Looking for peace and quiet? Follow the sparrows out of the city

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As human society undergoes inveterate concretisation, and urban jungles grow askew, the less restless among us will inevitably make our way towards the spacious suburbs, much like the Passer domesticus.

For all the twittering that sparrows are famed for, their flight from the tumult of cities can be inspiring for someone looking for peace of mind. | K.R. Deepak

Whenever I go rental-hunting in Mumbai, I face a hostile reaction from flat-owners and, by association, brokers. Given my kind of name and that I’m single, I guess they think I plan to set off explosive devices or go around strapped with them. Very few doors open, and those that do, lead to a dump or a worse dump. I eventually manage somehow, courtesy landlords who are open-minded, single themselves, or both.

This time when I started my search, though, I faced traas (loosely, ‘agony’ in Marathi) much before I reached the agents and landlords. And from very unlikely quarters — my friends. Reason? My choice of location. They were belligerent: it’s at best a hamlet, it’s actually a weekend destination for many city folk, the commute’s a killer, and as a final assault, we aren’t likely to visit you in a hurry here. Read our livid lips, they sneered: it’s far-out far.

Is it? Aadhaar aside, I’m not one to share my personal details in the public domain, but here’s a bit: my station of choice is the northern extremity of one suburban railway route of Mumbai. By the local, you have to cross two sizeable inlets of water to get here... after crossing the official limits of Mumbai. It takes me 1½ hours point to point, on the lower side, for a meeting or meet-up. The cell-phone reception is patchy at times, and I go on roaming when entering the proper city. There’s no mall or multiplex. And true to their threats, my friends haven’t come visiting thus far.



But it’s for many of those reasons that I chose this area. I’ve been working from home for some time now, so was looking for a bigger flat. My work is in the creative space, so I was seeking a quieter neighbourhood. I also wanted to live closer to Nature. To find all the above within the official city limits of Mumbai, you need to either be earning millions or have inherited them.

And so far, it’s been so good. Oftentimes, the loudest sound in my study is the whirring fan. When I step out into the balcony, I see a small range of hills in the distance, the sun breaking through them at dawn. When I step down, I see people sitting and chatting on kerbs, with nary a worry of a speeding SUV smashing into them; the roads are wide, the vehicles few. There are two verdant trails close by, one leading to a jetty, where you can enjoy moments of repose alongside the passing river, its gentle burble complementing your meditation. These paths go past paddy fields, where you find village-folk with bent backs, a lone tree providing shade and masquerading as a giant scare-crow against felonious birds. During the monsoon, towards the end of which I moved here, the combination of hill, sky and cloud culminating in recurrent silver rain could inspire one to conduct an impromptu class in precipitation. And after the Ockhi thundershowers, the resulting air smelled Hill-station Crisp.

But it seems I was brought here by a greater pull of Nature — or rather, smaller. Sparrows. These tiny, hop-happy fluffy ovates, whom I’ve seldom spotted in Mumbai-proper over the more-than two decades I’ve lived in the city, are in merry abundance here. They bounce about ceaselessly, from one morsel or twig to another, with no fear of arthritis or plantar fasciitis. They swoop in to pick up fallen sprigs while accomplices keep a watch from atop CCTV cameras. They puddle- and mud-bathe and relay it with such joy, you sigh at the cheerful communication that inspired the name for today’s most restless social media portal (as it happens, it’s when they squabble with one another that they sound more like Twitter).



I regularly sight a couple of furries in the process of, erm, coupling. I hop away sparrow-like myself at this, wanting both not to embarrass them and keep them from creating the only beings cuter than sparrows — baby sparrows. I’ve also come across a fluffy in another act of privacy, but this time, I couldn’t get away fast enough. After all, such a small being takes hardly any time to... poop. The pellet popped out the colour and size of a Tic-Tac, and I’ll stop here because I think I just ruined that mint brand for its consumers.

The benign birdies clearly relish the space and green this area offers them, possibly lending weight to the popular theory about why they have all but disappeared from the cities. There are fewer cell-phone towers here (and so my unsteady reception). But then too, there are fewer pigeons, or at least not as populous as in the city. Actually, both species seem to get along fine here. Outside grocery stores, where benevolent store-keepers cast grains in the morning, both winged gangs peck away amicably, albeit in broadly segregated zones, much like the zebras and lions slaking their thirst in a call of truce at the African watering hole. Closer home, they take turns going down my balcony railing to roost in the vacant flat next door. Only, the pigeons waddle clumsily, the sparrows bounce buoyantly.

But perhaps, not for long. ‘Progress’ seems to be slowly taking the local train and marching indefatigably this way. My suburban railway line now goes up to a station further north, placing my location half-way between the starting point and this new end point. A few buildings are taking root near the paddy landscape and, after a stealthy breaking-and-entering, will convert it into ‘landscaping’.

Confirming the real reason why the critters are disappearing from cities, as ornithologist and conservationist Bikram Grewal shared at a session I attended recently: concretisation. Like most areas embracing megapolises growing in beast mode, there’ll eventually be a property boom here too. The people, residential and phone towers, and pigeons swooping in will drive out the serenity, silence and sparrows. I might then move out again to someplace quieter. Maybe, to that new northern extremity. Or, to wherever the sparrows are.

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