Posted On Saturday, April 14, 2012 at 02:41:35 AM
Last evening, as light became a rich honey golden and a cool breeze swept through the trees, I heard the call of the drongo, a sleek black bird with a forked tail. It came from the thicket of a clump of silver oak. After a careful look, I spotted him tucked in the shade, twitching his tail each time he called. A familiar sight.
I remember the first time I saw a drongo when I was a kid in my grandfather’s garden in Kanpur, many moons ago. It was in amongst a cluster of leaves on a mango tree, diving out occasionally, to snap up flies and other flying insects.
‘That’s a drongo,’ said my dad, an expert birdman. ‘He’s a great entertainer, look at the way the fellow swoops and swirls and does acrobatics. He’s as good, if not better, than the green bee eater. Quite a showman.
But then there’s something else that’s special about him — he’s one of the best mimics in the natural world. When a big bird attacks him, he goes into hiding from where he begins to call like a bird larger than himself.’
Later, I witnessed this for myself and came to respect this clever creature.
And as I stood there that evening, listening to the drongo in the silver oak, I began to sense its significance. It had adopted an intelligent way to survive. Just like this city. It keeps adapting to change — constantly altering its lifestyle and its way of being.
Interestingly, it’s not just drongo-like but even like so many other birds…it has the tenacity of the hoopoe, the purposefulness of the shikra, the persistence of the pigeon, the colourfulness of the minivet, the sociability of the Indian myna, the industriousness of the tailor bird, the community spirit of the crow, the creativity of the spotted munia…the list is endless so I will refrain from boring you.
‘What are you looking at?’ asked our friendly neighbourhood busybody, Bhupesh Shinde.
‘No yaar, a drongo.’
‘What’s so special about it that it has stopped you dead in your tracks?’
‘It’s a great mimic.’
‘What’s a mimic?’
‘One who can copy another.’
‘My brother-in-law is a great mimic. He can mimic Shotgun and Dev Sahab. He can even mimic Johnny Lever who himself is a great mimic. You don’t have to look for a drongo or a prongo to remind you of a good mimic.
Look at the humans around you. Actually, to let you into one of my secrets — I can even mimic you…the way you change your voice when you have to say something important. Or the way you scratch your head or pull at your beard.’
‘So you don’t think that there’s anything special about the drongo.’
‘Show me — where is he?’
So I pointed the bird out. ‘That’s him there among the leaves.’
‘Aarey bhai, that bird looks like a mini koel. Is it as noisy as the koel?
‘Why do you ask?’ I wanted to know.
‘Because the damned bird wakes me up early in the morning. And the bhardwaj. The idiot goes whoop whoop whoop. “What are you whooping about?” I have often shouted and my Mrs gets upset because I’m disturbing her sleep.
“Shut up na,” she snaps and my dog dingo hears it and starts growling and scratching at our bedroom door. All because of the idiot bhardwaj. If I get half a chance I’d have all these trees trimmed so that these noisy birds will have no place to hide.
Thank god all these sparrows have vanished…now where has this drongo gone? It was sitting right there a moment ago.’
‘There,’ I said, pointing up in the air, ‘he’s catching flies and insects.’
He watched transfixed as the drongo did its loops and swirls and dips and dives. He had been converted in an instant. Others joined him and watched the feathered performer.
I slipped off.