Wild buzz: Many, many crescent moons ago | punjab | htcity | Hindustan Times
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Wild buzz: Many, many crescent moons ago

What birds of the night the trained hawk would be flown at by the Mian is left unsaid by Nainsukh though, over the centuries, migratory duck and geese did present a challenging target for hunters as they fast winged to foraging grounds, weaving between moon beams.

punjab Updated: Mar 25, 2018 13:15 IST
‘Hawking at Night’ by Nainsukh, c 1740-’45.
‘Hawking at Night’ by Nainsukh, c 1740-’45.(PHOTO: VICTORIA and ALBERT MUSEUM, LONDON)

Each night of the preceding week, a sliver added to the crescent moon. The sickle moon is an esoteric beauty, it is the celestial garland for a sky strewn with stars, those scattered embers of the eternal cosmic fire. Thousands upon thousands of days apart but under the same crescent moon, the 18th century’s celebrated painter, Nainsukh of Guler (Kangra), rendered an unusual painting of ‘Hawking at Night’.

Set against a crescent moon, “Mian Mukund Dev of Jasrota stands, hawk perched on gloved right hand, left hand gently stroking the feathers of the bird’s chest...The Mian, obviously a hawking enthusiast, has an intent look as if waiting to make his move and release the bird,’’ writes professor Brijen N Goswamy in his celebrated tome on Nainsukh.

What birds of the night the trained hawk would be flown at by the Mian is left unsaid by Nainsukh though, over the centuries, migratory duck and geese did present a challenging target for hunters as they fast winged to foraging grounds, weaving between moon beams.

Souls of soldiers

At Colonel Balbir Singh Toor’s (retd) farm flanking the Sirhind Canal in Machhiwara, five veterans of the 14 Punjab (Nabha Akal) gather every year to renew their bonds and memories of wartime camaraderie that hark back to the 1971 war. Among them is Brigadier MPS Bajwa (YSM, retd), who commanded the assault on Tiger Hill during the Kargil War and was wounded in Sopore and Kargil in his front-line role as Commander, 192 Mountain Brigade. But at his bunker buddy’s farm, Brigadier Bajwa (retd) and the hardened Punjab Regiment veterans revealed a softer side to their soldierly souls: a passion for nature.

Honeybees on a Red poppy at Toor Farms. (PHOTO: Brigadier MPS BAJWA (retd))

The veterans were charmed by honeybees flying in from the canal-side to the farm’s gardens brimming with the redolent blooms of March. The bees were as partial to poppies as Army officers are to XXX rum! The veterans spent happy moments taking bee videos and photos.

“Bees are mad after poppy flowers. They are not interested in other flowers when poppies are available. The farm commands beautiful views of the countryside and many butterflies visit flowers. Wild boars and neelgais are common along the canal. But it is the buzz of bees and their magnet-like attraction for flowers that captivated the veterans’ imagination. It was educative to observe the diligence and patience of bees while extracting nectar. They would tunnel carefully into the nasturtium’s trumpet-like orange blooms so as to not tear soft petals. We were left wonderstruck,” Brigadier Bajwa (retd) told this writer.

Screams at midnight

Fish netted at night from Mirzapur dam in Mohali district. (PHOTO: VIKRAM JIT SINGH)

Having wandered to Mirzapur dam in the Shivalik foothills to spend a night gazing at the stars, my eyes picked up fishing boats returning just before midnight. Intrigued by the nocturnal character of the fishing forays, I ambled down to the dam’s shores and struck an acquaintance with the youthful Bihari fishermen. I learnt that they laid nets at night to catch ‘fish napping,’ just before fish got alert and active to feed between 3am to 6 am. And, then, I chanced upon the strangest sounds, I had never heard a fish ‘call.’

From the thrashing fish of many wild and cultivated species in the ‘machhardaani net’, a distinct sound burst forth: ‘chapp-chapp-chapp’. It sounded like a large-tailed nightjar. The fishermen informed me that one of the netted fish was making sounds. But unlike the nightjar, which happily sings paeans to daylight’s demise, I could make out the fish was not indulging in a variation upon WA Mozart’s ‘Exsultate, jubilate’.

It was eerie and triggered a powerful recall of the epic stabbing scene in the shower of a young woman in the 1960 Hitchcock thriller, ‘Psycho’. Her screams emitting from a remote motel washroom, her blood’s silent confluence with water draining through the sluices, the shower rumbling on and on — went unheard by a slumbering world but was witnessed by mute stars.

Shaken by those screams of pisces, I sought a scientific explanation from fisheries expert, assistant professor YK Rawal. “The fish that makes these distinct sounds is the common carp, a cultivated species. It is a hardy fish that can survive out of water for more than an hour and has a large, rounded mouth. When pulled out of water, the carp’s gills stop functioning and it opens its mouth to suck in lots of air. The sounds so produced are due to strenuous gasping or gulping for breath. Other fish species also gasp when out of water but they do not emit distinct sounds because non-carps do not survive for long and their mouths being small, more like slits, emit subdued gasps,” said Rawal.

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