Music to the ears

Though it seemed like far-fetched idea, Ansh was determined to see that the sparrows returned

March 14, 2022 09:28 am | Updated 09:28 am IST

Illustration for The Hindu Young World 18YT_SPARROW

Illustration for The Hindu Young World 18YT_SPARROW | Photo Credit: Satheesh Vellinezhi

It was almost evening when Ansh and his parents arrived at their ancestral home in Kalyani, a small town surrounded by villages. His parents had returned to their motherland a decade after his birth.

“Cheep-cheep-cheep,” chirped Ansh, buoyantly as he helped his parents with the luggage.

“Did my stories bore you?” asked his father, sounding a bit crestfallen.

“I love your sparrow stories, dad,” replied Ansh, careful not to hurt his father’s sentiments. “I can’t wait to hear them announce daybreak. Just like they did when you were a boy.”

Inhaling deeply, his father mused, “How did I survive all these years without visiting home?”

“You survived on my homemade pickles and poppadoms,” replied Dadiji. “We made sure to bring you a taste of home every time we visited you.”

“If it had been possible, Dadiji would have brought you a sparrow or two, I’m sure,” quipped Ansh, as his grandmother engulfed him in a bear hug.

“Joke as much as you like, son,” said his father. ‘House sparrows might be common, plump brown birds, but you’ll fall in love with their spirit the moment you meet one.’

Why did they go?

Illustration for The Hindu Young World 18YT_SPARROW

Illustration for The Hindu Young World 18YT_SPARROW | Photo Credit: Satheesh Vellinezhi

‘Where’s Sparrow Bush, dad?’ Ansh frowned, glancing at the vacant spot where, in his father’s numerous anecdotes, a hibiscus bush had stood. “You promised me that at dusk I would see more sparrows than leaves on it.”

“I didn’t lie, son.” Then, turning towards Dadaji, his father asked, “Now where will the sparrows roost?”

“Sparrows don’t come here anymore!” replied Dadaji.

“What!” Both Ansh and his father shrieked.

“Now that you’re here, you should know the truth,” sighed Dadaji.

With Dadaji’s every word, Ansh watched the colour fade from his father’s face. “Our town and the nearby villages are facing acute groundwater shortage. The water table has depleted drastically. There’s barely enough water for our household needs. People in the village has given up farming.”

“You mean you didn’t have even a little water to offer the sparrows?” said Ansh’s father, sarcastically.

‘”Of course not. We put out food scraps and water bowls for them. But sparrows mostly survive on grains. Also, the bushes that sparrows use to roost in, socialise and nest on dried up due to lack of water. Wild grasses, their nesting material, too disappeared,” explained Dadaji.

“And, unlike the old homes, the swanky new high -rise buildings you see around the town don’t have alcoves, crevices and attics for them to build nests,” added Dadiji.

That night, lying in his bed Ansh remembered the wonderful stories his father has told him about sparrows building nests in the attic and ravenous chicks chirping all day. He’d called it ‘music to the ears’.

What if his father never got to hear them again? The thought bothered Ansh all night. He had to find a solution.

Let’s bring them back

Illustration for Young World 18YT_SPARROW

Illustration for Young World 18YT_SPARROW | Photo Credit: Satheesh Vellinezhi

The next morning when Ansh joined the grownups for breakfast, he announced his plan.

“If everyone sets up a system to harvest rainwater, it could be used for irrigation, to water kitchen gardens and grow shrubs that sparrows can use.”

“When farmers can barely afford food since their livelihood is gone, you expect them to spend on rainwater harvesting systems and plant flower trees for birds?” scoffed Dadaji.

After a moment of thought, Ansh said, “But all farmers have water storage tanks. They just need to direct the rooftop rainwater into it.”

,In the next few days Ansh and his father suggested this to neighbours and some farmers. With nothing to lose, they agreed to give his practical idea a try. Ansh had also learnt that when water is allowed to gradually seep into the ground, it recharges the groundwater. So his idea to dig a deep percolation pit where the surface run-off could be routed along with waste water from the kitchens was also accepted.

A warm welcome

From his conversations with people, Ansh was delighted that like his father, many others too had fond memories of the birds and were eager to welcome the house sparrow back. So, he taught them to make bird houses from waste materials. They used sturdy cardboard boxes, wooden crates and broken earthen pots that everyone found easily at home.

“I’m sure they’re going to love these more than the dusty attic,’ quipped his father, as Ansh hung a bird house in their verandah.

Following the community’s water harvesting efforts and with percolation pits to help the groundwater level improve, slowly greenery returned to gardens and farmers were able to sow some crops.

Then one evening, Ansh heard a started shout. Everyone dashed to the verandah where Ansh’s father stood, his eyes glistening.

“Look Ansh!”

Glancing at his handmade sparrow house, Ansh clapped his hands over his mouth, least his squeal frighten the little bird away.

“Sparrows might be common, brown birds, but I think I love them too,” he whispered.

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