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That early bird…


The Hindu, New Delhi, 18 June, 2015


Unsung, unnoticed the house sparrow flew away, leaving us with a nest-full of memories.

 

One of the abiding memories of childhood is all about seeing a house sparrow prance around the balcony looking for a grain of rice or bajra, picking it, then putting it into the beak of the little one waiting with its mouth open. The baby bird would all along be calling out to the mother, knowing not a moment of patience. The mother would stay quiet, concentrate on finding food. It was motherly love of the best kind, the mother getting food for the baby, feeding herself only later. The father would usually fly in just a little later. The fledgling bird would soon grow wings and fly out on its own. And the family of the perpetually late father with dark brown feathers and a pumped up black chest – it was described as a beard to children – the doting mother – with light brown feather and silver-grey front – and the tender little one would break up. Until next spring there would a fresh set of parents and some new little ones.

 

Incidentally, a few weeks before this family dastarkhwan, the male and the female bird would be seen collecting twigs in their beaks, and flying all the way to the nest they would have set up behind somebody’s window which never opened, a little nook in a wall and the like. Then came the mating season, then the little ones would arrive.

 

In summers, it would be different. This time, the birds would perch themselves on the edge of an earthen bowl kept on the boundary wall and take happy sips of water. Then they would be all over the wall, picking grains of bajra and rice. Every morning, they would leave their nests hungry, every evening they would head back to their nests on a full stomach, nature making sure that no bird went hungry.

 

On cool evenings, they sang from peepul trees; on sultry afternoons, they hopped from branch to branch looking for a drop of water, then flew down to the barest trickle visible. So prolific were they and so ubiquitous, that for many an innocent mind in the 60, 70s, extending right up to the early 80s, a bird, a chidiya in Delhi meant simply a house sparrow. Other birds were identified as a pigeon, a crow, a parrot and so on. But when it came to the house sparrow, it was simply a bird, a chidiya, needing no further identification. Then? In came new urban dwellings, skyscrapers, winters became shorter, spring all but disappeared. Unsung, unnoticed the house sparrow flew away. Unable to survive the increasing air pollution, louder noise levels, depleting green cover, the bird decided to move on, find another city, a new hearth, a new nest.

 

It took a while before anybody noticed that the birds were no longer seen sitting by the window sill, no longer pranced around their courtyard. And were not to be seen beaking with each other sitting on the electric wires. Childhood was long gone, the last remnant too. The Government of Delhi, in a belated move, declared it the State bird. Some compensation for a little chidiya which annoyed none, love passionately, and then was quietly gone.

 

Source: http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/that-early-bird/article7325796.ece