Amid the whirring of engines and bolting of hurried footsteps, a 52-year-old auto driver quietly nurtures a secret world in Chennai’s Anna Nagar West Extension. M Rajendra Prasad, who has forged an extraordinary bond with over 200 pigeons in his unassuming home, dedicates a part of his hard-earned savings to feeding and caring for these winged creatures, before sending them off to compete in thrilling pigeon races that are held across the country.
Reflecting on his childhood, Prasad fondly recalls his humble beginnings in a house with a thatched roof and without electricity. But nature offered him solace, and he soon found himself captivated by the incredible abilities of birds.
“When I was young, I used to catch kingfishers and admire their ability to create burrows and find shelter,” he reminisces.
While playing on the streets, young Prasad’s attention was often drawn to his neighbour’s pigeon coop. The sight brought him a sense of peace, he says.
“I worked with my father, who was a painter, and I earned a meagre salary of ₹3 per month. Eventually, I saved ₹15 and purchased a pigeon from my neighbour when I was 18 years old, despite my father’s disapproval,” he shares.
Cut to present, the narrow staircase in Prasad’s house leads to his terrace where he has built a special cage to house over 200 birds.
Initially, he dedicated a significant portion of his earnings to acquiring and caring for pigeons of various breeds, ranging from elegant show pigeons to resilient racers.
Now, with an earning of about ₹15,000 a month, Prasad spends ₹4,000 for the fodder and care of pigeons, and the rest to sustain his family of three girl children and a wife.
One notable aspect of Rajendran’s life is the broken door of his house.
Despite its dilapidated state, Prasad never repaired it. He prefers using his limited savings for his beloved pigeons over material comforts, it seems.
The thrill of pigeon racing
At the age of 20, Prasad discovered the world of pigeon racing. His goal was not solely to win, but to participate and give his pigeons a taste of the joy of flying.
From 100 kilometres to an astounding 1,750 kilometres to Delhi, his pigeons soared across vast distances.
He encountered setbacks and losses along the way. But, his unwavering passion and belief in his pigeons allowed him to achieve remarkable feats.
“In my first year, I sent 30 pigeons for a 150-kilometre race by Star Pigeon Society, and to my surprise, one returned triumphantly. That marked the beginning of my incredible journey in pigeon racing,” he says with gleaming eyes.
Showing this reporter his pile of certificates, Prasad shares the tale of his first major achievement.
“For the 850 km competition, I sent just one pigeon, Vardha. After 30 days, Vardha returned, visibly exhausted. Overwhelmed with joy and concern, I embraced him wholeheartedly. I haven’t even kissed my wife like that,” he chuckles.
Last year, he made history in the Star Pigeon Society in Royapuram by winning the 1,750-km race with his one-year-old pigeon.
Excited, he rushes to his pigeon house, finds ‘Gopal’ among the flock, and declares, “He’s the one. His parents were my most expensive purchase at ₹28,000 each, imported and hidden from my family for five years. This young bird is my favourite.”
Talking about their diet, he says, without revealing much, “Their tonic and food are sourced locally. I never administer imported medicines or steroids. They’re like my own children, and I would never compromise their well-being for the sake of a race. I cannot share more details on this.”
Prasad’s pigeons take part in the annual pigeon racing competition held at Royapuram, every year. His goal is to win the 1,500-km race in the next couple of years.
Care, compassion and success
Ensuring the well-being of his pigeons is Prasad’s priority. From providing timely meals and water to understanding the nuances of pigeon health, he is a knowledgeable caretaker, he adds.
Replacing food tonics within six hours and safeguarding against infestations, he has nursed sick pigeons back to health, rehabilitating over 35 birds. He has been on a mission to not just take care of his birds but also treat other pigeons for two decades now.
“Like-minded pigeon enthusiasts and those who take part in the competitions have a WhatsApp group where we share pigeon health tips and home remedies. It wasn’t easy. After losing at least 20 birds, I realised the importance of caring for them. I learned from experts and now teach others,” he informs.
“For me, true happiness lies in pursuing our passions and nurturing the connections we make along the way. These winged creatures have shaped my life,” he signs off, wearing his khaki uniform, ready to hop into his auto for the next savari (passenger).