An Indian Summer with the Bulbuls

A story from Purulia (West Bengal, India) made quite a few headlines last week. A tusker, also known to have killed three people last year, smashed a house into bits and started moving away. Just then it heard the cries of a helpless 10-month-old baby from under the debris. To the crowd’s amazement, it immediately turned back and gently removed every last bit of stone, brick and mortar from the infant’s body before heading back to the forest.

A similar incident was reported from Jalpaiguri (also in West Bengal, India) about six months ago where a herd of elephants carefully removed a little girl from the way before going on a rampage.

Very recently, it has been reported that elephants and dogs too recognize certain voices and languages. On a lighter note, now we know how justified is ‘HMV’ and its logo – His Master’s Voice !! 🙂

Incidents as these that sound straight from India’s Amar Chitra Katha series or Jataka Tales or western Fairy Tales, have been observed all over the world. In about two or three separate articles starting from this particular write-up, I would love to narrate a few remarkable ones from my childhood. These would also constitute my humble attempt in appreciating all Nature-lovers, observers and researchers. And I hope that readers will enjoy this curious side of life where Nature vividly communicates with man in symbolic languages.

Before I begin, I would like to mention that my parents have always ardently hailed Nature. My mother (here addressed as Ma), was not only keen at gardening but also guarded all life-forms in our garden just as she was protective of her own family. And therefore we believed that’s perhaps how she was more well-recognized, completely trusted and sort of much admired by the other occupants of our green ambience.

In this article, I shall focus on one episode based on birds in the district of Mayurbhanj (Odisha, India), where I spent most of my young days, almost 25 years.

The jovial Bulbuls seemed to be eternally present in the green, calm surroundings of the bungalow. Once a pretty young Bulbul-ma (that’s how I used to call the mother-bird) over-estimated her plans of a good nest and the entire fledging process after her cute eggs hatched. Consequently, on a scorching summer day in May,1990 she anxiously fluttered up to Ma who was watering the plants in the patio. She chirped madly and then flew to and fro in the direction of her unsecured nest. Ma lost no time in understanding that she had to rush as per Bulbul-ma‘s directional moves. I tiptoed along on the grassy patches here and there, intermittently starred by some bright seasonal flowers. Bulbul-ma perched on a nascent palm tree planted in a clay pot. Its leaves had quite dwindled away in the heat that was everywhere. The tree barely supported the small nest built for three members. Ma peeped at the centre and her heart sank to see three tiny nestlings struggling to survive the heat, thirst and hunger. Hair on their skin was singed and beneath it was visible the tender skin, slightly reddish. Their beaks were wide open with its pink delicate but almost dry inner linings exposed towards the clear blue sky that was absolutely unpromising of a shower for the next couple of days. They were desperately waiting for Bulbul-ma‘s solace. But she was utterly helpless because she could not have transferred them anywhere at this stage! The well too was far from the pot; so she could not have even managed a small spray on her nest with her wings soaked in the water from any container.

With the gardener’s help, Ma quickly but carefully shifted the pot to a spot in the verandah where shade was almost perpetual and we could monitor them maximally. A polythene sheet was later hung at one side as a double guard against all the remaining rays. Ma found a very innovative way to artificially feed the nestlings- she took a new ink-pen dropper and with it, very smoothly let droplets of water and mango-juice into their mouths. They gulped and gulped…and I was always very excited when Ma delegated this task to me after a simple demonstration. Then she taught me to spray their almost singed bodies with cool water and to often check their nests for enemies- ants and insects. When they grew better, Bulbul-ma would feed them small dead ants and insects. At nightfall, it was the watchman’s turn to guard the nest as well. Ma also regularly gave hand-mashed mango pulp and nuts to Bulbul-ma, who sitting on the same palm tree, would sincerely observe us when we nursed her nestlings. Her expression was like ‘achaa! itna kuch karna parrta hai kya? mujhe nahi malum tha!! (oh! we got to do all these, is it? I didn’t know!!)’ :-).

