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The Early Influences in the Life of Madhav Gadgil

Step into the enchanting world of A Walk Up the Hill by Padma Bhushan Awardee Madhav Gadgil. Read this excerpt and journey alongside young Gadgil as he explores Lokmanya Tilak’s bungalow on Sinhagad Hill. From buffalo herders and buffalo keepers to mentorship from Sálim Ali, Gadgil’s experiences mold his passion for ecology and conservation.

Dive into his adventures and passion for understanding the natural world.

A Walk Up The Hill
A Walk Up The Hill || Madhav Gadgil


Part of Lokmanya Tilak’s bungalow, at the top of Sinhagad, the most famous of Shivaji’s hill forts, was given on rent to people known to the family. Every summer, my parents and I would spend two weeks in the bungalow. There were no roads up the hill at that time and I eagerly looked forward to climbing the steep slopes, to relive the tale of how Tanaji clambered up an impossibly steep rockface by holding on to a rope tied to the tail of Yashawanti, a monitor lizard, to wrest control of the fort from the Mughals. Sinhagad’s slopes were well wooded, and reportedly full of wildlife. We never got to see any large animals, but the plentiful birdlife was fascinating enough. I especially looked forward to two species not to be seen around Pune: the handsome crested bunting and the melodious Malabar whistling thrush.


Three-fourths of the way up the slope was the outer line of defence for the fort in the form of settlements on smaller side plateaus. Here, in a few huts, lived the forest-dwelling buffalo-herders, the Dhangar Gavlis, and the erstwhile military guards, the Kolis. We would enjoy refreshing glasses of buttermilk from the Gavlis and chat with them. Baba and I would walk over to their settlements where we were charmed by the herds of their well-nourished buffaloes with glistening black skins, even more attractive than the two milch buffaloes we owned at home. I thus grew up to be rather different from the usual brand of urban nature lovers, who view the rural people, their farms and livestock as the principal enemies of India’s nature. I, on the other hand, admired the buffaloes as much as the gaur and was equally at home with the farmers and buffalo-keepers as with the scholars of Pune.

* * *

One of the birds I most enjoyed watching was the green bee-eater, which perched in large numbers on the electric wires that ran from the pole on the road to our house. I found their melodious trills and graceful aerial sallies to catch flying insects attractive. I noticed one day that the characteristic single pin feather sticking out of their square-cut tail suddenly went missing for some weeks. I asked Baba if this was another species. We looked up the many bird books in our library but found no answer. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘why don’t you write to Sálim Ali himself?’ I did so, posing this question, and was delighted when three days later I received a letter in his own stylish hand, saying that at certain times of the year, the birds moulted their feathers. At this time, the pin feather would be missing for a few weeks but would grow back after that. Indeed, it did.


Sálim Ali used to visit Pune frequently to pursue his study of baya weaverbirds. I fixed an appointment to meet him on his next visit and was captivated by his knowledge, wit and charm. So, at the age of fourteen, I decided to become a field ecologist like him. Baba was quite happy with my decision. He himself was a field economist and had conducted surveys on various subjects: for example, bus transport and fruit production in western Maharashtra, primary education in Satara district and, importantly, a survey of the wages and living conditions of millworkers of Mumbai. This last study was undertaken at the request of B.R. Ambedkar who was then in charge of labour issues in the Bombay state provincial government. The committee was headed by the state labour commissioner, but Baba shouldered the responsibility for the actual surveys. As a result, he had become a close friend of Dr Ambedkar.


Srushtidnyan was the only Marathi popular science magazine published at that time. Iru Kaku suggested that I write Marathi articles on topics of my interest—ecology and animal behaviour—for the magazine. I was particularly fascinated by the social behaviour of birds, the noisy family groups of babblers and the night-time gathering of crows, mynas and my favourite bee-eaters. I used to travel around Maharashtra for athletic competitions as a member of the Pune team, and one evening in Solapur, we sat on the ground at dusk as the concluding prize distribution ceremony of the athletic meet was in progress. There I witnessed a sight I have never forgotten, of well over a thousand green bee-eaters flying overhead, uttering their musical tring-tring calls as they slowly settled to roost for the night in the clumps of trees surrounding the playground. Between 1956 and 1958, I wrote a series of articles for Srushtidnyan dealing with animal behaviour, kicking off my lifetime hobby of writing popular scientific articles for the general public.


Sálim Ali was forty-six years my senior, and from the time I first met him I remained in constant touch with him, interrupted only by the six years I spent at Harvard University.

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Get your copy of A Walk Up the Hill by Madhav Gadgil wherever books are sold.

