A telephonic bonding

A telephonic bonding

The drongo's coal black plumage stood out as it sat on the telephone poles.

Steam engines which huffed and puffed, stations which were far less crowded and coupés – while all these are cherished memories of the travel days of my past, what overpowers my nostalgia is something that not many travellers would recall.

Not having much to do in a train, except read or let myself be lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the train, or play cards (which I rarely did since playing cards was never my strong point), my only choice was to look out of the window and watch the telephone poles move past. They were like silent sentinels, witnesses to the rapidly changing nature of the Indian country side, while remaining unchanged themselves.

The only living creatures which befriended these telephone poles and the wires were the birds which used them as vantage points from where they could obtain their food. Of these the most common were drongos, shrikes, bee-eaters and the Indian roller. Having started bird-watching at the early age of twelve, I soon learnt that every train journey could provide me a treat which I would cherish for days even after the journey had ended.

Of all these, it is the drongos that I treasure the most. Their coal black plumage would stand out against the blue sky, as they sat bolt upright on the telephone poles and wires. Their territories were strictly demarcated by invisible borders, and any trespassing by neighbouring drongos would be answered by their harsh challenging calls which could be heard over the whistle of our train.

Swift and agile in flight, they would follow the train at astonishing speed, chasing each other and even crows from their chosen poles. Every now and then, we were witnesses to their aerial acrobatics, executed from the same telephone pole and their triumphant return with a massive insect in their beak!

As we would travel regularly from the north of India to Bengaluru  by the same route twice every vacation, I liked to think that the drongos I saw every season were the same as the ones I had seen the previous time! Soon the drongos ceased to be just stray birds, but individuals with whom I had a platonic, “telephonic” and “telegraphic” bonding! I was enthralled when I travelled through Kerala and saw not just the common black drongo but its flamboyant, tassel tailed cousin, the racket-tailed drongo on the telephone poles. From then on, I always looked forward to travelling through Kerala by train!

Nowadays, I hardly see these friends of mine from a train. I am no more treated to their aerial acrobatics and the telephone poles seem lonely. The India I inherited was one where the drongos could be seen by the hundreds from a train, perhaps all the way from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. However, the India our children will inherit will be one bereft of these birds. An India with only telephone poles. How very sad!

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