Humour: Birdsong for the isolated souls
Cooped up and silenced, humans have traded places with so many of their avian relatives for vast stretches of this pandemic. Meanwhile, the winged creatures have flown high and swooped low, tweeting frenziedly here, whistling sweetly there, starring in their own open-air opera. Feathers unfettered. Spirit ablaze. Droppings galore. And audience be damned. While birds use their song and flight for a range of reasons linked to survival, I just can’t stop marvelling at the fact that they sometimes do it just for fun. How inspiring to see this streak of leisure in their relentlessly hardworking nature.
The crow chronicles
We city wallahs have a far from ideal relationship with our beaked cousins. I, for one, am guilty of being very unfriendly towards those gurgling, bumbling, window-banging specimens that there are too many of to even take notice anymore. Of course, one wants them to be fed and their social needs met. But if only their upkeep would happen somewhere far away, where there is no danger of rotating fan blades or predatory house cats. Not to pigeonhole the creatures or anything, but they are, in fact, birdbrained.
On the other hand, there’s something about crows that draws my respect. They’re the hustlers, the fighters, the survivors. Whether they’re cawing ruthlessly at the window just as you’re about to take that rainy-day nap, or slipping through the grill to steal your dinner, there’s something so swift and focused about the creatures that you’ve got to admire them. Celebrated British poet Ted Hughes ascribed mythic value to them in his collection, Life and Songs of the Crow. And I’m merely one ounce of inspiration away from crowing about them myself.
Cloud cuckoo land
For Mumbaikars, the parakeets that perch on the cables hanging between buildings are a reminder that all is still not lost in the greying city. They pop up before us all the time in a burst of colour and activity, but we seem to be largely unimpressed. And that’s where the lockdown’s been so ear-opening. The soundtrack to the summer of isolation has been entirely composed by a motley choir of birds. They’ve audio-bombed Zoom calls and hijacked Insta lives, forcing us digital zombies to pay attention. They’ve been bold, persistent and surprising – like boy bands in the ’90s, but less annoying and with better hairdos.
The wonder of it all is that they’ve always been here, drowned out by the heavy metal combination of traffic, construction and gadgets. Stripped of these layers of noise, we’re left with birdsong, uplifting in unexpected ways. Emboldened by the attention they’ve been getting, the koels and mynahs have been reprising some of their B-side songs. They’ve stretched their repertories and spruced up their acts. I finally know why Anil Kapoor was likening Madhuri Dixit to a cuckoo in Beta. A koel is indeed a sweet-sounding bird, that’s if it isn’t conducting its riyaaz at an obscene hour that even the early birds frown upon.
What a hoot
In the suburb where I live, there are enough roosters in the yards of crumbling cottages to remind you of a Gerald Durrell idyll. Their full-throttled calls remind me of other people’s childhood, a kind of borrowed nostalgia. I’ve had the occasional brush with a Red-whiskered Bulbul and chance encounter with an Oriental magpie-robin. Then there’s the barbet in its coat of vivid green, with a splash of orange and red. Fantails and sunbirds. Orioles and kingfishers. With excursions to hills and forests still a distant dream, these cooing cameos in balconies and on window sills have shown us that nature, in fact, visits our homes regularly. But for all the drama of the showy birds, there’s one creature that’s in a flock of its own. There’s a strange thrill in spotting an owl (pun regretted) on the scaffolding of a building or the top of a flagpole at midnight, calmly – and condescendingly – surveying the scene below.
Jungles have a wealth of birds embellishing the branches of trees and sides of hills, but a bird in the city is worth two in the wilderness. We need them to remind us that gravity can be defied, vocal cords stretched and colours mixed madly. And that nature, too, is occasionally looking for some fun.
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From HT Brunch, June 21, 2020
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