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Let urban gardens become safe spaces for the wild ones

Rapidly expanding urbanisation in Gurugram has destroyed its forest, wetlands and open spaces making it a dusty, dry, island of heat.

gurgaon Updated: Jul 03, 2018 15:36 IST
Gurugram,Urbanisation,Prerna Singh Bindra
A high-rise residential settlement in Sector-50,in Gurgaon. (Sanjeev Verma/HT PHOTO)

In my last column I spoke about how putting out water has brought birds, and so much beauty, to my corner of Gurugram. But it is not just the water, and it is not only birds that find a haven in my tiny garden.

Few would look at a lizard with eyes of love, but right now, as I pen this column, I spot a rather handsome garden lizard outside my window curtained with green. Most times, the lizard renders itself invisible, perhaps knowing it is best not to advertise its mostly unwelcome presence. Currently, though, he is hyper-active, with his head and forelegs changing colour from its natural skin to a deep red-brown. My nephew, who is only interested in animals long extinct, is finally roused about a living creature. “He is totally like a little dinosaur,” he proclaims with awe. “And look, he is doing push-ups,” he said, pointing at the lizard’s muscular, spiky head rapidly going up down.

It’s busy season: This display is to attract the attention of prospective mates and warn other suitors and claimants to its territory.

The garden lizard, a harmless fellow, favours my patch as it offers, in a limited manner, what any living creature needs—water, shelter and, shall we say, a sense of ‘security’. Of not being hounded or chased by lawn mowers or thwacked by brooms and other weapons.

I let my garden grow wild. The thumb rule, therefore, is that I do not tame the greens with pincers and scissors. I do not pour pesticides and herbicides which contaminate the earth, and poison life around (and that includes us). Instead, I nourish the soil with neem, dung, coconut peat and egg shells. The plants love it. On one side of my flat, the bamboo grows lush, while the guava tree is bursting with fruit. My two-legged friends are rationed only a fruit or two, the rest is a feast for the birds—bulbuls stab at the ripe fruit, most of which fall slowly to become mush and merge with the earth. I have noticed the gorgeous coppersmith barbet, and to my utter delight, even the occasional bat. It’s small, with almost translucent wings, and because it swoops and swirls, I think it is not here for the fruit. It’s likely an insectivore, out to hunt insects on the wing. Bats have bad press, but they are really nice guys whom I would like to know better. They aren’t the blood sucking Dracula as is widely believed, and like the bird and the bees, do us an important service of pollination and seed propagation.

On the other side, which extends into a common garden, is a riot of green—a mix of champa, kadipatta, bottle brush, hibiscus and the madhumalati or the Rangoon creeper that drapes itself across my verandah with its shower of delicate red-white flowers. On the wall, sheltered behind this leafy clutter, I have fixed nest boxes fashioned from wood, coconut shells and small earthen pots attached firmly with its mouth facing the wall, and a small opening for the birds to enter. Given the congenial environs, this real estate is highly prized, and furious avian wars over property erupt occasionally. We are currently housing Generation Next of sparrows, bulbuls, silverbills—we lost the purple sunbird babies, but that’s another story. This green cover cordons off the harsh sun, lowers temperature and has the added bonus of bird song. And what can be more pleasurable than the waft of sweet scent from the Raat ki Raani (gracing the outer wall) when I step outside?

As the column proceeds, I will acquaint you with my wild neighbours. But, why not do one better and make your garden and further surroundings hospitable? Rapidly expanding urbanisation in Gurugram has destroyed its forest, wetlands and open spaces making it a dusty, dry, island of heat. Wildlife habitats have been cleared, and once common creatures such as sparrows and common toads are fast vanishing. We need to step up and provide succour.

(Though she lives in Gurugram, Prerna Singh Bindra is at home in the forests she is committed to protect. Her book, ‘The Vanishing: India’s Wildlife Crisis’, was released in June 2017.)

First Published: Jul 03, 2018 15:35 IST

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