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People of Bharat: Prateekbhai

Updated: Oct 30, 2022

Prateekbhai tells me most of his collection is European. “These are Hungarian” he says with pride, as he points to two beautiful specimens. I shuffle my feet rooted in a small village along the coast of South Gujarat, where Prateekbhai shows me his prized pigeons. I am in a hatch, surrounded by rare and exotic pigeons of different sizes, colours and features! Our voices get mixed with a steady drone of coos from the birds.

Prateekbhai, 46, hails from a fisherman’s community and lives in a rural area with a main road that connects to the local beach. His house consists of three rooms with a common passage and a sloping roof covered with terracotta tiles. He lives here with his family; his mother-in-law, wife and 16 year-old son. A few chickens, a dog and cat are the other peripheral inhabitants of the house. Across his house, he owns a piece of land which runs not wider than a yard on which he breeds pigeons for business.

Prateekbhai makes a living by breeding and selling exotic pigeons. He has studied till the sixth standard. Even as a boy Prateekbhai was fascinated by pigeons and raised a few as pets. He has no formal education, but just his experience to fall back on for breeding pigeons. In 2008, he flew to the “Gulf” (Abu Dhabi) to earn money — he lived there for 5 years, doing odd jobs for patel’s (village head) contact. He didn’t like the work there and came back after three to four years. A year later he left for South Africa to earn a living. He was back within a year for good and with his savings he set up a small highway restaurant. “A couple of years, business was good. Then the price of chicken sky-rocketed. I was finding it hard to maintain the place; I had to pay salaries to the cook and the helpers. So I decided to shut it down. The patel suggested that I go out (abroad) again but I was against it (this time).” This was the point he decided to turn his hobby into a business. He narrates for me how he got started: “One day after I returned from the Gulf, my friend told me he had a surprise for me. He took me on his bike to another village to a pigeon supplier. I had never seen such beautiful pigeons in my life and it kept me wondering.” He enquired about their prices and bought a couple of new breeds for Rs. 5000. Prateekbhai, for the next six to seven years collected exotic pigeons; some of which he paired with desi (home-grown) birds and enriched his collection. Sometimes, instead of buying an exotic pair for money he bartered them for 4 or 10 of his birds. “I did not sell a single bird (during this time),” he says. When his restaurant business took a hit, he lost all his savings. Only then did he decide to breed and sell pigeons as a full-time business.

Prateekbhai owns two breeding houses which cost him about Rs. 2 lakh to construct over time. The breeding houses are small makeshift structures of wood with a door to each section. The insides of the three walls are stacked with wooden boxes of the size of a shoebox. Each breeding box homes a pigeon pair, a male and female. The pigeon houses are made on the ground right opposite his own. The area of about 20 feet in front of the breeding cages is covered with net fixed at a height of about 8 to 10 feet. There are two large bird feeders on the ground. He points to a small hole in the net about 2 feet in diameter. “This is where I release the birds from. They come back to me in the evening.” But most of his pigeons cannot fly. “They are too heavy to fly!” he laughs “as fat as chickens!”

Prateekbhai earns about Rs. 40–50,000 every month by selling baby pigeons. He spends about Rs. 25,000 per month over the pigeons; he feeds them a high-quality diet — rich in protein. “mug-math, channa, rye” (pulses such as green mung, brown mung, chickpeas and mustard). He mixes their feed with a specially treated dirt and ‘white seeds’ meant for birds which he gets from the government veterinary hospital. Prateekbhai also spends on a weekly amount on the bird vitamins. The rest of his earnings get spent on household expenses such as bills and groceries. The birds fall sick at least twice or thrice a year thus making him spend on their treatment. “One sick bird can wipe out the entire stock.” he explains.

Prateekbhai tells me he doesn’t believe in saving money. If he is left with Rs. 15–20,000 to spare at times, he invests the savings in buying more pigeons. “All that I have built (for myself and my family) comes from selling pigeons. I run my house and send my son to school with only this income.” Prateekbhai confesses how he used to invest Rs. 150 every day in a microfinance company for two and a half years. But the company suddenly shut shutters and the agent was never seen visiting them again. “My wife has kept the account booklet safe. She still believes the company will re-open someday. But when such things happen (to me) I feel it’s better to keep my money with me.”

Prateekbhai knows a local supplier in the next village who sources exotic pigeons from Bangladesh. “I have never bought directly from a supplier. If I did, I would have to pay him in lakhs.” This supplier gives him a call when he receives a fresh stock of birds and sends him videos of them. If he likes any, he goes over for a closer look and enquires about their prices; some of them cost Rs. 40–50,000 a pair. He returns home pondering about cross-breeding plans for his birds for new mix-breeds. Then he goes back to the supplier to buy a pair, sometimes in cash — but mostly on trust. He pays the supplier back as and when he makes money from selling pigeons. He sells baby pigeons for Rs. 1000–1500 per bird. He charges much more for a pair of male and female pigeons depending on the breed. Sometimes he has a merchant coming down to buy 15–20 pigeons in a lot. Then he charges Rs. 500 per bird — but mixes up few desi birds along with the exotic ones. He knows that the merchants sell pigeons at double or triple the rate to their customers. A pair of pigeons lay a couple of eggs every fortnight and at present he has about 200–300 birds. I ask him a niggling question. “What kind of people buy such birds?” He has just two words for me — “paisa wala ane shaukeen” (wealthy and fanciful).

Prateekbhai’s life revolves around his pigeons. “I can’t take a single day off even to visit a sick relative. The birds have to be let out and fed on time and everyday their cage needs to be cleaned.”

Prateekbhai owns a gas cylinder, TV set and refrigerator. He doesn’t own a two-wheeler and borrows the patel’s motorcycle when he needs a ride. He has no loans and no insurance to his name or anyone of his family. He owns a smartphone and uses it to view videos of pigeons on WhatsApp. He wishes to expand his business but needs Rs. 2–3 lakh and has no means to access this amount. Prateekbhai feels his pigeon business is not for the faint-hearted as it takes 2–3 years before income starts coming in. He thinks he has what it takes for a business risk. “Motu jigar che,” (I have a stout heart) he smiles. “I have pigeons worth lakhs of rupees” he continues, “but I have not taken any loan for buying them. My family gets irritated with me every time I buy new pigeons. But new breeds come every six months and I have to keep investing in them — otherwise my customers won’t return (to me).” Prateekbhai may not own much materially, but in his own perspective he is a wealthy man. He tells me, “Mara kabootar jivtu-dhan che” (my pigeons are living-wealth).

Note: the word ‘patel’ here is used to denote the meaning ‘village head’.


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