Kodai and eventually, they decided to settle down at Oakwood apartments in Koramangala.
He was awarded the Salim Ali International award for Nature Conservation in 1997, primarily for his role in establishing the Karnala Bird Sanctuary and the Borivili National Park in Bombay. Dr. Zafar Futehally was also a member of various government committees such as the National Committee on Environmental Planning, the steering committee of Project Tiger and so on. "All this kept me very busy running back and forth," he adds. Till today he edits a journal for Bird Watchers that celebrated its fortieth anniversary recently. "I've just completed 80 years and I'm happy," says Dr. Futehally. "I like horses and still ride once a week. Birds and Horses are my passion. Better than wine and women."
Earlier, as we entered the gates of Oakwood apartments, we noticed the symbol of an eagle embedded on the sides of the wall. At that time we had wondered why. Now it made sense.