Birds and I

By Radharao Gracias
28 October 2011 20:38 IST

I was six, when my grandfather died. He was seventy eight. My memories of him are linked to birds, which were everywhere around our house. The runela plum (Jagom) tree  in the front yard, was a favourite haunt of the green barbet, which hung precariously, as it stretched its neck to swallow the plum; whole. It did not know that the plum tasted sweeter, when gently rolled between the palms and softened. The backyard was mostly fowl play, with ducks, drakes, hens, roosters and an occasional turkey. 
 
The lintels of windows to the courtyard had caged mynahs, bulbuls, rose-ringed parakeets. The mynahs bred in the hollows of coconut trees scooped up by golden backed woodpeckers. The bulbuls came as nestlings from Nuvem, Raia, Verna, as there were no bulbuls in the wild in Majorda, in those days. 
 
Some years ago, my younger brother informed me that he had seen bulbuls in the vicinity of our house. I could not believe him. My brother is an expert on bulls not bulbuls. However, several days later my mother confirmed that she had indeed seen bulbuls. I could not disbelieve her. She knows her bulbuls. She can sing like one.
 
So, when I walked home, for the weekend, I was not surprised, to see a red vented bulbul on the mulberry bush, with its tail cocked and head held high (influenced by Tagore perhaps!) and throwing an open throated challenge, to Remo and Hema, Sonia and Lorna. Yes, indeed the bulbul had arrived in my village. I see and hear them, everywhere now. 
 
I have consciously planted some bird specific trees on land I have inherited and where I now live. The carambola tree immediately served its purpose, as the rose ringed parakeets found it, no sooner it had borne fruit. The golden Oriole took a little time, to spot the Chinese lime. Even now, I am only a rare beneficiary, of its fleeting visits. The munias have monopolised the bamboo grove. The babblers are all over. The paradise flycatcher, with its silver streamers hovers in the air, like a ghostly troll. The hoopoe, puts in a rare guest appearance.
 
I had kept some baby corn on the stalks, to ripen for seed. One day, I found only the cobs with no corn. On closer examination, I concluded that squirrels were the culprits, as the stalks had been finely chiseled away. But, by the next day, I had lost my status, as Sherlock Holmes. A solitary parakeet was cleaning away the remnants. The parakeets, which had been invited for lunch had overstayed for dinner. Now they are permanent invitees, (influenced by Luizinho Faleiro perhaps!).
 
After the death of my grandfather, my tryst with birds continued, as I accompanied my father to scour the countryside for game birds. My father to me, was what internet is to his grandchildren; full of information. The countryside was then what a screensaver is to you now; pretty and beautiful. It was only occasionally that a giant heron (kensar) or a large egret (bollali) was shot, sometimes a coot (budd) was seen, but would dive underwater before the gun could be aimed. 
 
The laws changed after “A India Portuguesa” ceased to be so. The guns, soon went silent. It was then, that I realized that the gun was merely an excuse, for my father for his country walks. I and my siblings, continued to trudge behind him, along pathways choreographed in white sand that slalomed around coconut trees, slithered under stalactites of banyan roots, tunneled through an over growth of under bush and went every which way. We walked miles simply watching the birds and enjoying the breeze, with my father identifying the birds. Now back in my village, I hope to walk the same paths with my children in tow, recreating old memories.

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Radharao Gracias

Radharao F.Gracias is a senior Trial Court lawyer and ex President of the South Goa Advocates Association. He is also former independent MLA of Goa. He has been an activist on issues related to Goa for more than three decades.

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