Mrs B has always been a busy bee from breakfast to bedtime—kids’ school, their coursework, husband’s tiffin, sabjiwalah, kaamwali, yoga, mom-in-law’s sugar check and medicines, phone-a-friend about niece’s wedding, nephew’s newborn, Facebook, Netflix dramas. Life was caught up in a monotonous whirr of chores and errands. No breaks. She never complained. C’est la vie, she would say. Well, until someone in China had a foul bat soup and didn’t take Mummyji’s after-dinner churan—the cure-all in the Delhi household Mrs B commandeers. Her busyness slowed down, like her husband’s business, since that skipped churan hustled the human race indoors. In this quarantined world, she has a little guest from a parallel realm that resides next to us; a sanctuary Mrs B hardly ever gave a sideways glance before. Every morning and late afternoon he drops by, without fail. He doesn’t need a travel pass, for he is a blithesome bulbul. After sundown, the guardian owl makes his nightly run, often bivouacing on her balcony. Mrs B never was a bird person. The caws and coos couldn’t be bothered when the washing machine’s ding and the pressure cooker’s whistle consumed her waking hours. But the clock is kind to her now and she can engage with Nature, which she thought didn’t exist in her concrete, gated society. She loves to entertain bulbul with chicku morsels. And be entertained herself. What about owly? His hoots and 360-degree neck turns are no longer overlooked.
Brahminy Starling, Delhi
Yellow-Footed Green Pigeon, Delhi
House Sparrow (male), Bangalore
White-Throated Kingfisher, Mumbai
Indian Peafowl, Delhi
Grey Fancolin, Jodhpur
Indian Silverbill (Munia), Jodhpur
Green Bee-eater, Gurgaon
An Angry Bird requiem for caged humans
Oriental Magpie Robin, Bangalore
Rufous Treepie, Delhi
Brown Rock Chat, Noida
Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Bangalore
Green Bee-eaters, Gurgaon
Common Tailor Bird, Delhi
Parakeets and Starling, Delhi
Red-necked Falcon, Bangalore
Bathed in a dull sepia light from the sky, he is quite a dapper if you take the time to look at him up close. He is a red-whiskered bulbul. A common passerine bird, the species is a fixture in cities too. But the key to discovering their hidden delights: slow down, and look around. With free time made available by the pandemic-induced prophylactic measures, people like Mrs B are now discovering the great outdoors from their balconies. In fact, her newfound interest has made Mrs B a bird lover—soaking up species names and plumage patterns from the web and trying to memorise the details. And the family’s new pastime: Identify the Bird. They are neo-converts, taking small steps into the birding community. A good sign because birds are the marker of the environment. The pollution we create, the trees we destroy. The lockdown has cleaned the air, quieted the roads, and birdsong can be heard again. The deserted cities may have emboldened the birds—they are anyway curious by nature—to venture into our yards and verandahs. But there is a good chance they will go into hiding again once our ordinary life reopens, resumes. Will Mrs B miss them? Of course, she says. Then? Well, she is not a pro who can spot a bird inside foliage with an eye closed, like one-eyed jack sniffing out the rum in the deep of a dark galley. But she won’t forget what Bulbul the Visitor taught her in a little over 100 days. Care for a world we have condemned to self-isolation long ago.
What about the experienced birders who often identify species on jizz alone? “My friends are spotting rare species in their backyards. The lockdown has given us ample time to wait and watch…from balconies, roofs and gardens,” says Nitin Chandra in Delhi. A fellow birdwatcher in Bangalore, Gerard Deniese, never expected so many birds around his home. “I saw a male Asian Paradise Flycatcher near my home. Can you beat that?” He rattles out an impressive lockdown log: sunbirds, tailor birds and the Oriental Magpie Robin. Bhavneet Aurora from Delhi shares similar excitement. “It was quiet initially…only pigeons and crows. Then the mynahs, sunbirds, robins began to sing. I spotted the Coppersmith Barbet, Rose-Ringed Parakeet, Asian Koel, Shikra and a Kestrel.” Last heard, Mrs B had an entire flock of visitors a while ago—the Green Bee-eaters. And yes, once the travel ban is lifted, she plans a trip to Pangot and Sigri—no destination is more alluring than these two for bird lovers. A birdie told her.
Photographs by: P.J. Saikia, N. Chandra, B. Aurora, V. Dewan, G. Deniese, A. Bharathy, M.B. Kumaraswamy, A.banerjee, Kanishk Vats, Lachmi Deb Roy