MURMURS OF SUMMER
Nature is full of cheery bird songs and colours that augur the adventure of spring. But what about the first flush of summer heat that follows, when humans get the AC itch, when the sugary odour of mango blossoms drifts into rooms at night through windows thrown open, and when birds feel the urge of nesting season. There could be no more charming an augury of summer than the flame of the forest tree spreading a gentle fire of sunset blooms along its crooked boughs, and nothing more enigmatic than the nocturnal serenades of the large-tailed nightjar. No sooner does the twilight’s veil settle than the nightjar’s call is relieving the darkness. The call goes a metallic, ‘chaunk-chaunk-chaunk’, and sounds like a carpenter hammering a plank. The nightjar feeds on flying insects from dusk to dawn and is particularly noisy in breeding season (March to May) and during moonlit nights.
However, not many have seen a nightjar or recognised its curious call if their ears had chanced upon it. To savour the nightjar’s charms, one has to abandon comfort of daylight, tip-toe into the uncertainty of darkness, slink among the jungles like an affable ghost, and savour the music of the night like a cultured audience at a Mozart concert.
OF MICE AND MEN
Some of us discharge into a barrage of shrieks and climb the nearest high-altitude peak (such as beds and sofas) at the mere sight of a disappearing, dark, evil tail! A rat! However, it would be hard to vent one’s fury or be terrified if one had observed the predicament of an Indian gerbil (a rat species) at Sukhna lake’s regulator-end. The engineering department had dug a breach in the ‘Bird walk bundh’ to let excess water flow. When time came to plug the breach, tonnes of earth had to be requisitioned from outside the lake and filled in. However, a gerbil, whose native place must have been the ‘migrated earth’, was uprooted along with the earth and dumped in the breach by a tipper truck.
The reluctant migrant to the Sukhna was marooned. The gerbil could not clamber up the steep walls of the breach and repeatedly fell back into water. All the poor fellow could do was scamper hither and thither. There was more misery in store for the cornered gerbil, whose soaked bristles stood up like the punky hairstyles of Elante mall romeos. Gangs of freaky, cavorting youths kept jumping above the breach to make for the inviting bush jungles of the Sukhna, and their ‘Tarzan and Jane’ yells must have been blood-curdling for the gerbil below. The gerbil would have entertained apprehensions that the howling giants may nip him/her in the legs at any time when the back was turned and the mind engaged in finding an escape from that hellhole of a breach!
Gerbils are prey for raptors, other large birds, civet cats, jungle cats, snakes etc and it was best if the creature survived the human-engineered dislocation and faced only those risks natural to the food chain. So, I nudged the gerbil into a hole in the ‘bundh’ next to the breach and shrouded in a bush, and ensured that the tipper driver did not block it with dumped earth.
In a virtual re-play of the fraud of December 9, 2014 circulated via WhatsApp and showing two Asiatic lionesses roaming in Panchkula, the tricity’s citizens were subject to another ‘wild mischief’. On March 22, 2017, WhatsApp and some Twitter accounts circulated night photos of a ‘panther (leopard) on the Mohali airport road’. The warnings accompanying the photos were hysterical.
The lionesses alleged in Panchkula had driven forest department personnel to launch a dizzying search until a bit of social media investigation revealed that the video was picked up from Youtube, was actually shot in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, but misrepresented on Panchkula WhatsApp groups as footage from the city’s Sector 21!
Facts about the ‘Mohali panther’ are equally straightforward. The photos are from sightings on the JLN Marg, Jaipur, where the leopard was spotted by commuters during the night of March 5 and 6, 2017, and clicked on cellphones. The sightings were reported in Jaipur’s newspapers of March 6-7, 2017, with the same photos that later surfaced on March 22 as the ‘Mohali panther’. It is evident that manipulators lifted photos from Jaipur social media to hoodwink tweeples of the tricity. Wisely enough, the Punjab forest department did not react to the ‘airport panther’ scare as field officials smelled a proverbial rat in the (Jaipur) photos sent to them.