Among the little-known bird books of India, and of a rather unique genre, are Nurseries of Heaven - More birds of India (1944) and Nurseries of Heaven - Birds (before 1944) written by someone with the pen-name "Torfrida" and illustrated by a Mrs May Dart who evidently lived in Wellington in the Nilgiris. This is not the only book written by this writer-illustrator pair, they also wrote Nurseries of Heaven - Wild Flowers of India. The flower and bird books deal principally with the Nilgiris. In 1944 the pair also wrote Flowering Trees of India (the geographic scope of that book seems wider). All the books appear to be a mixture of poetry, etymology, literary references, illustrations, fables, and a wee bit of original observation thrown in. These are all small pamphlets, presumably printed for children, possibly made for distribution in the local church.
The book is perhaps among the few Anglo Indian works with an aesthetic appreciation of birds [and not centered around humour like the writings of Phil Robinson, Eha or Dewar]. It also provides insights into Colonial life in the Nilgiris. I was fortunate to examine the contents of More Birds of India in a rather rare copy held by the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute of Ornithology at Cape Town in 2018. More information on May Dart and the mysterious Torfrida would be nice to have!
|The first pamphlet on birds|
|The cover illustration is actually pasted into the frame|
A few sample pages from the More Birds of India are included here to give a taste of the writing.
Some of her writing may need to be examined in detail. In her flower book she claims that the name "Portia tree" for Thespesia populnea is from the Tamil Puvassai! Some claims are outright incorrect like the idea that Osbeckia is called "Tipu China" from "Tibet China", that would in fact be from the old name Tibouchina.