And Bulbul-ma was somehow acquainted with saree (Ma, grand-ma and domestic helps), dhoti (gardener and grand-father) and casual skirt and top (me). Till date, I wonder why she missed out the formal shirt and trousers (my father)! So initially, when my father went near the palm tree to see this interesting episode, she would scream and again start seeking Ma or me. We explained to her in a language of the homo sapiens that ‘a father’ is the man-of-the-house, someone who would ultimately rescue us all in case there is a danger…that he is Ma’s husband and my father, the little girl’s father. And several times, we took him along with us to the nest so that Bulbul-ma would learn that he is after all a safe visitor :-).

I had just stepped into my teenage. Once, during a mid-day chat with Ma who was my closest friend, she very jokingly remarked ‘perhaps, this Bulbul-ma has not come of age…looks like these eggs are borne out of a pre-matured wedlock’… 🙂 Then in the next few moments, her tone transformed to that of immense appreciation and respect for Bulbul-ma– ‘but one thing my girl, note she hasn’t ditched her eggs…rather she has accepted Nature’s rule in rearing them up, even all alone in this scorching heat’ !! And again she rushed towards their nest to check on them.

The monsoons were nearing when one day, the now hearty fledglings flapped their wings for the first time. Bulbul-ma spent two days in fruitlessly trying to teach them fly. We concluded that they had got used to the comforts in badde-sahaab ke bungalow (big man’s bungalow)- all our family and helps accused Ma and me :-). On the third day, as evening approached, two of them managed to fly out; after hobbling for a few metres, they took to the air smoothly. The last one just didn’t move. It was indeed robust. Ma blamed it on me saying that I over-fed my pet and now its wings could not bear its weight. Bulbul-ma pricked its back with her beak so as to stimulate it. The fledgling merely shrugged off the sensation and continued to stubbornly sit in the nest :-). Then my Ma gently brought it out and placed it on the floor in the verandah. Using her fingers, she prompted the fledgling to follow it and walk. There was no response. Then she slightly stroked her nascent wings and blew some mouth-air over it. We were still surprised how this little fellow was unable to decode natural instincts! Just then, my grand-father happened to sit on a mattress on the floor barely a few metres away from it. Suddenly, the fledgling flapped its wings and flew onto his cosy lap in a manner most unlike of even a distant-cousin of birds :-)! I think it had understood by then that it had to perform under the full glare of spectators and the view of the short distance to be covered at a small altitude helped it muster some strength to fly- ‘bhai, udd le…isse asaan aur chance nahi! (hey,lemme show I can fly…there can’t be an easier chance to do it!)’ :).

Then it again sat there seeming to be very satisfied with its flying skills. I wanted to feed it again with the dropper because I believed it might have got exhausted with its efforts. But Ma stopped me as she seriously wanted it to fly as a natural response to thirst and hunger, and she also empathized with Bulbul-ma in her desperate efforts. Evening was nearing…

In the meanwhile, Bulbul-ma had brought in either Bulbul-baba (the father-bird) or some Bulbul-masi (Bulbul-ma‘s female friend) !! We didn’t try to figure out exactly who it was. We had better tricks of Bulbul-ma to watch. The adult birds had caught hold of a big grasshopper and another insect in their respective beaks and started luring the lazy fledgling towards it. As the latter hobbled after a few minutes, the adult birds continued moving back, maintaining a minimum take-off distance on the runway :-). The trick went on until the fledgling successfully flew towards the trees that the birds had flown to with the insects still held in their beaks.

Even years later, Ma used to recollect this particular trick and was very amused each time. She said ‘wasn’t that so much like human adults who try to lure their kids to desired activities or places by holding out a chocolate or a flashy toy in front of them ?’. Perfectly so.

