Tuesday 19 April 2011

Newfound obsession: nature's guttural music

Breathe hu-hu-hu softly into a deep hollow through a very long bamboo stick, count three, hu-hu-hu, count three, hu-hu-hu... that's how the guttural call sounded. It transfixed me.
I was taking a walk outside my home in Punjab. The rumble-resonance combo was haunting. I tried to trace what could be emitting this addictive call, but could just make out the general direction it came from.
In the evening, though, I hit pot luck...plenty of it. Nature's guttural music was playing again. As the husband and I zeroed in on a huge tree, a streak of wide black wings carried away a bronze-coloured body right across our path. Our gaze followed the black silhouette as it alighted amid thick foliage, highlighted against a darkening horizon. How I missed my camera!
The next morning I spotted it again, but it was too far away for my camera phone to capture. A deep rust body with a large, flat, black tail, the bird was like a crow in shape--only more generously built. Had it been bigger, it could have possibly beaten a full-grown eagle. I believe the eagle is the most majestic among birds, but this bird too had a regal bearing all its own.
All day it was as if I had one ear cocked for just that sound. Why that soulful note? Was the bird a loner that kept others at bay with menacing defiance? It didn't seem to keep any company. Did it generally let 'whomsoever it may concern' know this way that it was around? The sound was neither inviting nor forbidding; it was not lonely either, just sort of...brooding. I searched for a similar bird sound on the Net. The closest resemblance were the sounds made by the brown fish owl and greater coucal: yet these don't look at all like Guttural Music.
My newfound obsession seems to prefer luscious leaves; each of the trees I saw it on were dense with thick green discs that shone as the light played on them.
I'm afraid I have switched loyalties. For years, from my flat in Delhi, I have tried to catch glimpses of a bird my late father-in-law said was a shikra. It is smaller than the kites that hover in the Delhi skies, but cleverer, sharper and a better hunter, he explained.
Dad never did approve of my strange attachment to the shikra, though now I seem to connect why. Recently I heard a snatch from a Punjabi song Nee main ik shikra yaar banaya...as if the singer was still yearning for a loved one despite being betrayed. Maybe Dad couldn't figure out how to warn his daughter-in-law against one known for its fickle nature!
The shikra had a scruff of white feathers around the neck that differentiates it from the rest of the kite family. It was a fledgling when I first saw it, letting out a loud but mournful screech at intervals, as if it had been separated from its family. Over the years, whenever I heard its distinctive call, I'd rush out and frantically scan the surrounding trees to see if I could spot it. Very reclusive, it has rewarded me with a few sightings over a decade or more: always alone. I firmly believe it is the only shikra that visits our apartments.
I've spotted it on the Net now, but haven't seen the real one for months now (its infrequent calls continue) though I walk much more than I did before. Yet I don't think I'm going to miss it any more, having found another elusive, feathered one to obsess about.
That was Part III of my Nature series.

1 comment:

  1. 'Shikra' in your blog immediately reminded me of Shiv Kumar Batalvi's poem which you mentioned in the subsequent lines. "Maye nee maye main ek shikra yaar banaya - ..churi kutan oh nahin khanda, onu dil da maas khawaya" etc - it is a very beautiful love poem - though i never had any active interest in punjabi poetry, yet I came to know about this poem during early eighties - hum bhee tab jawan hua karte the! (The truth is that I still feel young but people don't think so!) :-) Jokes apart, you must look for a CD etc of this poem - if you love Shikras, then it is a MUST!
    Vidya Bhushan Arora