Kothi of compassion
As the tricity’s gardens twinkle in the twilight, householders begin to miss the chirps and antics of mynas, babblers, squirrels and prinias who frolic in the lawns. But in Brig. Sukhdev Singh’s kothi in Sector 33, Chandigarh, every night three owls descend on his lawns and take over from their daytime fraternity. These are not very common owls, or put differently, not very visible creatures. These are a family of one adult and two juvenile Indian Scops owls. They land and hop on every nook and corner of the kothi’s back lawns and veggies patch to hunt for nocturnal insects. The beauty is that these reclusive owls harbour not the slightest fear of the humans who reign over this kothi.
The young maids, Ruksar and Maryam Khatoon, offer the owls remains of ‘chappatis’, and a bird bath in the garden is their habitual destination. The retired Brigadier and his wife, Pammi, are benevolent by conviction. The owls reward this compassion with an investment of confidence in the householders that deeply moves an outsider. Brig. Singh can walk up to a few feet of the foraging owls, and the birds will not be flustered in the least. It is not only the owls who are beneficiaries of this benevolence.
Cockroaches are not killed in this kothi. Huge Indian flying foxes (fruit bats) descend at night to relish the ‘litchis’ blushing scarlet. The squirrels make a mess of the veggies. But the couple is not complaining. They do not chase away these creatures with sticks and shrieks. They, instead, exult in seeing their garden turn into a Noah’s ark, and count the days when grandchildren will descend and add to the ark’s fun and frolic.
Bend it like butter
As International Yoga Day neared, regional and tricity wildlife photographers lent the event a creative tilt by clicking birds and animals in seemingly yogic postures. The ‘yoga’ pictures were a welcome break from the daily surge on social media of pretty portraits of birds in staid poses. Jagdish Singh, a Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology graduate and BSNL official based in Patiala, clicked squirrels in kinky poses evocative of yoga.
The squirrel’s flexibility is an inspiration for those humans whose bones creak and muscles quiver like jelly at yogic striving. Though it must be said that the squirrel’s ‘’extra-bendable’’ spine, if attained by humans, may lead to an uncertain revolution in sexual deviancy, besides plunging to unprecedented depths the character of those courtiers who excel at bending buttery spines. Not to forget the inordinate influence such a ‘’squirrel spine’’ would purchase in the corridors of power!
Guided by Soliga tribals, intrepid wildlife researcher Samira Agnihotri ventured deep into the forests of the BR Hills, Karnataka. Her passion: the Greater Racket-tailed drongo, whose ability to mimic is so extraordinary that she managed to record this bird aping calls of 35 other bird species, three mammals, two frogs and one insect! She could record this artistry because of minimal human intrusion. Agnihotri voices the need to preserve acoustic landscapes, given that the din of the human advance is waging a war on natural sounds. Just as the inferno of city lights has eclipsed the stars and the wink of fireflies, and virtually deposed that queen of darkness, the night.
Acoustic nightscapes, as we head out of the tricity into the countryside, are better preserved as villagers hit the pillow early. Under a virtually full moon night of June 21-22, I headed for a sojourn with nature’s nocturnal sounds at the nearby Perch dam. However, I was in for a rude shock as sozzled youths from Chandigarh had colonised the dam and polluted the acoustics with vile Punjabi abuses and ‘dosti-yaari’s’ fashionable though mindless banter. The sub-currents of their unhinged tongues reeked as of much of sexual deprivation as the accompanying breath did of competitive alcoholism.
The frogs were calling, and if heard with an unbiased ear, the croaks were inspired by such perfect rhythm, such even-tempered notes and harmony as if rendered by the Vienna Philharmonic. The nightjars’ silence was jarring, but it is not their season to be too vocal. Nocturnal insects were not to be outdone, and past midnight, their echo built up and eclipsed the frogs’ unison. The owlets hooted, and I was greatly charmed to hear the African migrant, the Pied cuckoo, intervene in the nocturnal concerto with the flair of an accomplished soloist.
The climax of the clash, or disharmony of acoustics, came when a Red-wattled lapwing dared to fly over the youths emitting warning screeches. But the lapwing fled like a shooting star scurrying into a crevice of the cosmos after a volley of untempered abuse was hurled at her by the burly youths. The latter owned the place, or better put, their daddies seemed to own it. The abuses were, of course, coarse derivations of human matrimonial and familial transgressions. But the youth must remember that lapwings don’t ever swear oaths before priests, constitutions, holy books or affidavits.