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Wildbuzz: The cuckoo & 2 clarinets

On a hot summer afternoon, in the hush of the lush bush, the celebrated call of the Eurasian cuckoo drifts across the solitude like a dandelion dream.

chandigarh Updated: Jun 28, 2015 10:30 IST
Vikramjit Singh
Vikramjit Singh
Hindustan Times

A Eurasian cuckoo. Photo credit: Nitin SrinivasaMurthy

On a hot summer afternoon, in the hush of the lush bush, the celebrated call of the Eurasian cuckoo drifts across the solitude like a dandelion dream. The listener is left utterly charmed. The reclusive cuckoo can be more often heard than sighted at Sukhna lake jungles, Morni and Parwanoo hills. Centuries back, and across cultures, the call inspired, among a host of music composers, Ludwig V. Beethoven, whose love for rambles in the Vienna woods was encapsulated in a letter to his friend, Therese Malfatti.

"How happy I am to be able to wander among bushes and herbs, under trees and over rocks; no man can love the country as I do. Woods, trees and rocks send back an echo that man longs to hear," wrote Beethoven. Such love was naturally pregnant with many a musical encore.

British musician David Mathews in his July 2011 'City of London Festival' lectures very eloquently interpreted the cuckoo muse in classical music. Said Mathews: "Music inspired by birdsong goes back at least as far as the 16th century, when French composer Clément Janequin wrote chansons with imitations of the skylark and nightingale.

The cuckoo is the only European bird that sings exclusively two easily recognisable pitched notes, a descending minor or major third. Cuckoos also seem to sing in the key of C. There are a number of pieces of music that use cuckoo calls, for instance F. Delius's 'On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring', and Gustav Mahler's 1st Symphony; however, Mahler makes the cuckoo sing a descending fourth, because that fits better with his thematic material.

The most famous example of a cuckoo call in music is in Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, where at the end of the second movement, 'Scene by the Brook', there is a cadenza for three birds: a flute imitates a nightingale, evocatively if not all that accurately; an oboe the quail, quite precisely; and a pair of clarinets the cuckoo --- Beethoven realising that two clarinets in unison convey the peculiarly muffled resonance of the cuckoo's call better than one.''

Shot 10 'coocks' only!

In last week's column, I had delved on the empathy for low-paid forest staff as recorded in the form of a notice issued by the then DFO, Fred Champion, in the visitor's book of 1928 maintained at the Mundiapani forest rest house (FRH), Kalagarh (Uttarakhand). Hunting was in vogue in that era and sportsmen/shikaris would frequent these FRHs and leave behind a record. A remarkable one is of a tiger and a female sambar shot for Rs 4 only! A certain Mr and Mrs SP Singh, who stayed at Mundipani FRH from January 23-31, 1935, wrote: "Many thanks.

Photo caption: Mundiapani rest house entry of 1935 showing tiger shot for Rs 4!

Photo credit: Lansdowne Trip Travel Cafe Devikhal (Uttarakhand)

Paid Rs 4. Shot one tiger measuring 9 feet 9 inches and one female sambar." Then there was one JN Naqvi, who wrote in the same book on October 26, 1945: "Thanks for the bungalow. Shot only four kakars (Barking deer) and (oops!) 10 coocks only." IT Bain signing out on March 31, 1946, recorded his expedition thus: "Bear did not turn up. Shot 3 kakad (Barking deer) and 16 pheasant only. Paying Rs 10 to the library fund and Rs 10 to the Canning Fund (meant for families of forest staff who died on duty)."

Interestingly, a pair of 'shikaris' from Ludhiana turned up at the FRH for a spot of shooting on December 15, 1943. Their names are not fully legible but one of them was a retired superintendent of police. On December 18, 1943, they seem to have found occasion to vacate the FRH prematurely.

"Received news of a woman being killed by a maneater. Proceeding to the spot at once," remarked one of the Ludhiana shikaris while signing out. After that entry, the book bears an undated one in different ink bearing an illegible signature, and declaring tersely: "Maneater shot".

But this former abode of 'shikaris' faced a spot of trouble, too, many decades later. Elephants inflicted retribution on behalf of the jungle's trophied souls! On March 20, 1995, forest official DC Pandey made an entry that spoke of the destruction wreaked on the Mundiapani FRH by elephants: doors, windows, crockery, caretaker's room completely damaged; doors, kitchen roof and water supply pipes of forest guards building nearly wrecked!

Crocodile dundee

Photo credits: Vikram Jit Singh

Shaped by the transformative forces of nature --- the attrition of water, wind and rain --- decaying driftwood acquires many imaginative shapes. Here, the pair of driftwood pieces at the Siswan dam conjure an African action scene straight out of NatGeo Channel. Does it not seem that a crocodile is emerging from the murky depths and is lunging with open jaws at a mighty serpent, curled u-shaped and basking on the mudflats?

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First Published: Jun 27, 2015 23:54 IST