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The Bird Hours Anvita Lakhera

I hope you love birds, too It is economical. It saves going to Heaven. Emily Dickinson You don’t have to go far looking for birds. They are all around us. These are a few minutes of the many, many hours I spent watching birds over the last few years. Just outside the window or out and about the trees near wherever I lived. All photographs and text by: Anvita Lakhera

Our lady of the birds It happens quite like this. You are walking in that typical gait; feet shuffling slowly, head tilted up, eyes peering through the leaves, looking for, but of course, birds. And then a voice whispers in your ears, “Do you want to see birds? Come I will show you, there are many birds here.” And she leads you to the bushes where everyday in the morning the magpie robin waits to greet her. Or the small patch of wild grass where the white-breasted munias have a lunch date. Or the lone fig tree where, if you look long and hard enough, you can spot owls and hornbills. She is our lady of the birds. She can be found often toiling hard at the most mundane of tasks. Cleaning toilets in the hotel, carrying firewood as she rushes home to cook dinner, picking discarded plastic bottles casually thrown from passing cars, or washing clothes by the tube well. Sometimes she even takes on the avatar of two boys on a bicycle, or of old men chewing sugarcane, or of the girl with red ribbons in her hair walking back home from school. In fact, she maybe anyone anywhere doing the one thing that you are least likely to notice. Even she is least likely to notice you until you start looking for birds. Then she’ll magically appear and lead you by the hand to bird paradise. For Usha and her birds. With gratitude.

Babblers Identified as drably coloured, in conservation status they are categorized as LC- Least Concern. Anyone who has watched these birds for any length of time would testify that these words aren’t quite what you’d associate with them, in normal parlance. For there is nothing drab about them when it comes to squabbling in the undergrowth or simply stalking the balconies in teams of seven plus members. They appear to be most concerned about everything that is happening in the neighbourhood. Gregarious, they chatter nineteen to a dozen and at the drop of a hat are ready to congregate in large groups for what appears to be frantic socializing. The babbler may appear dull but then that maybe because we see things as we are, not as they are.

Bluebird There’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out - Bukowski For most Indians the first bird that comes to mind when someone says bluebird is, but naturally, the peacock. For me, the bluest of blue Indian bird is the Indian Roller. Just a flash of its wings and even the dullest, most drab and monotonously brown landscape gets drenched in a shade that can’t be called anything but brilliant blue. However, the blue bird in my heart is a much more diminutive one– but it can sing and it feeds hanging upside down. Who would be so hard-hearted to not allow such a little blue bird into one’s heart? And then sometimes the bird in my heart isn’t blue at all. It is red.

The newborn

Dance me to the end of love

Adventures in bird-feeding

Long-tailed tit Ever since it sneaked into the tenth position on the RSPB’s garden bird watch we always wondered why we never got a visit from one. Some of the reasons were obvious like we don’t have a garden and also the fact that blue tits, robin, chaffinch, great tits and blackbirds have often visited our second floor balcony in itself is some kind of good fortune worth celebrating. So why overstretch your luck? But still we wondered and sometimes looked out to the wide world and, for no reason, sighed. Then one day something felt a bit different. There was no special zing in the air or chime of distant bells but just an odd flurry outside the window. And lo and behold! Wishes do come true and all the sighs sent out into the wide open do find a benevolent ear. Yes, it was a long-tailed tit. Finally. It sat on the ledge and watched the birds on the peanut feeder. Flew across the balcony once or twice and then off it went. But that was time enough to take a few photographs as proof of the great event that had taken place. After that first spotting we have spent countless evenings with countless long-tailed tits, cause they never travel alone but in flocks of 10, 20 or more and have found the neighbourhood park a good enough spot as any to spend their time in. And every time we see one, we always remember that thing about wishes and the benevolent ear.

The Myna Reunion Kota, Rajasthan 2009 December

The Sage of East London Three small pools of water and an occasional foray to the edge of the canal are the places where you can pay obeisance to the sage of East London. There is much to be learnt by the ardent followers of this humble sage. But to partake in that ancient wisdom one must forgo the concept of time and embrace stillness. And then watch as the universe moves.

