Sekhar has performed the same ritual every day for the past decade. He lays the wooden planks out across the roof and balances mounds of rice across their surfaces. But his efforts are worth the trouble when thousands of shapes begin to move across the sky.
The man’s full name is Joseph Sekhar, and he’s lived in Chennai, India, since moving there 28 years ago. During that time, Sekhar founded his own business as a repairman. To be more precise, he specializes in fixing cameras, and he even has his own store.
But as good as Sekhar is at his job, he has become famous for something else entirely. It began with his other passion – animals. He hates to see the local wildlife grow hungry and has made a habit of feeding them.
Initially, Sekhar provided for India’s squirrels and indigenous bird populations. As he spent more time in Chennai, however, he acquired a more exotic clientele. In fact, his dedication to them has shaped his daily routine, not to mention his entire life.
Sekhar begins every day the same, and it starts with a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call. That gives him an hour and a half to prepare the rooftop for his 6:00 a.m. visitors. And the repairman needs the time – his ritual must be exhausting.
That’s because Sekhar balances row upon row of wooden planks across his rooftop. These boards are in turn loaded with piles of rice, set out like an all-you-can-eat buffet. His customers must be happy with Sekhar’s tribute – they’ve been visiting him for a decade.
Strangely, a natural disaster brought a pair of parakeets to Sekar. When the repairman’s first visitors appeared, there were only two of them. He explained the event in a video interview with Barcroft TV, uploaded to YouTube on October 27, 2015.
“The tsunami was the reason for the parakeets’ first arrival here,” Sekhar told the channel. “Two parakeets brought ten more. It then started to multiply to 50, 100, and thousands began to flock the place.” The numbers just kept mounting.
Sekhar continued, “Four thousand parakeets come every day, and this changes depending upon the season.” But feeding such a huge amount of birds is not only time-consuming, it’s also costly. The repairman estimates he uses approximately 132 pounds of rice each day.
Furthermore, it requires Sekhar to spend a significant amount of his wages on sacks of rice. To be more precise, it costs about 40 percent of his wages every month. In total, he spends roughly 500 rupees on parakeet feasts. Big-hearted Sekhar does this happily, knowing that it just shows how much he loves the birds.
Sekhar’s neighbor Devraj told Barcroft TV how the sight of thousands of parakeets captivates onlookers. “It is a sight to behold,” Devraj explained. “In a city like this, such a huge crowd of parakeets awes people.” Sekhar’s efforts have earned him the nickname “Birdman.”
“Watching [Sekhar] feed parrots is a majestic thing and a spectacular sight,” Devraj continued. “Many people pass this way and stand and watch for a long time.” Furthermore, Sekhar cares for sick or injured parakeets that he encounters in his flock and nurses them back to health.
Yet despite how the birds draw in crowds, their future is uncertain for two reasons. The 65-year-old Sekhar attributes the first to his age and ailing physical condition. He explained that as he gets older, his knees grow weaker. As a result, Sekhar suffers from pain in his joints, which makes preparing the parakeet meals harder.
In addition to his internal problem, an external one has also recently challenged India’s Birdman. In 2018, news sources reported that Sekhar’s landlords have threatened him with eviction. He spoke openly about his situation to The News Minute on May 22, 2018.
“The owners of the building have asked all the tenants to move out,” the Birdman explained, close to tears. “They want to sell the building and split the money. If it was just me, I would leave, but what about my 2,000 children?”
Sekhar also claimed that the Indian police were pestering him to leave and even resorting to threats. However, despite any alleged pressure the authorities are putting on the Birdman, he isn’t flying the coop. He says he’ll remain stalwart for the sake of the parakeets.
“I will not move from here till I know that there is an alternative arrangement made for the birds,” Sekhar told The News Minute. In fact, he even voiced an interest in buying the building himself. However, he knows that he will need financial aid.
One strategy the Birdman has involves selling his cameras. During his business career, Sekhar has amassed a collection of vintage cameras that would provide the money he needs. The downside here is that he wants the devices to remain in India, ideally in a museum.
The Birdman’s main concern is his birds though. “Human beings have taken away their forests, the trees in the cities,” he stated, “and we even lock them up in cages. I am trying to help them sustain themselves in a world that is being destroyed by our greed. Who will feed them if I am evicted?”
Whatever happens, Sekhar shows his altruistic nature with a simple wish. “I am not saying the building should not be sold or I should not be evicted,” he elaborated. “All I am saying is that whoever takes it over must continue to care for the birds.”