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Updated: February 7, 2011 20:01 IST

Tale of lovelorn birds

R. V. Smith
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Illustration: Tony Smith
The Hindu Illustration: Tony Smith

Birds love spring like no other season

Munni Lal was fond of two things – birds and strong drink. When he died the body (as per his wishes) was taken for burial in Pappankalan, now renamed Dwarka. Believe it or not, after the mud had been heaped on the coffin, a mynah started pecking at it and then giving a piercing cry fell down dead. Munni Lal's wife used to recall that bird, with a weak leg, was among her husband's favourites and would sometimes hop in from the kitchen window into the dining room for crumbs of bread. The house in Maya Enclave was brought from Munni Lal's family by the late Keshav, a Hindi journalist who was surprised at the number of birds and squirrels that used to visit the kitchen window, morning, noon and early evening in all seasons. According to the scribe, from what he had heard, sunbirds too were among the best pets of Lal.

As for the mynahs, two of them still wait for crumbs on the kitchen sill from early morning. Some think it's a good omen for two such birds are associated with joy. But now more about the sunbirds on whom a grieving poet wrote these lines: “Life let you down /my father sleep on/after the pain and/ Burning canker.../ The kachnar tree blooms/Again and the little/Sunbirds come to seek pollen/but you come only in dreams/Graves do not speak/nor do kachnar flowers talk/That's the damn irony!

In course of time Keshav too became fond of sunbirds and the following is a translation of the poignant piece he wrote on them: Brave Sunbirds: How thoughtless human actions sometimes adversely affect avian life is evident from what is happening in our DDA colony. In the name of pruning, several trees were hacked with impunity during the winter to allow more sunlight into the streets and the houses facing them. Among these were the senghana or kachnar trees which blossom with purple flowers in February.

Favourite perch

The sunbirds are particularly fond of these trees as they are not only their favourite perch but also a source of sustenance. They suck the pollen from the flowers, feast on the insects that are drawn to them and also build their nests in the thick foliage. With their favourite tree devoid of branches and foliage, the birds are no doubt finding it difficult to carry on with their spring time activity.

One pair of thumb-sized sunbirds – the male bottle green in colour and the female brownish – have bravely built their nest on the telephone wire passing over the window. Their first attempts were thwarted by children. Who promptly pulled it down. Then the thrilling realisation dawned on them that the dainty sunbirds were trying to set up a home. Slowly the untidy mass that had come up on the wires again began to take the shape of a nest. How they manage to get into it and where the eggs have been laid remains a mystery. The only fear is that predators and the vagaries of the weather may not disturb them. But the kids are keeping their fingers crossed for the fledglings to emerge after Valentine's Day when birds are believed to consummate their union. The sunbirds are still around though the writer survives only in memory, along with the near-legendary Munni Lal and his mournful mynah.

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