Early morning after a brief workout I was lying flat on my back, trying to practise a little mindful awareness. Just then I heard a soft sound like stealthy footsteps in my smallish room. It was not exactly dark. Moreover, there’s nothing in my room except books. Just then the sound repeated itself. And what did I see? The trespasser was a beautiful baby bird. In a flash it flew past me, out of the balcony door, into the blue beyond.
On certain holidays, when I’m late waking up, this sound—a clatter of wings followed by a distant cooing – brings me into awareness. I don’t initially see anything except, occasionally, a flash of white, a streak of feathers, but I know it’s a pigeon. My wife then gets to the roof with a packet of wheat. Watching them eat in a group makes me forget my own gnawing entrails.
A couple of years ago, I went to visit the Bengal Dooars. Early morning that day as I emerged out of the hotel room at Jaldapara Inn and stood on the gravel path, I heard the dawn chorus. The car was getting ready to take us to the Jaldapara Reserve forest entry point. Just then, a call I never heard before, sonorous yet melancholic sounded very close to where I was standing. The moment it stopped I felt a pang within. When I got into the car and left the hotel, I was wondering whether I could hear this birdcall again.
I heard the call again after a few hours at South Khayerbari, a Royal Bengal Tiger and Leopard Reserve Centre, about 15 km from Jaldapara. I went on a birdcall recording spree: of the mesmerising four-note call (Bo-Ko-Ta-Ko) of the Bou-Katha-kau (Bride, please speak), the Indian Cuckoo, not to be confused with the Common-Hawk cuckoo, the guide there told me.
Our next destination was Murti. Here you find vast stretches of land, most of which lies fallow, framed by mist-laden hills beyond. And in this open, silent place, how this birdcall, known as ‘the soul of dead shepherd’ calling for its lost sheep, sounded. A brainfever bird (Common Hawk-Cuckoo) hovered continuously over the scape peeping and tweeting in a wailing tone. It must have been looking for its lost mate.
The Indian Cuckoo (Cuculus Micropterus) is a lone bird, whose call is usually not returned by another of its kind. It is very shy and solitary, perches itself at the crown of leafy trees, and hides from the casual gazers. There are other trills, that of a nightingale, or of a lark, which lift the human mood instantly.
A version of this article appears in print on December 03, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.