It is raining cats and dogs and peacocks too, at the Governor’s residence in Mumbai, the picturesque Raj Bhavan. K Sankaranarayanan’s Walkeshwar abode always takes one’s breath away. The monsoon makes it even more captivating than it is.
It is a time when Raj Bhavan’s lawns glowing green like emeralds are dotted with peacocks, their brilliant turquoise-blue regalia of feathers in full array as they celebrate the season by strutting, preening and doing their own dance of delight on the grounds.
On May 24, a peacock died at Raj Bhavan. The peacock now Rests In Peace (RIP) as a stuffed exhibit in the Governor’s office at Raj Bhavan. The taxidermy trophy is in transit till it reaches its final destination. The Governor’s Public Relations spokesperson says, “We have ordered a glass case for the stuffed bird. We expect the case to be ready any time now. Once inside the case, (the peacock is roughly 5.5 ft in height and stands on a large twig) we will display it at the Banquet Hall or the Darbar Hall. In this way, visitors to the Raj Bhavan will also be able to see it. We have been advised by experts to put the stuffed peacock in a glass case, which is packed so as not to expose it to strong heat or moisture.”
The swimming pool manager at Raj Bhavan found the peacock on May 23. It was not moving, so we moved it to the Bombay Veterinary College in Parel, it died the next day. Following the death of the peacock, Governor Sankaranarayanan directed the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) authorities to preserve the dead peacock in the form of a taxidermy trophy, so that the same would be displayed in Raj Bhavan for many years.
The Raj Bhavan spokesperson said, “We still have six fully grown peacocks and nine peahens, which are more frequently seen now in this season. We have made an enclosure for these birds. The enclosure is very big, allowing them to roam around freely. It was made primarily to keep out stray dogs since the borders around Raj Bhavan are porous, dogs could actually come in. The borders are porous on the Girgaum side and the Nepean Sea Road side, so dogs would sometimes meander inside, and have eaten the peachicks. So, this enclosure is open from the top, sometimes, peacocks have flown out and have strayed into the locality. We have got sporadic calls from residents who say they have spotted a peacock, which must have come from the Raj Bhavan. We have special water pots and feedings pots for the birds. Occasionally, though mongoose does stray in the enclosure for the food and feed on peacocks too. This is the cycle of nature, I guess.”
Raj Bhavan is steeped in history and bio-diversity. While history books say it has been a hub of power since 1885, earlier chapters claim the British used the structure as a hunting lodge. Folklore also says that tigers roamed down Malabar Hill in the 1700s, incredulous though it may sound now. The renowned ornithologist, Dr Salim Ali would often be at Raj Bhavan to look at the flora and fauna, especially the birds.
Recently, a clutch of Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers along with their families undertook a heritage walk at the Raj Bhavan, followed by tea with the Governor.
One does not know whether these officers normally associated with files, red tape and all things bureaucratic were privileged to see the peacocks dance. But, these birds have danced to their own tune, says the spokesperson, “Often when the Governor’s entourage passes by. Then, it often slows down as the peacocks dance. The peacocks can do what an ordinary constable cannot — stop the Governor.”
One can imagine a peacock’s plumage playing traffic light to the Governor's convoy — certainly a better reason to slow down, than cars that cut across or pedestrians making a mad dash across the roads. In a city full of cement and the screech of sudden braking cars, peacocks as traffic constables can simply never fall ‘fowl’ of any traffic laws.
Says Dr Santosh Gaikwad, the taxidermist who has stuffed the peacock, “I have stuffed an ostrich before but this was the first time, I worked on a peacock.” Dr Gaikwad is Associate Professor of Anatomy at the Bombay Veterinary College. He started his foray into taxidermy in 2003 first working on birds, fishes and other species. The Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Forest Officer B Majumdar then, gave him an opportunity to do wildlife taxidermy several years ago. After that, Dr Gaikwad was involved with the taxidermy centre at SGNP in Mumbai and says his support has come from his College Associate Dean Dr A M Paturkar and Head of Dept. Dr P L Dhande. “At SGNP, I have Dr S Limaye, Director and Chief Conservator of Forests, to thank,” says Dr Gaikwad who adds that the peacock was brought to the SGNP centre for taxidermy.
This Andheri (E) resident rues the lack of taxidermists in the country and says the lacunae will hit the country hard in the next couple of years. “Especially now that the common sentiment sweeping through the world is: Why burn the beauty of the wild? It can be preserved for generations, so that youngsters can learn,” ends the man who brings the dead ‘alive’ by literally knocking the stuffing into them.
Hinduism and the Peacock
In Hinduism, the peacock is associated with Saraswati, a deity representing benevolence, patience, kindness, compassion and knowledge. Peacocks have a special relation with Lord Krishna. He wears peacock feathers on his head, and ties them with his flute. The peacocks themselves give these feathers to him. The peacock is also the mount of Hindu God of war Murugan, also called Kartikeya, the brother of Ganesha. Similar to Saraswati, the peacock is associated with Kwan-yin in Asian spirituality. Kwan-yin (or Quan Yin, Guanyin) is also an emblem of love, compassionate watchfulness, goodwill, nurturing, and kind-heartedness. Legend tells us she chose to remain a mortal even though she could be immortal because she wished to stay behind and aid humanity in their spiritual evolution.
What is Taxidermy?
Taxidermy is the art of preparing, stuffing, and mounting the skins of animals (especially vertebrates) for display (e.g. as hunting trophies) or for other sources of study. Taxidermy can be done on all vertebrate species of animals, including mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians. A person who practices taxidermy is called a taxidermist.
Taxidermists may practice professionally, for museums or as businesses catering to hunters and fishermen, or as amateurs, such as hobbyists, hunters, and fishermen. To practice taxidermy, one must be very familiar with anatomy, sculpture, and painting, as well as tanning.
In R K Narayan's novel, The Man-Eater of Malgudi, a brute of a taxidermist called Vasu enters Malgudi to exploit the wildlife of the Mempi hills around Malgudi to carry out his practices. The story revolves around how his unconventional practices intercede with the life of Mr. Nataraj, the protagonist of the story eventually putting the people of the town at unrest regarding his supposed plan of killing the Temple elephant.
Tips from the Taxidermist
Dr Santosh Gaikwad says the Raj Bhavan authorities must preserve the peacock by:
>> Putting it in a glass case and so, preventing it from exposure to the city’s humidity, which is compounded in this case as Raj Bhavan, is close to the sea.
>> Keep it free from dust.
>> Keep it away from water.
>> People have a tendency to pluck the feathers of peacocks for good luck. They should not be allowed to do this.
>> If well preserved, the stuffed bird trophy should last for more than 50 years.