Fight for the tiger, but don’t forget the sparrow, which is slowly disappearing from our collective consciousness. This little fellow is not just a bird, but a symbol of life as it must be — green, pristine and joyous.
The best thing about sparrows is you never see them. They are part of our ancientness. Some moment they come really close, steal your attention, get noticed and you ask yourself where were they all this time.
Where were you, you ask yourself and change the subject. We can never forget sparrows from the ecology of our childhood, but we also do not necessarily remember them either.
The peculiar thing about sparrows is that you can’t command them, acquire them, buy them in the market and put them in a cage. They are like little poems. You can just get them the space to happen.
That they will grace you is entirely their sweet will. You need to create conditions so that they choose your terrace and ground and clothesline and happily perch on there.
Most cities I have lived in have seen dramatic disappearance of sparrows. You mostly hear and see crows, and each time they are more than last time. In rural India, every year, flocks of peacocks die because of pesticides.
In these times, you might feel lucky to hear a koel amongst the crows just when the season of mangoes begins to usher in the monsoons. But imagine the dirt in a place thronged only by crows and the stink of our urban existence.
Most Indian cities have become like that. Pune is lucky because you still get to see birds like sparrows and hear the occasional happy ruckus of sandpipers and, of course, pigeons.
A functional city cannot be only concrete, grid and mortar. It cannot just level its hills, cut its trees and destroy its natural humus to levels where little insects can’t thrive.
So, while Pune is changing from easy to stressed, from horizontal to vertical, from a slow-motion pensioner’s paradise to a mammoth machine of a metropolitan, you can’t be sure about the fate of its breathing space, its greenery, its ecology and habitat.
Sparrows are tiny quality checks on the air, water and food we have been subjected to. Their disappearance is a kind of an early warning system for humanity. Any old inhabitant of this city will tell you their numbers are dwindling.
And to spot them, you need to come to greener and more open parts of Pune and to the outskirts.
Through the internet I bumped into this man, who has made sparrows his cause. For humanity, he says saving sparrows is more important than saving tigers.
Amongst us, I see more people campaigning and cheering for the tigers, even as celebrities and government spend time and money on them. While the whole country has been keeping count of each tiger’s birth and death for a long time now, there is no census for sparrows.
Growth in the number of tigers depends on so many factors, and many of them are so costly. While I support the campaign to save the tiger from extinction and to have enough jungles for them, I don’t think I can do much about it.
Mohammed Dilawar is an environmental scientist from Bombay Natural History Society and runs a Nasik-based group, which supports the cause of sparrows by helping them create their nests and continue to live in our surroundings, playfully and without any intrusion.
Two years back, Time magazine had counted him as one of the ‘heroes of the environment’. Not many in Pune know of Dilawar and his crusade.
Though this city has seen quite a lot of environmental activism, sparrows are not so ‘sexy’ to be high on the priority list. More than the government and the activist, sparrows need your attention and initiative.
For sparrows, only you and me can do something meaningful, and there is so little that is needed. It is not about the forest far up there or the touristy interest in migrant birds, which are, of course, a great delight to watch.
The sparrow is much nearer you, your home, your skyline. And if they are disappearing, they are doing so under your nose.
The little chikli or gauraiya, which populated the fables of our childhood and spaces, has not found a serious voice to defend them.
It was always on the fringes of our focus. But it had the goodness of living before feng shui came to our lives, before we started applying the rules of vaastu on our twelfth-floor flat to survive the sheer vertigo of its EMI.
Will your kid see a sparrow bathing in the dust to announce the onset of monsoon? What about their children? This is where your role comes in, not just to save this tiny bird from flying away from our terraces but also to keep the childhood fables intact. Simon and Garfunkel wrote this song long back:
“Who will love a little sparrow?
Will no one write her eulogy?”
This Saturday is World House Sparrow Day. If you don’t find them around you, find them on Facebook. Find ways to find sparrows around you at www.worldhousesparrowday.org.
Copyright 2008 Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd. . All rights reserved.