THE story of the late Stella Rajendran’s coffee-table book on Malaysian birds reads like a series of fortunate coincidences.
She was sitting in her garden when she spotted a sunbird perched on a bottlebrush tree. By luck, there was a camera on hand.
One click and the sunbird was forever immortalised in the professional artist’s computer hard drive.
That she could now take her time to admire the enthralling myriad of colours of the sunbird’s plumage prompted the mother of two to take more pictures of the birds taking refuge in her garden.
Stella’s hobby eventually bloomed into a passion that would drive her to parks, forest reserves, rivers, the wetlands and to as far as India and Portugal.
It was none other than her husband — Paul Rajendran, a retired professor formerly of Universiti Malaya’s Arts Faculty and Japan’s Iwate Prefectural University — who would be her companion, driver and porter.
He was a constant source of motivation and planted the idea of coming up with a book.
“Stella was asthmatic and had undergone two back surgeries, so one can imagine how much effort it was to trek through jungles and climb hills to get close to her subjects. But because of her passion, she forgot about her pain, ” said Paul.
But in 2019, just five years after her first encounter with the sunbird, she suddenly collapsed from a massive cardiac arrest and died in Paul’s arms.
“It was unexpected. Just two weeks before, she had gone for a medical check-up and was given a clean bill of health, ” he recalled.
At the time of her death, Stella already had 30,000 pictures and had completed 80% of the captions and brief explanations of the winged subjects she had so ardently captured.
“It was only right that I made sure her book project would not be left unfinished.
“For being such a wonderful wife and mother, I had to ensure her legacy was preserved, ” said Paul.
Stella’s book was eventually finished after two years with help from Allen Jeyarajasingam, a retired English teacher who took on the project without charging a fee.
Having co-authored two bird books himself, Allen categorised the image of the bird species Stella had captured according to habitats to make it easier for her readers.
“I wanted the book to reflect Stella’s personal observation of an avid birder, someone who had chosen to capture the beauty of her winged subjects basking among natural foliage.
“My aim for the book was to capture the spirit of someone who simply appreciated nature, ” said Allen.
The book, Malaysian Birds, A Glimpse, was launched in conjunction with Raptor Watch, an annual event organised by Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) via Zoom and Facebook live in March.
It features 197 selected bird species with 300 colour photographs. In addition to their common and scientific names, readers can also scan QR Codes, which will direct them to the MyBIS (Malaysian Biodiversity Information System) bird database, from these pages.
Proceeds from the sale of this book will be channelled to the Stella Rajendran Environmental Education Fund, established by MNS, to organise environmental education programmes for Malaysian schoolchildren.