That lazy fledgling was a female and she continued to be robust. So, we could always identify her as long as we all lived there. I roughly built a nest the following summer at the same spot (to lure my cute lazy fledgling) and I believe she only laid eggs. She turned out to be an intelligent Bulbul-ma and we didn’t have to look after any of her nests. Honestly speaking, I would have loved to bother about all subsequent fledging processes :-).

It was during this phase that I learnt about Dr.Sálim Moizuddin Abdul Ali, the great Indian ornithologist and naturalist. He is known all over the world for having conducted systematic bird surveys and giving a wonderful fillip to the subject. He is also referred to as the “”bird-man of India” and was conferred the Padma Vibhushan in 1976 . I wonder what a whale of observations and conclusions Dr. Ali must have had in his extra-ordinary pursuit to understand the ways of varieties of birds! The International Jury had rightly honoured him with these lines-

Since the writing of your book, the Book of Indian Birds which in its way was the seminal natural history volume for everyone in India, your name has been the single one known throughout the length and breadth of your own country, Pakistan, and Bangladesh as the father of conservation and the fount of knowledge on birds. Your message has gone high and low across the land and we are sure that weaver birds weave your initials in their nests, and swifts perform parabolas in the sky in your honor.
For your lifelong dedication to the preservation of bird life in the Indian subcontinent and your identification with the Bombay Natural History Society as a force for education, the World Wildlife Fund takes delight in presenting you with the second J. Paul Getty Wildlife Conservation Prize. February 19, 1976.

More similar articles to follow, if Aamjunta approves… 🙂

Advertisements

17 Responses

  1. Nice story. Touching. Dont understand why humans behave badly to animals.

  2. As a bird watcher and environmentalist I can understand your feelings. Nice to hear from you. Birds usually speak and converse with humans.

  3. Interesting ! keep posting…

  4. Well we know that birds talk and understand, but I did not know that they understand to that extent. Learning for me. Good.

  5. wow! egg from wedloc! I think your mother was right.

    Good thing which I liked most is the narration of your thinking.

    I have good experience with Sparrows and Pigeons. They do not eat if they do not see me a day. My wife says they are my children 🙂

  6. This story, I know, similar to a real life story which I heard from one of my uncle in a small place called Baripada. Some parts were missing, very much similar. But, I think all the links are connected now. Thanks for refreshing my memory.

  7. Thank you all for your appreciation and encouragement.

    @ Izac George: True…after even a small period of interaction, plants and animals become like one’s own children !!

    @ Saurabh Misra: May be, you heard another similar story from your Uncle. But yes, this particular one is from Baripada only !!! 🙂

  8. May be one should translate your stories to different Indian languages. Well done.

  9. Your childhood stories are so interesting!
    The elephant responding to an infant’s cry was touching indeed.

  10. Very interesting story. Liked it. Your story reminded me about my village days, woh din bhi theyy…

    You were lucky to get that kind of environment and to have a caring and understanding mother. These days, every one is busy and we hardly see any birds 😦

  11. Thank you all for your beautiful responses to this post.

    @ D B Palit: I am indeed overwhelmed by your appreciation !! 🙂

    @ Muna: yes, I was lucky to live in that wonderful environment and have my tender thoughts nurtured by my parents, especially by my mother…some memories are still so vivid that I can re-collect them as if it was merely yesterday !

    Will post a few more…

  12. Enjoyed reading. Birds are really funny. How about any story on squirrel? Any experience?

  13. Thank you, Satya. Yes, I do have a few experiences with squirrels too, at the same place…will be soon penning down.

  14. Well written. My mom and your mom seem to have very similar inclinations. That, I think is critical to kids truly being able to appreciate nature. My own daughter is passionate about it to the point of being militant. Glad to have made your acquaintance – thanks for visiting my blog and yes, the picture features a baby bulbul learning to fly.

  15. @ Vibha: Thanks. That’s so good to know.. Yes, I agree that parents /guardians need to inculcate certain things in kids and at the right age. Look forward to more interactions as we keep penning down more posts.

  16. Very nicely and lively presented. Keep on writing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: