Amidst nature's orchestra

Amidst nature's orchestra

I grew up in a noisy neighbourhood in Kolkata. We lived next to a marriage hall and the sounds of the daily festivities became a part of our lives. If a Bengali wedding was going on, “oolu-oolu dak” (blood-curdling yells to drive off evil spirits) would rent the air even in the small hours of the morning. South Indian weddings meant naadaswaram from dawn onwards; Punjabi and Rajasthani weddings had loud band music playing the tunes of popular Hindi film songs.

Our neighbours lived so close, that we could easily look into each other’s houses and hold conversations across balconies. The clatter of pots and pans being scoured by our neighbour’s servant  lulled us to sleep and we woke to the sounds of the road being swept by the corporation sweeper.

So, when I moved to a rural setting, the first thing I heard was the silence. It was strange, not having any neighbours close enough to see or chat with and no vehicular noises. At first, I found it difficult to drop off as there were no noisy lullabies to put me to sleep. And then my ears began to pick up all sorts of sounds in the night – the chirping of crickets, the fluttering of moths outside the window behind my head attracted by my reading light, geckos on the walls making tik-tik-tik sounds, rats scampering about in the attic overhead making scratching sounds… During the rains, the croaking of frogs was loud and discordant if you paid attention and soothing background music if you concentrated on your book. A sudden crash and thump would mean a fallen palm frond and coconut.

Today, the avian morning chorus is my natural alarm. Koels and magpie robins produce beautiful melodies to wake me gently from my slumber. Every morning, I also hear the screeching of bats jostling for space on their favourite mango tree. This begins at dawn and goes on till mid morning when the late arrivals finally come home after their nightly revels. 

All through the day, I keep my ears tuned to the sounds that go on outside the house. In the beginning I was so ignorant of nature’s sounds that I would confuse the chirping of squirrels with that of birds. But today, I have learnt to identify most of the birds who visit our backyard, by their calls. “Ah!”, I tell myself, “the black-rumped flameback!” when I hear its shrieks; or, “the chloropsis have arrived” when I hear their calls. The yellow-browed bulbul, the purple-rumped sunbird, the Loten’s sunbird, the white-throated kingfisher, the malabar grey hornbill all make their presence felt by their characteristic calls.

I am slightly ashamed to admit that even after nearly three decades of living in the country, I still cannot identify all the bird sounds I hear everyday. But in a way, it is comforting to know that there are still these small mysteries for me to unravel – after all, what’s the fun in life if you can’t learn new things all the time?