The challenging journey of lovable ‘Moth Lady’

From being a telephone attendant to cashier to selling diagnostic kits, and finally launching an environmental consulting service and a foundation, it has been a difficult-but-exciting and a challenging journey for Dr V Shubhalaxmi.

It was not easy to become a lovable ‘Bug Lady’.

From being a telephone attendant to cashier to selling diagnostic kits, and finally launching an environmental consulting service and a foundation, it has been a difficult-but-exciting and a challenging journey for Dr V Shubhalaxmi. In fact, her resume runs into 12 pages.

She is among those rare breeds who have secured the reputed Fulbright fellowship twice and also attended the Hubert H Humphrey Fellowship programme.

She is often called the ‘Bug Lady’ or ‘Moth Lady’, and it’s a matter of pride for her. She is India’s leading entomologist and calls herself an ‘ecopreneur’. “People love to see birds, animals, and butterflies, but not bugs… they only want to kill them,” she says, adding that this is what makes the job of an entomologist challenging.

In 2018, she came out with ‘Field Guide to Indian Moths’, a first-of-its-kind book on moths published in independent India; the last being ‘The Fauna of British India, Including Ceylon and Burma’, a series started in 1881, with five volumes on moths. Her book features descriptions of 773 species from 37 micro and macro moth families depicted in 156 colour plates. Over a thousand colour photographs of moths have been used, and she has described them with common names. “It is the result of almost 15-plus years of research,” she says with a smile. In fact, India has over 10,000 species of moths.

The 49-year-old Dr Shubha, as she is popularly known, is the founder and director of Ladybird Environmental Consulting LLP, which has a dedicated team. Besides, she is also the founder and managing trustee of iNaturewatch Foundation, and the promoter of Birdwing Publishers.

Previously, she was with the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), one of the oldest running NGOs of the country.

“Life was not at all easy, there were challenges at every step,” says Shubha who grew up in central Mumbai localities of Dharavi, Sion, Antop Hill and Pratiksha Nagar. Her father was a government servant but she lost him early in her life, as also her brother. Taking care of her brother’s family including his wife and three kids was a major challenge for her. But she never looked back.

“I always wanted to be a doctor….but did my doctorate in zoology from the University of Mumbai,” she says. Her love for nature brought her to BNHS and drew her to Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai, from where her journey began. It was veteran conservationist Isaac Kehimkar, an expert on butterflies, who spotted her talent. The then BNHS curator Naresh Chaturvedi was her doctoral guide. In 1997, she became education officer at the Conservation Education Centre of BNHS. Stalwarts like Dr Asad Rehmani, who later became the director of BNHS, guided her.

Winning a Fulbright Fellowship in 2003 gave her a chance to learn and come up with new ideas. “After I returned from the US, conservation education programmes such as Breakfast with Butterflies, Brunch with Birds, Tour with Trees, Bash with Bugs and Meal with Moths were launched. They became extremely popular. Volunteer training programmes were also introduced,” she says.

The year 2012 proved to be a turning point in her career when she won the US State Department’s Alumni Innovation Engagement Fund for India, and along with four other fellows, she trained about 150 individuals across India in non-profit organisational development.

“In 2014, the government made mandatory corporate social responsibility spend of two per cent of average net profits for registered companies and I immediately thought it was a great opportunity for environmental NGOs,” she says.

After a 22-year stint with BNHS, she moved out and started her own venture on July 1, 2014. “We started with the mobile app development for nature education,” she says, adding that while BNHS gave her the experience, the scholarships changed her outlook. “I always think out-of-the-box,” she says.

“We believe in being agents of change, challenge status quo, and innovate to serve the environment effectively… We work exclusively with listed companies and government departments in designing and executing environmental projects which have the flavour of biodiversity… we now have footprints across the country,” says the happy Bug Lady.

Comments (+)