Or in the words of Kabir, still the body still the mind still the voice inside in silence feel the stillness move friends this feeling cannot be imagined


India, UK

The bird with the beautiful eyes While cataloguing bird pictures taken last winter in my mother’s garden there came up, as usual, some that hadn’t been identified. There are always those little brown jobs– which of the 20 odd leaf warblers is it? A question that can stump even the best of birding experts. So, what are the chances that “bad bird-watchers” like us will fare any better? This time it’s a series of pictures of an unidentified bird with beautiful eyes. As an aside, in India girls with doe-like eyes are considered beautiful, even cow-like eyes is considered a good matronly, honest sort of beauty, but no one ever talks about bird-like eyes. But then not many have looked at birds close or long enough to see the beauty in their eyes. Normally it should not have been very difficult to identify the bird. The operative word being normally. As in normally one would pick up Salim Ali, look for red beak, sandy coloured cuckoo like bird and after a handful of totally inaccurate identifications come upon the correct one. That is what would happen normally. But in a normal world a woman and her books are never parted. For it is not often that every few years there comes that time when one looks at the books and then gets down to coldly arbitrating, which 200 would come along this time. Why 200? Don’t even ask. But one thing is certain their number doesn’t stay at 200 for long. At some point in time the field guide to Indian Birds got left behind, and now waits for us in some steel trunk, in some room, in some house, in someplace in India. So here we are looking at this bird and looking at Martin Woodcock’s lovely book– Birds of India, that made the grade because it is all of 176 pages– lightweight. His illustrations, it is totally illustrated no photographs, are playful and gorgeous– good illustrations. Though at 176 pages (including index) it’s not what one would call a definitive guide. But then how many Indian birds will there be in Europe or the Pacific Northwest? See that’s how rational decisions are made.

So, a few days back the unidentified cuckoo-like bird came up again and started nagging the conscience. It has been almost a year and yet– you don’t care do you? Google proved even more inadequate than Martin Woodcock’s book. Don’t believe that? Try looking up “red-billed cuckoo like sandy coloured bird India”. You’ll get about 8,970,000 results (0.34 seconds). Now good luck trying to get to the name of the bird in the picture. Ah! Yes, do look at the images too. And so the conscience continued to nag some more. Then serendipitously yesterday I clicked upon the Indian Birds group link on Facebook, something I do every morning, and what do I see. Yes, you know– that’s how all the good stories end, don’t they? Upon strolling down the page there it was. Some kind gentleman had posted a picture of my, by now appearing to be a little sad-eyed, red-billed cuckoo-like bird. Not just a picture but also a brief bio. Now I know it is “related to the Cuckoo but non-parasitic… stalks amongst thickets like the Coucals, in search for insects, lizards and fallen fruit. A swift runner in the undergrowth and a feeble flier, it ascends trees with agility hopping from branch to branch.” Ladies and gentlemen the mystery of the unidentified bird finally gets resolved. Presenting the Sirkeer Malkoha (also known as Sirkeer Cuckoo). The bird with the beautiful eyes.

Slip Slidin Away

The White Monk There is a time of the day in winter, when the sky sags beneath bulging dark clouds. And the sun tussles to penetrate the shroud. When all at once it breaks out shining like the jewel in a burnt black crown. Its rays illuminating this one particular column of windows hollowed into coarsely stacked green and concrete home to migrants and other flotsam that globalization excretes. Suddenly everything they touch turns golden. The houses ablaze in grandeur worthy of their inhabitants’ dreams. The tip of each bare branch glistens red and gold the grass, the reed, the water all gold to behold. And then you float into the picture a white flag ruffling gently in the breeze A drop of dew as if the fire had burnt only to release, Adorning a simple white habit, your mouth pale with the season a monk drifting past, untouched by pageantry. The gilt flakes and shatters, the clouds start settling in for a long dark night. The golden glow quietly withdraws, signaling a retreat of light. But there is still that fleeting moment when all elements concede the simple, tranquil intensity bestowed in white.

Bird on a wire

The Heist Goa, 2010

Winter Bird The winter bird is contemplative. Unlike the bird of spring, or even the bird of autumn it is much less inclined to sing. In winter there’s isn’t enough daytime to spare, but all the time in the day to reflect. Winter is a time to prepare For the ecstasies of spring The headiness of summer, the enchanting rain The mellow pleasures of autumn Till winter comes visiting again. And the winter bird sits down to comprehend: Does a circle have a beginning? Is the beginning also the end?

The Bird Hours Once there was a time when bird song heralded the beginning and the end. Of days and nights. As resolutely as the hands of a clock but much less painfully. All that remains now are ghostly wisps. And a memory slowly unraveling, thread by thread. Did the robin sing that tune? Did the titmouse sit on this branch? Once we were so young and green. Where did the time go? It is not quite an attempt to catalogue what time has done to us but a measure of what we did in our time.

The Bird Hours  
The Bird Hours  

You don’t have to go far looking for birds. They are all around us. These are a few minutes of the many, many hours I spent watching birds o...