Essay: My feathered friends are homeless
On the sad loss of a green spot that has pushed out numerous birds and small animals from a Delhi neighbourhood
People in the neighbourhood were complaining about the noisy monstrous machines. Powerful, heartless machines were busy flattening the ground of the only empty plot in our lane. It would be wrong to call the plot empty, though. “No humans lived on it” is a better way of describing the situation. All I could hear was the sound of trees being forcefully uprooted, one by one, by these ugly machines. In spite of all the resistance being offered by the trees, their deep strong roots were ruthlessly pulled out of the soil. Within a few hours, not only were the trees -- large, big, medium and small -- forced out of the soil, they were all dumped in trucks and sent to a far away unknown destination. Very efficiently, nearly 60 trees were slaughtered and chopped into manageable pieces before that. A small-sized bird sanctuary was turned into a barren piece of land. A thriving ecosystem was destroyed within no time.
A wild cat, long time resident of this erstwhile mini jungle and her four kittens were meowing non stop for hours.
“Someone should do something to silence these cats. Crying cats are a bad omen for the neighbourhood,” one of my neighbours complained.
The cats and its babies were clueless; all of a sudden, they were rendered homeless. I had observed this cat in the mini jungle since it was a kitten; climbing trees, enjoying winter sun, hunting small animals. Even a couple of days after the plot was cleared of all its flora and fauna, I could still hear the kittens mourning the loss of their home. I am sure other creatures, micro, small and big, living on the plot were devastated too. They would have cried too, if they had a voice. My heart ached to see the loss of habitat of the beautiful birds that nested, lived and thrived in the mini jungle.
Every year brown-headed barbets, black-rumped flameback woodpeckers, tailor birds, yellow-footed green pigeons, ashy prinias and many more birds used to make their nests on these trees. I had witnessed black kites make whistling mating calls and make love on the terrace opposite my house. Days later, I had seen baby kites being fed by their mother in a nest on the large eucalyptus tree inside the jungle. There was a massive honeycomb hanging from a tree, it attracted so many beautiful green bee-eaters. Colourful parrots were regular visitors, thanks to the wild fruit trees that thrived on this fertile piece of land.
I can feel the nip in the air in the mornings. Migratory birds from the cold areas will soon visit Delhi. I wonder if they will come looking for this erstwhile green patch of land in the middle of a concrete jungle. I had spotted the beautiful blue Verditer flycatcher and rosy finch last year during winters. A couple of years ago a bunch of rosy starlings had landed on a huge tree inside this mini bird sanctuary to probably catch a breath, after taking a few rounds of the polluted grey Delhi skies.
I had once spotted a baby snake inside the jungle. My neighbour was shocked when I had excitedly shown her the photo, I had clicked of that snake.
“This empty plot is a big nuisance; it is a threat to the residents of the colony. We should complain to the authorities. It can be a source of dengue and other diseases,” my neighbour said.
I told her, “Dengue is spread by mosquitoes and humans, not birds or snakes.”
“You are concerned about these trees and animals because you are a bird photographer.”
I wanted to say, it should matter to her as well, because she breathed, and her lungs needed lots of fresh air. She was right about my being a passionate bird photographer, though. Until last week, I used to wake up to the sound of birds knocking on my window glass. My day used to start with the music created by the chirping of birds, the red-vented bulbuls, the red-whiskered bulbuls, the jungle babblers, the oriental magpie robins and many more.
The metronomic call of the beautiful coppersmith barbet was my favourite bird call. Every morning I would place my camera with my large zoom lens on a tripod in my balcony and click lots of pictures of beautiful birds.This is how I fell in love with my feathered friends. I have captured more than 40 species of birds from my house.
I have been a witness to so many bird stories -- a mother crow saving its cute blue-eyed baby when it fell from the nest; pigeon babies being disciplined and shouted at by their mothers when they wandered outside their safe territory. Their wings were not yet strong enough to save their lives. Rufous treepies were regular visitors to this mini jungle; they show no sympathy to the babies of other species of birds. I saw a shikra swoop down. A few minutes later I clicked pictures of the predator devouring a small bird. I felt sorry for the victim but the shikra had to eat to survive.
For the last few days, all I hear from the now vacant plot is the sound of hammers, and big machines breaking rocks to prepare the ground. The rocks too have to go, to make way for another concrete jungle in the city. My neighbour sounded assured, the building contractor had told her, they are making a stilt floor on the ground floor for parking. Residents of the area will have no problem because all the cars of the big four story building will be parked inside. They won’t crowd our lane. I kept complaining about the loss of a thriving ecosystem next door to everyone, I met or talked on the phone. My brother, after listening to my rants for a few days, was bored of my stories on the same topic, over and over again.
READ MORE: Essay: On my feathered friends
“You are sounding like developed countries complaining about carbon emissions by developing countries, after they have developed their own industries and messed up more than their share of the world’s environment. Your family lives in a house built decades ago. The owner of the plot next door has a right to build his house now. He is not doing anything illegal.”
I haven’t heard the cats meow for some days now. They have perhaps accepted their destiny.
Prerna Jain is an artist and photographer based in New Delhi. An extensive collection of her work can be found at her website www.prernasphotographs.com and at facebook.com/prernasphotographs. She is the author of My Feathered Friends.
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