The story of a tea-laborer and his path-breaking journey

If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.- Dr Martin Luther King, Jr

Bike Ambulance Dada, the authorised biography of Padma Shri awardee Karimul Hak, is the most inspiring and heart-warming biography you will read this year. It documents the extraordinary journey of a tea-garden worker who saved thousands of lives by starting a free bike-ambulance service from his village to the nearest hospital.

Here is an excerpt from Bike Ambulance Dada by Biswajit Jha titled A Bike Ambulance Takes Shape.

Front Cover Bike Ambulance Dada
Bike Ambulance Dada || Biswajit Jha

Now that Karimul had a bike, he was no longer dependent on his cycle to ferry a patient. The bike gave the patients a greater chance of survival by ensuring they got to the hospital quickly. Karimul, too, was under less pressure, physically and mentally; he could be more certain of patients getting timely medical attention, be they sick or injured, and riding a motorbike was far less physically taxing than cycling all the way with a passenger.

One day, in 2008, when Karimul was enjoying a cup of tea with some acquaintances at a tea shop in Kranti Bazaar, one of them, Babu Mohanta, suddenly cried out. The engrossing discussion on political affairs was halted abruptly. The small group sprang into action to find out the reason behind Mohanta’s shriek. Investigations revealed that a snake had bitten him just above the ankle. Karimul immediately made up his mind to identify the snake, as this would help the doctor decide on the course of treatment; it was imperative in such cases. He saw the snake but could not identify it. Thinking fast, he somehow caught the snake and put it in a small box so that he could carry it to the hospital. He applied a pressure bandage on the wound as well. With the help of those around them, Karimul got Mohanta tied to his back and asked a villager to ride pillion with him. Before starting out for Jalpaiguri Sadar Hospital, Karimul instructed the man to make sure that Mohanta did not fall sleep. The snake, carefully locked in the box, accompanied them to the hospital.

On the way, they met with a huge traffic jam on the bridge over the Teesta, just 5 kilometres from the hospital. The road was chock-a-block with vehicles stranded on the bridge, all trying to find a way out and, in the process, aggravating the situation. As Karimul zipped past the four- wheeled vehicles, he saw an ambulance stuck in the traffic. When he asked the ambulance driver for the patient’s details, he was told that the man had also been bitten by a snake, and they were heading for the same hospital as Karimul. Manoeuvring his much-smaller vehicle between the cars and moving towards the hospital with Mohanta, the soft-hearted Karimul felt sorry for the patient in the ‘proper’ ambulance, unable to get out.

Karimul soon reached the hospital. Once there, he showed the snake to the doctor, who was at first startled but then observed it intently for a few seconds before springing into action with the treatment.

After getting Mohanta admitted, Karimul went back to the bridge where they had seen the ambulance. He saw that the ambulance, along with other vehicles, was still there; the patient had, unfortunately, passed away.

After a couple of days, Babu Mohanta was released from the hospital. He was the first person bitten by a poisonous snake in the village to be saved—all because of Karimul’s timely intervention and bike ambulance service.

Before this incident, though Karimul had ignored the taunts of some of the villagers and had gone about ferrying patients to hospital, he had sometimes harboured misgivings that his bike ambulance was a poor substitute for the conventional ambulance. But that day, he realized that his bike ambulance was sometimes far more convenient than a standard ambulance. From then on, there was no looking back for him. His new-found confidence enthused him to serve people with increased passion.

After he was awarded the Padma Shri, the Navayuvak Brindal Club, Siliguri, donated to him an ambulance that he used for some months. But the traditional ambulance not only consumed more fuel, it was also rather difficult to drive it to remote and far-flung areas. After some weeks, he stopped using that ambulance; though it is still with him, he doesn’t use it. Instead, he now has three bike ambulances at home; one is used by his elder son, Raju, another by his younger son, Rajesh, while Karimul himself mostly uses the bike ambulance donated by Bajaj Auto, which has an attached carrier for patients.

Thanks to Karimul Hak’s unique initiative, the bike ambulance has become popular in rural areas of India. Inspired by him, some social workers, as well as some NGOs, have started this service too, thereby saving thousands of lives in far-off areas of the country.

While Karimul has saved many lives, he deeply regrets not being able to save some. Still, he derives immense satisfaction from the fact that a person like him, with a paltry income and limited capacity, has made a difference in the lives of so many people. Relatives and family members of those who died en route to the hospital, or even after reaching the hospital, at least know that they, through Karimul, tried their best to save their loved one. This is a noteworthy achievement for Karimul, who dreams of a day when lack of medical treatment will not be the reason for someone’s death.

Bike Ambulance Dada is a must-read today as it will inspire us to do and be better in our lives.

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