Kaoos Rustom Sethna: To Be with Nature


July 3, 2008



K R Sethna who gave up a thriving career as a horse-race jockey in Poona and came to the Western Ghats just to be with Nature.

Everyone is talking about the disappearance of sparrows from our neighbourhood. Well, the sparrows are gone because people who love and care for them are gone or pushed into oblivion. Birds are very dignified creatures and, needless to say, very sensitive. They know that the likes of Salim Ali, Shivaram Karanth and Poornachandra Tejaswi have made an exit and that the remaining few naturalists are themselves ‘endangered’.

But we were fortunate to discover one such veteran nature-lover living quietly and unobtrusively in a remote corner of the Western Ghats. Meet K R Sethna (Kaoos Rustum Sethna) of Yelekudige estate which lies on the Aldur- Mudigere road. A Parsi octogenarian living near Aldur! What’s amiss? What drove him away from the glamour and glitter of Bombay and Poona? (Remember that Mumbai and Pune were not born yet.)

After these initial exclamations, when we got to know the man, we could see that Sethna had that ‘lonely impulse of delight’ which drove him to his déjà vu with the birds and plants of Malenadu. He gave up a thriving career as a horse-race jockey in Poona and hitched his wagon to the hills and valleys. He bought a small coffee plantation from a British lady called Ms Middleton and settled here for good. He took the ‘less travelled road’ but has no regrets. In fact, he is such a contented and happy soul that at 82 he has the zest of a 22-year-old. He drives his reliable and tough Land Rover with ease on the bends and slides, dresses up like a young executive, and watches Nature with wide-eyed wonder. He loves flowers and has a rare collection of orchids, most of them picked personally in his endless wanderings. He has been to the Himalayan country many times and Nepal is his favourite destination. No wonder then that he made friends with Salim Ali and became a member of the Bombay Naturalist Society. The famous ‘bird- man’ had come to Sethna’s place a few times and they had roamed the jungles together.

He lives and looks like a recluse now but he says he has been like that for a long long time. A bachelor, an avid reader and a music enthusiast, he has no faith in any religion and creed. Because of his Parsi background, he appears to be a prim and trim European, but he has no airs and is too simple for a coffee planter. In fact Tejaswi, who lived a few miles away, used to come here for an occasional chat. They had many common interests and beliefs. Age is catching up with Sethna and he has few friends here. We asked him if he wished to return to Mumbai or Pune to be in the midst of his erstwhile friends and relatives in his old age, he says He replied he doesn’t feel the need. He was more worried about the health of one of his ailing farm-hands and was anxiously waiting for a doctor.

The typical British Bungalow nestling in the hill-slopes and surrounded by majestic trees is inconspicuous from a distance, much like a bird’s home. And the place has sheltered many rare species of plants, mainly orchids. The drive-way to the house is lined with flowering plants and shrubs. Unseasonal rains had fooled the coffee plants and they had started blooming, as if to compete with the ornamental plants in the garden. Nature was doing its best to make everyone happy, and Sethna in particular. As we drove out of his cosy little estate and entered the main road, the din and bustle of everyday life ‘welcomed’ us. We turned back and wondered how long and how far the twitter of this lone sparrow would carry.

Original article here.