Sunday, 28 June 2015

Another Translation.....

This one's another translation of a Tagore verse, a song very popular with my family during childhood. The version I'm familiar with was sung by the Late Debabrata Biswas. George Da, as he was affectionately known to all, was somewhat of a rebel Rabindra Sangeet exponent, a singer perpetually at war with the stuffy Rabindra Sangeet purists of his time. He had a deep bass voice and has sung this piece with a raw, naked emotion that brings out beautifully its intense pathos, longing and loneliness.

The song's called...., well never mind what it's called. It's classified as a nature-centric poem of the Monsoons; but then, who cares about boring classifications....I, like Debabrata Biswas, choose to make my own interpretations...

This piece speaks to me of interminable waitings, waitings that are rewarded occasionally by a meeting; but these meetings are so brief, so fleeting that all they do is to leave a taste of incompleteness and a deep desire for something more...

But you read on, interpret the piece at your will and enjoy the beauty of the Poet's thoughts and words...

You had come:with footsteps that threw fleeting shadows on the yonder path....
You had come:
but this coming-so ephemeral,
whispered to me-
That you....had never come at all!

(This indifference: was it only a facade?)
Your hasty footsteps though,
left imprints of hurt
Upon the grass!
You had come-
This coming,as if you had never come at all-
left the leaves dripping tears.....
And the grasslands sodden with pain....

Then, you went away,
Borne on the rain-soaked breeze.
Left behind now,
only the sun and shadows play,
Hide and seek
In the forest glade...

এসেছিলে তবু আস নাই, জানায় গেলে...... in case you're still wondering which song this is...)

Here's the YouTube

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Birds from My Balcony

The Elusive Koel

          I’ve always lived in ground floor houses and may be that is why I have always nurtured this fascination for houses on upper storeys. While we had lived in the same ground floor house for the first twenty years of my life, given the Other Half’s passion for gardening, I’ve again, in my later life  lived in ground floor houses, most of them with large gardens. So this time when I shifted into a first floor house for a change, I was happy. And the icing on my cake of happiness was the balcony. It’s a medium sized affair and being accessible from both the bedrooms, offers a great view of the outside from within the rooms themselves.  A large part of the balcony’s charms are the four trees growing just beyond it. Two are neem trees, the third a wild tamarind and the fourth a straggler yet unidentified. Spring in this city had been especially generous this year and probably because of this, the trees are lush with leaves, forming a cool green canopy around my balcony. It’s a real pleasure to sit there in the mornings, in the cool of the early dawn, sip my favourite Darjeeling tea [steeped, not brewed ;-)] and watch the birds beginning their day. This post is actually about these birds and not about the balcony.  The balcony bit was just a prologue.

The birds

          I never knew this dry as dust city was home to so many birds. A jungle of unattractive concrete buildings, potholed roads, rotting garbage dumps, maniacal traffic, a dying river and singular lack of greenery, this city bore me no appeal whatsoever; till one day standing on my balcony I saw the birds! Attracted by the greenery of my neighbourhood, which probably is the last surviving green in this city, they have made this place their sanctuary. And my four trees are avian prime estates, offering premium green shade, good quality sturdy branches and excellent nesting options in the form of large tree holes (these have PLCs attached to them, by the way!). The neem trees are for some reason the most preferred and at present families of various species of birds have made it their home and nursery. Standing on the balcony, almost at eye level with these nests, I am a silent but highly interested spectator of their daily routine.

