Feathered companions

Our aita (grandma) was always expecting a guest at lunchtime. She used to cook a handful of rice extras in her kitchen.
Feathered companions

Kamal Baruah


Our aita (grandma) was always expecting a guest at lunchtime. She used to cook a handful of rice extras in her kitchen. I was starting to wonder whether a visitor would turn up on any given day, but she always hoped to see someone at her door and even provided a meal to a beggar during lunch. There was nothing special but our favourite sak-bhaji (fried vegetable) seasoned with alkali from Koka’s (grandpa’s) backyard sakani-bari (vegetable garden). She says a guest is akin to God; never turn away from a khuji-mangi-khua-manuh (a beggar). She lived a humble life, and her deeds left an indelible mark on our daily lives.

As we now move to cities for work and life, it’s a worry that our kids will lose their ancestral tongue and values. Now it’s rare to see a guest at our so-called new concept of BHK living with a buzzing doorbell, where we are tied up with the virtual world. We kept swiping the screen on Android/iOS devices from the bottom, one after another, until the level of satisfaction desired, when jobs with computers at the office and smartphone addiction at home make our days unstoppable and separate us from reality. It cuts us off from our relatives and friends, and expecting a guest at the weekend is a rare occasion.

However, it was another day. Amidst the rush of dropping my wife off at school and back home preparing my day for the workplace, my morning encounter began with a lovely pair of doves at our makeshift garden on the balcony, which fortunately looks out over a jaan (stream). There I heard a repeated splashing sound of rub-a-dub-dub, where a freshwater spring bubbled up from the ground. Birds love having water around for bathing and drinking, even in the coldest months of the year. A good bath keeps their precious feathers in the best condition possible for as long as possible because feathers are their lifeline.

It’s winter now. As I lay awake after listening to birds chirping monotonously outside the window, I was wondering why birds insist on singing at the crack of dawn so early. The sound of lovely birdsong trills outside the glass pane. Though they typically forage in trees and bushes, they also thrive in human interaction. Birds chirp in the morning because they’re looking for a mate, protecting their territory against rivals, and warming up their voice for the day. Observing this entire natural phenomenon, I find them actually calling our attention.

Every day, it’s fascinating to watch birds fly away soon after feeding some grains, as birds often take flight when humans draw near. I set out to understand this behaviour; it’s a survival mechanism since birds are vulnerable to predators and their lightweight bodies are not well-suited for self-defence. Birds are symbols for love, purity, peace, and hope in our daily lives. Keeping a distance from them and their nests helps them feel more comfortable around us. Thereby, ensure birds continue to thrive in our world.

It really captured my imagination to begin a day. I saw them building a nest out of small sticks and twigs and placing it on a flower tub. They are solitary and live alone outside of the breeding season. One fine day, two eggs are laid, and protective dove parents are incubating for weeks. It’s devastating for the doves when a hungry squirrel enters their nest and consumes unhatched eggs after they leave the eggs unattended for seeds, fruits, and berries, though we offer some grains every day.

Despite all that happened, now we saw another nest in the making at a new safe location, where a pair of doves would lay eggs in the coming days, incubate their chicks, and would love to see them raising their young. Probably after a month, one fine day, young doves will be independent from their parents and fly away from our balcony. I don’t wonder why they fly away. It’s not a rejection of our company. It results from millions of years of evolution, their instinct to avoid potential threats, and the unpredictability of human behaviour.

Birds are fascinating creatures, and their ability to adapt to their environment is awe-inspiring. We coexist with these feathered companions and have ever wondered what our daily visitors might be saying to us: “It’s a quieter time to sing.”.

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