Posted On Saturday, August 18, 2012 at 08:50:56 AM
Quite some time ago, when there were not so many concrete monstrosities in our locality and we could actually hear the wind when it tousled the branches of the trees and birdsong was the language of the day, I had the extraordinary pleasure of experiencing a living fable.
We had set up a low bamboo fence around our terrace for privacy and to act as a trellis for our climbers and a support for larger potted shrubs. The terrace became a haven for birds and I’d spend Sunday afternoons watching my feathered friends bathe in the large terracotta bowl of water and feed off the half open ripe papaya that I had placed out for them.
On one particular occasion, I heard a lot of rustling in the branches of the tree outside and when I had a closer look, I spotted a young koel fluttering after a female crow, hankering to be fed.
Obviously, her mother had deposited an egg in the crow’s nest and left the job of hatching and rearing to the foster parent.The young koel fluttered around behind the crow ever so often, demanding to be fed because she was convinced that she was a crow and that was her mum. Things started getting a little more complicated a week or two later.
The young adult koel landed one morning on our fence and sat there trying to caw like a crow. It was a most peculiar sight. The unfortunate bird struggled to get a caw out of its throat but it refused to oblige. Instead, croaks and squeaks emerged. Frustrated, it flew away, only to return the next morning and commence its struggle, constantly glancing around each time a crow flew past cawing.
Then one afternoon, whilst it was there fighting to let out a caw, a koel flew past, calling melodiously. Almost instantly, the young adult on the fence called melodiously in response. It almost seemed as if the melody had poured out on its own volition. Its innate beauty had expressed itself instinctively.
It was magical to see the bird’s body shiver with astonishment and delight. It ruffled and unruffled its feathers, twitched its tail, opened and closed its wings and then sang over and over again, intoxicated by the beauty of its own song.
The koel who had thought itself to be a crow finally discovered its own identity and revelled in it. It was the song of another koel that had reminded him of who he really was.
Hundreds of other living fables surround us in this amazing city and if only we care to look and listen, whole worlds of truth will reveal themselves. These are the living treasures of old cities, alive with the past, at one with their natural environments. Wipe out the past and alter physical spaces and we become mere players in a charade. A pantomime of pretence.
Some time ago, just down the road from where we live, in an open field alive with sprays of wild marigolds, lived a mongoose and her family, across the path among the shrubbery lived a family of wild hares.
Today, three restaurants stand there, a few enormous posh apartment blocks, a marriage hall and a lot else. The living fables don’t have a chance to breathe anymore.
Like our neighbourhood bigmouth loves to say, “Pune is like a dear old grandmother trying to behave like a beauty queen.”
Little over the top, but there’s some truth in what he says so I don’t argue with him and walk away, smiling…each to his own.
The tree outside the balcony doesn’t exist anymore and the air is full of crows. But sometimes, only sometimes the melodious call of the koel paints the early morning air, bringing back that magical moment from long ago…