Brown-headed Barbet.         This gentleman was hitherto unfamiliar to me and so at first glance, I mistook him for a kingfisher. But on closer scrutiny I realised he is quite distinct from a kingfisher. Firstly, his beak, in comparison to that of the kingfisher’s, is huge, like Gerard Depardieu’s nose in ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’. Then, his eyes, which , unlike the kingfisher’s, are great dark orbs ringed with brown that occupy a large portion of his head and for some reason remind me of a goggling Salman Khan in Maine Pyar Kiya. However handsome you may say Salman Khan is, folks, I think he goggles too much. The barbet’s call too is very distinctive, a guttural but musical twrooot trwooot twroooot which he belts out with unfailing regularity in the peak heat of the afternoons, jolting me from my post lunch snooze. Finally, it’s the barbet’s colour which is a lovely fluorescent green unlike the electric blue of the kingfishers. ( Are there green kingfishers? I have yet to see a one, though I have seen plenty of blue ones). In sharp contrast, his head is a rather mousy brown (that is why the name ‘brown headed barbet’) and here I feel a bright yellow or a bright red would have been much more suited. But I guess nature had exhausted her store of colours by the time she created the barbet’s head and so he has to, perforce, be satisfied with the brown. And I know exactly who hijacked his share of red and yellow’s those cackling parrots that inhabit the tamarind tree and spend their time swooping around showing off their yellow and red heads ......!Anyway, our brown headed barbet is at present unconcerned about superficialities like feather colours as he is in a steady relationship. His partner is just like him, only slimmer and together they have occupied a hole in one of the neem trees and are nesting there. They spend the entire day flitting around in flashes of green, carrying insects in their beaks to feed the barbet brood. I haven’t yet had a glimpse of the young ones as the tree hole is on my leeward side, but judging from the intensely busy parents, I guess there must be a sizeable number of them.

The Mynahs.   A pair of Common Indian Mynahs (‘shaliks’ in Bong) have rented the tree hole just above the barbets and the two neighbours spend the entire daytime squabbling, name calling and intimidation, in keeping with the best traditions of ‘mere pyare padosi’. I did a bit of reading on these birds and found to my amusement, that of the number of Sanskrit names given to them, one is ‘Kalahapriya’ or 'the one who loves a ruckus'. So very apt. But however ‘kalahapriya’ they may be , you cannot deny that they have such beautiful eyes.....jet black rimmed with a kajal of bright ochre yellow and tapering elegantly to a point: ‘Meenakshi’ or the fish eyed one....! But they have none of a Meenakshi’s grace or sophistication; rather they are the local goons and my Barbet has his work cut out for him, defending his flat from their unauthorised encroachment attempts.

          Last Sunday, I was having tea and day dreaming on my balcony, when I happened to look down upon the road below my flat. I found a mynah fledgling sitting on the ground and none of the raucous parents in sight. At first I thought that maybe the kid was being taught to fly. But then when I saw that the little one was sitting a little too patiently as if waiting for something to happen, I realised something was amiss. So I went down and picked the baby up. I realised that since it was too young to fly (its eyes were still closed), it must have fallen off the nest. Now, not being the physical activity inclined and having never ever climbed a single tree in my life, I was at a loss as to how to replace the lost kid back into its nest. I consulted Other Half and for once he too was flummoxed. Then I had an idea. I summoned a nearby parked truck and requested the driver if he could climb up on its roof and place the mynah back into its nest. Thankfully and to my pleasant surprise, the rough talking, heavily moustachioed, ‘member of the local akhara’ kind of driver agreed immediately (rather uncharacteristically, I thought). Nestling the little bird with surprising tenderness in his huge beefy hands, he swiftly climbed up the truck’s roof. Then because the nest was still higher up, he actually clambered up the tree and placed the baby back gently in its nest; helped in his endeavour in no mean measure by Other Half. And during this entire operation, the mynah parents did not do much, except issuing one or two half hearted screeches when my 6 month old too curious Labrador tried to sniff at their baby. I really wouldn’t give these birds many marks for their parenting skills. The barbets I think are better parents; but then who am I to judge...

The Owls

          When I sit in my balcony, at the exact level of my eyes is a tree hole where an owl couple have taken up abode. I am yet to determine the exact species to which these owls belong but I can tell you that they are only slightly smaller than a crow, white with plenty of grey-black markings, are both nocturnal and ‘dayturnal’(diurnal) and look quite intelligent. Now I say that because unlike the barbets whose goggle eyed gaze makes you suspect their intellect, the owl’s goggle (if you can call it that) for some unfathomable reason, gives an impression of great wisdom. And this is further enhanced by the slow motion horizontal bobbing of their heads which they resort to now and then. It actually reminds me of my super brainy friends from the South whose horizontal head bobbing famously indicated comprehension.

