Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fly as Birds

by Sam N Jacob

Sitting on the second floor verandah of the house in Guwahati with its picture post card scenery of the green hills and the river Brahmaputra, one would forget the stench and filth of the garbage down the road.

Mornings, the birds gave us company. Often we were woken up by the call of the Kulis and the melodious singing of other birds. We did not know their names, but they made our lives meaningful in the middle of the busy city.

We would sit riveted at the antics of the birds as they made their morning rounds. The spotted doves fly up in the air and dive back, spreading their beautiful tails as they come for landing on the Neem tree near the house. The starlings and mynahs—brown, speckled, some with yellow eyeliners, some without, brought colour to our monotonous lives as they fought for the leftovers of our pet cat’s food even as he sat at a safe distance and remonstrated. Add to that the yellow birds with black stripes, the kingfishers with the brown neck and sparkling blue wings, the blackbirds, magpies, each with their own flight patterns. Some flapped their wings rapidly; some flapped once and made a dash in the air.

Come late spring and the migratory storks come in hoards and speckle the blue sky white and brown. Many a tree top will be painted white, and so will the roads below. The strangest visitors we had were the black cormorants with their long necks. They came to the eucalyptus trees for collecting green twigs for lining the nests for their little ones. Their arrival heralded the coming of cold season. Then there was the kite that made its nest on top of the banyan tree. But in the middle of all that there were the black bullies of the air, the crows.

After the morning routine with tea mugs on the front verandah, it was time to move to the back, into the kitchen to join my wife as she made roti for breakfast. But the backyard was the abode of smaller birds of various colours. Even Salim Ali’s book on Indian birds did not help in identifying them. We knew only the sparrows as they came into the house and sometimes ended up in our cat’s mouth.

Why were they all there? Were they trying to entertain us? No. They just loved the place allotted to them. They love to be what they are—birds. They were enjoying themselves. Are they teaching us something too?