Besides his spirit of adventure and love
of mischief, Birbal displayed outstanding qualities of leadership even in his childhood.
Children recognized him as an impartial arbitrator. If there was any dispute about the
ownership of a pencil or a book or about who should switch off the light, his brothers and
sisters looked to him for a decision.
When he was fourteen years old, the entire family moved to Murre, near Rawalpindi, for
the summer. One fine morning he asked a brother and a sister to go with him. He took a few
handkerchiefs and one or two small empty tins. They left home quietly without telling
anybody. They reached a ravine outside the town. They crossed ditches and boulders and
finally reached the stream. There they collected crabs. In the excitement of the chase all
count of time was lost. When they started on the return journey, it was getting dark. It
was very difficult to climb the boulders. Meanwhile the parents were upset. Servants were
sent out with lamps to look for the children. But no one imagined that they could have
gone up to the ravine. It was quite dark when the children reached home, tired hungry and
with bleeding feet. But the leader of the team, Birbal, was quite composed. The father
angrily said to him, "Why did you go away without telling any oneand that with
your younger brother and sister?" Birbal calmly answered, "To catch crabs."
The father exclaimed, "Crabs, indeed!" But he checked his angry and said nothing
more, because he himself loved adventures. He often took his children with him on
excursions to hilly regions, much more dangerous. Once Birbal accompanied his father to
Kotgarh near Tibet in the beginning of September 1908. There they met the famous Swedish
scientist Dr. Sven Hedin who was returning after completing his exploration in Tibet.
Years later, when Birbal became a famous scientist, the Royal Swedish Academy of sciences
felicitated him at a meeting. Among the distinguished invitees was the good old Dr. Sven
Hedin. Birbal reminded him of his earlier meeting with Dr. Sven Hedin thirty-eight years
before. The old scientist was delighted.
The most notable and thrilling excursion Birbal undertook with his father was to Zozila
Pass in 1911. Wearing special footwear made of rope they crossed the Machoi glacier.
Looking down they saw the figure of a horse, which seemed to have been carved in ice. The
horse had been frozen to death amidst the snow long long before. Further there was an
awe-inspiring fissure that gave them a shudder. It was in this area that Birbal found and
collected a rare variety of snow alga called red snow. When later in the same year he went
to England for higher studies, he took that sample of red snow with him. At Cambridge an
eminent palaeobotanisrt, Professor A.C. Seward examined the sample and appreciated
Birbal was not only intelligent but also hard worker. And he was as interested in the
study of languages as in the study of science. He stood first in Sanskrit at the
Matriculation Examination of Punjab University. In later years his interest in Sanskrit
deepened. He learnt German, French and Persian languages also.
Birbal studied in Lahore Government College where his father was Professor of
Chemistry. Birbal secured the first rank in the sciences at the Intermediate Examination.
Under the guidance of Professor Shivram Kashyap of the Botany Department he acquired a
keen interest in the study of botany. Professor Kashyap was an authority on the flora of
the Himalayan region. Birbal also made several excursions to the Himalayas. Authoritative
books of botany were his invariable companions. Even as a student he had one of the
biggest collections of Himalayan plants.