          The owls have at present abandoned the tree hole as the kids are all grown up, but they still inhabit my trees. I see them often, sometimes the parents and at other times the kids, sitting quietly atop a neem branch and gazing at me in benign fondness. And at night I can hear them babbling away happily in owl-tongue on the branch just above my pillow. In the dark of the night especially when there is a powercut and all else is shadowy, silent and sinister, it is reassuring to hear them chatter unconcerned, just next to you.

Others of the Menagerie

          A number of hornbills also live in the neighbourhood, though not on my trees. They prefer the eucalyptus tree, of which there are plenty in the area, each one taller than the other. The hornbill’s dusky grey colour melts into the grey of the eucalyptus bark, creating the perfect camouflage; probably that is why they prefer these trees. I think a pair of them have nested on a nearby eucalyptus , but the tree being a trifle far away, I can’t be very sure. Unlike the chatty mynahs or noisy parrots, these birds, like village elders, are silent, composed and exclusive. They  however, share one thing in common with the barbets: their mammoth beaks. I sometimes think that these beaks must occupy a place of pride in the avian community, like the moustaches of Rajputs at the Pushkar Mela.

          Then there are the tiny sunbirds, colourful, iridescent pixies that flit from branch to branch like butterflies. They are so swift and so restive that I have still not been able to capture them on film. Though they are not hummingbirds, I have seen them hover confidently over flowers, just like hummingbirds. My curiosity roused, I read up about them and thus came to know that though the sunbirds and hummingbirds originate from independent ancestors, they show what is known as ‘convergent evolution’, that is they have a large number of similar features viz. their small size, long thin curved beak, bright colours, nectar drinking habit and of course the ability to hover.....

          Another pixie like flitter is the Indian Magpie-Robin, or the Doyel. I don’t know what it is called in Hindi but it is ubiquitous in India and I personally have spotted these birds all over the country. The Doyel wears a little black dress but with a difference. Its LBD has splashes of white on the front and on the tail , a bold style statement.  And it can sing too, a melodious call that can give the Koel a run for its money.

          As for the Koel, I have yet to see a bird more shy and introverted than them. They keep up their incessant song from dawn to dusk, filling the skies with plaintive longing; but try as you might, you will never be able to spot them at their perch. Its like they are completely invisible. Only once, did I actually manage to spot one of them, perched high above my balcony, on the tamarind tree; a shapeless black mass silhouetted against a darkening sky. Rarely, you can spot them as they rush by in a clumsy flap of wings, as if they are ashamed of their ungainly looks and are in a hurry to disappear from your sight.

          And before I end, I must tell you about my friend, the Heron. Spotting a heron in my neighbourhood is like spotting a dolphin in the desert because the place where I live has no lake, no river, no pond, no water body, not even an ornamental fountain.....! Indian Pond Herons usually live near and forage in ponds or inundated paddy fields (these too are absent in my neighbourhood) and so spotting one here was quite a surprise. On closer scrutiny, I realised that a small concrete drain carrying storm water runs through this area and my friend was actually fishing here. The mystery of his presence solved, we now took to admiring each other. The heron is of the size of a hen, brown with dull white and black streaks. It looks as if it has got a pronounced crick in its neck as it rarely ever extends the neck to its full length and in the process ends up looking like a hunchback! Most of the time, I have seen it treading with careful, measured steps on the grassy bank of the storm drain and eyeing me with interest as I walk back home in the afternoons. If startled, say by a stray dog or a whizzing car, it takes off in a graceful swoop, its wings now stretched out in their full white beauty. Of late my friend is missing, may be because the drain has dried out in the summer heat. But I hope he?/she? will be back once the monsoons arrive to fill the drain with rainwater and we could then take to admiring each other once again.             


Brown Headed Barbet

Alu and the Crown God

I had rolled barely a hundred metres down the road when I spotted her gambolling in the adjoining park. "Heyy Alu," I called ou...