Song for the sparrow

right in the middle : If we cherish our freedom, we must also respect the sparrow's freedom to live.

I was on an FM radio programme a few years ago to discuss the issue of dwindling sparrow populations and how to protect the bird. It beautifully coincided with the festival of Raksha Bandhan that celebrates the love of a brother-sister bond, and whose essence could be extended to our feathered friends too!

The cute, little house sparrow that was once common to our surroundings has now steadily become a rarity to find. Where have the sparrows, that share their habitat with man, disappeared to? Can we mutely let our winged friend move out of our settings?

It was heartening that listeners responded to the show, indicating that they were quite aware of the avifauna that inhabits (or doesn’t) their surroundings. The radio jockey, describing the sparrow as cute, recounted nostalgically how the  chirpy bird was a regular visitor to our homes in the good old days.

The discussion was interspersed with some half a dozen Hindi movie songs, that celebrated nature or mentioned birds or were appropriate to the context of the show’s theme. Sitting in the studio, with my headphones on and listening to the lilting music, I looked out of the window that revealed an overcast sky that afternoon. I wondered if the air waves reached the sparrows as well. Echoing my sentiments, the RJ, too, remarked that the sparrows just might hear them being discussed and actually turn up!

If Yesudas’ “Kahan se aaye badra” from the film Chashme Buddoor was a classical number played, “Do deewane shehar mein” from Gharonda (meaning nest) depicted the condition that the sparrows might really be in, for the song went thus: ‘ek ashiana dhoondhte hain’ (they search for a nest).

We discussed the various causes leading to the decline in sparrow numbers – from the exotic garden plants and crops that are grown, to the deleterious effects of pollution and the use of chemical-based fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides, to decreasing grasslands, the proliferation of mobile phone towers, and the modern architecture of buildings that is unfriendly for the birds to nest in.

The programme, called Ashiana (home/nest), that catered to families, saw the chat veer to what a common person could do to prevent the disappearance of the house sparrow. Suggestions included growing native plants in one’s garden, or as potted plants, cultivating native crops, adopting organic farming and gardening methods and arranging nest boxes and feeders in our verandahs/ balconies/ gardens to host sparrows and help them raise a family.

As the RJ readied to bring on Mohammad Rafi’s patriotic song “Jahan daal daal par” from the film Sikandar-e-Azam with the lyrics: “Jahan daal daal par/ sone ki chidiya karti hai basera/ woh bharat desh hai mera” (My country India, where golden birds perch on every branch), I had an analogy to share with my listeners, as Independence Day was also around the corner. If we cherish our freedom and independence, we also need to respect the freedom of the sparrow to live on this planet, to live its life.

A well-spent hour that was, discussing what is close to my heart – protecting sparrows – with nice musical interludes.

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