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HindustanTimes Sat,20 Dec 2014

Book Review: Tales of love of the winged variety

Nivedita Mishra, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, August 28, 2014
First Published: 16:17 IST(28/8/2014) | Last Updated: 16:28 IST(28/8/2014)

Book: The Parakeet That Squawked In English & Other Bird Stories
Writer: Ranjit Lal
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Scholastic
Price: Rs. 200

From one of the foremost ornithologists of India, Ranjit Lal, comes a book of fiction which is sure to enthrall the young and old alike. The Parakeet That Squawked In English & Other Bird Stories is a collection of short stories of the avian kind, and it rings true of the human world as well.

Read it as a children’s book and get enticed into its fascinating web of the humdrum of life. Read it as a naturalist and witness an entire spectrum of bird life with a peek into their food habits, nesting patterns, mating issues and just the kind of birds that inhabit or visit India. Else, as a lover of stories and as someone aware of the happenings around us, there’s Ranjit Lal, the gentle satirist, mocking at the ways of the world. However you choose to see it, the bottomline remains that this is an interesting read.

Set in a garden adjacent to a luxury hotel in Goa, the stories take us through the lives of a group of birds -- Jungle Babblers led by the keenly observant Frowzle, the wise owl couple Banshee and Bimbo, always necking and smooching, the rose-rimmed parakeets Psitta and Cula, the sharpest of the lot Indian mynas Adrak and Kali Mirch and the doleful laughing doves, Lilac and Sandstone.

The garden, with its rich supply of caterpillars and Neem pods and mango, papaya and banyan trees, is their habitat. Into this proverbial Garden of Eden come many challenges that the folks must sort out, sometimes even fight for. Welcome aboard!

The stories are told from the avian perspective. There’s love, loathing, wooing, parenting, jealousy, threat, strangers woes and more in healthy measure. In fact, as one reads through the stories, the issues seem almost human. And there lies the catch – right in the beginning, the writer makes it a point to mention that the “stories are based on some of his observations of bird behaviour – and may or may not be true.” But as one reads story after story, it’s unmistakable that Lal is indeed reprimanding some of society’s foibles through the ‘bird world’ perspective.

Did you know that Magpie Robins sing very well? Or that the Jungle Babblers are a bunch ‘screechers’ and ‘shriekers’ always huddling together and banging into each other every time they landed on a branch or an electric wire? A cantankerous lot and always shabby, these babblers! In Mad Mozart Gives A Recital, we get to meet and know the story of Mad Mozart, a Magpie Robin who belts out melody after melody to woo the newest beauty in town, Melody.  She is impressed not doubt, who wouldn’t be with such high-octane singing. But does Mad Mozart win his girl’s hand? You got to read it know that.

Lal also introduces us to Shakespeare, the tall, handsome, green and maroon Alexandrine Parakeet (descendant of parakeets that had been taken away from Punjab by Alexander the Great) who spoke English. He, of course, speaks the Universal Avian Language as well, but his command over English soon made him the centre of attraction with the fraternity at the garden in Goa. You’d, of course, like to know how Shakespeare and his gang from Goa manage to free the girl who taught him English from her evil captors, screeching “Kid-napp-er and Ran-som” on a busy Goa beach, won’t you?

Want to know more on team work? Check out Catapult Kid, in which the peace in the garden is shattered by an absolutely wile creature of a boy with his catapult and a deadly aim. Many a bird has fallen prey to his evil designs as he attacks them at random – on the feeding plinth or anywhere in the garden where the birds are foolish enough to show themselves to him.  But wait till the gangsters of the garden get together - Banshee, the wise one, Frowzle, the alert one, Hood, the big crow and Amber, the Brahmani Kite – teach the nasty boy a lesson.

And you must know how the minister, campaigning the cause of propriety in public life, was taught to mind her own business as she manipulates her way with the hotel staff and gets Banshee and his newly bethrothed wife Bimboo banished from the garden for smooching passionately outside their hollow.

These and many such stories will ensure that you lap up all of it. The book has ample illustrations to make the stories further engaging.

The only downside is that many of stories are meant more for pre-teens than children. This reviewer tried reading Mad Mozart to her nine-year-old nephew and he went off to sleep! Maybe, girlfriend woes aren’t his thing yet. Maybe, Catapult Kid would have done the trick.


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