Skip to main content

Jamal Ara Collection

Identifier: MS-046

Content Description

Archival papers relating to the life and work of the ornithologist, Jamal Ara, including correspondence, unpublished manuscripts, field diaries, notebooks, drafts of articles and final copies. Material ranging from 1940s to 1980s, almost all in the form of paper. Some material in Urdu. Volume approx 1 x 1 x 1.5 cubic feet.

Scope and Contents

Collection is in process.


  • Creation: Majority of material found in 1940-1980

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is in process. Access is restricted.

Conditions Governing Use

Collection is in process. Use is restricted.

Copyright may not have been assigned to Archives, National Centre for Biological Sciences. Permission for reproduction or distribution must be obtained in writing from the Archives at NCBS ( The Archives at NCBS makes no representation that it is the copyright owner in all of its collections. The user must obtain all necessary rights and clearances before use of material and material may only be reproduced for academic and non-commercial use.

Biographical / Historical

Jamal Ara (1923-1995) was a noted ornithologist known for her extensive field and scientific observations of birds in in the Chota Nagpur plateau (Jharkhand) of India. She was called India's first "birdwoman" by Salim Ali.

She was born in 1923, and raised in Bihar in the family of a police officer, and studied formally up to the 10th standard. She was married off young to a journalist, Hamdi Bey, who was based in Calcutta. Their marriage is said to have broken down, and she and her daughter, Madhuca, were taken care of by Sami Ahmad, a cousin and an Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer (1940 Bihar cadre). Ara and her daughter would live at his official residence in Ranchi. She would continue to be based in Doranda, Ranchi, for the rest of her life.

Through Ahmed's work and field trips, Ara is said to have gained an appreciation for nature and the forests. And her education continued through the support of Mrs Augier, the wife of PW Augier, who was also an IFS officer. With their encouragement, Ara went on to keep detailed notes from her birding observations, and also started to write down articles. (Sami Ahmed died in 1966, which is said to have had a deep impact on Ara and her work). Eventually, she started publishing in 1949, and after that would continue to write and publish over 60 articles in the journals of the Bombay Natural History Society, Bengal Natural History Society, as well as the Newsletter for Birdwatchers. She also wrote a children's book, "Watching Birds", published by the National Book Trust, which continues to be in print as of 2024. Besides her writings on birds, she also did programmes on All India Radio, and translated stories of KS Duggal. Her papers at the Archives at NCBS indicate other draft writings in Urdu and English on a variety of topics, including archaeology and the intersection of nature and indigenous communities in the Chota Nagpur plateau. Her archival papers indicate other unpublished articles: a manuscript on birds of Bihar, along with her own hand-drawn illustrations. She was also working on a two-volume book on the birds of Bihar (the state split into Bihar and Jharkhand later), for which she developed a detailed outline, and sample writing for some of the chapters.

Ara brought her semi-paralytic sister to live with her at her residence in 1988. After her sister recovered and start walking again, she left Ara's residence, which is said to have deeply affected Ara. She had numerous psychotic breakdowns in the years after, and had stopped writing as well, including burning much of herwritings, notes and photographs. Jamal Ara passed away in 1995 at the age of 71.

Her history and work have been largely unknown and uncited as of 2024, except in the bibliographic collections of Aasheesh Pittie, and in a biographical profile written by Raza Kazmi. This article, "The First Lady of Indian Ornithology" was published in an anthology of the stories of India's women wildlife biologists, "Women in the Wild" (ed. Anita Mani, Juggernaut Books, 2023). Kazmi's story also documents how he traced Madhuca Singh, Jamal Ara's daughter, in Doranda. He eventually worked with her, found some archival material at their residence, and donated the papers to the Archives at NCBS for public access.

Collection is in process.


1.5 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials




The intellectual arrangement strives to preserve provenance and original order of the papers. Where an original order could not be found, the Archives has applied an order, and folders within sub-series are arranged usually in chronological or alphabetical order. See Scope and Content section for details.

Condition Description

Mostly stable, some fragile papers.

In Progress
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Archives at NCBS Repository

National Centre for Biological Sciences - Tata Institute of Fundamental Research
Bangalore Karnataka 560065 India
+9180 6717 6010
+9180 6717 6011