Friday, April 13, 2012

Living Institutions

At Teen Murti there is a generous expanse of foliage and large boards with labelled illustrations of the  many  birds that inhabit the trees and shrubs in the spread out and well tended gardens and greens. Occasionally, while stopping  for a drink of water at the water cooler, the peafowl ensconced in  adjacent  tall trees engrossed in companionable mid-morning chats can be sighted.  Each time  I get back from the library, it is with a sense of satisfaction, not only because some minimal reading has been accomplished but also because, the flowers and trees and the flitting, wheeling birds fill the air with so much positive energy and purpose.

At home on a day when the city crowds into my being, I sit at my desk beside the mulberry tree that shuts out concrete and metal balconies and provides a curtain of a spreading green. Magically, this curtain opens out into its own little world. It is in intense fruit and  stocked with abundant purple mulberries that the birds have been feasting on. There is the resident purple sunbird with its less showy mate, the tailor bird whose children inspect all the pots each morning, the regular mynah, a little sulky because the brahminy mynahs have now opted for fruity breakfast mornings, and an old crow, a little disheveled and crochety at the influx of so many visitors, pointedly ignoring the crow perched at the other end of the tree.

Parrots,  babblers, barbets, treepies and green pigeons are occasional visitors but the black magpie robin, distinguished in its black and white colours is now a regular.  So is the White Eye that enquiringly meets your gaze behind a glassy mesh before it flits off  again to another section of the tree.There is also a wealth of bulbuls. The oldest are the red-vented bulbuls, who have lived in the yard for many years and can invariably be found in contemplative or connubial comfort on some limb of the tree. Since last spring two other kinds of bulbuls have established provisional  tenancy rights. There is a pair of red whiskered bulbuls, which arrive with a flourish and nest in the tree. Sprightly and enthusiastic, they strut about in their  jaunty top-hats , reducing their red-vented relatives to ordinary stolidity.

 A pair of white whiskered bulbuls also come by,  alert and watchful as they selectively  perch on the tree and eat their fill of mulberries. Last season there was a precocious chick that they raised and mornings were full of baby bulbul squackings while it learnt to fly. That was the only time that these stylish birds looked a little harried.

There are two demure doves, one with a black ring around its collar and another without and both of them visit the mulberry tree all through the year.The other regular foragers are the sparrows who go all out and gorge themselves on the fruit of the mulberry tree. In the first week of the mulberry season, they eat far more fruit than their stomachs can hold and the floor of the backyard is full of purple purges, while their systems adapt to the fruit diet. Thankfully, the stains are easy to wash off, and don't need to be scraped off in the manner of regular bird droppings.

Sometimes late in the night, when we return home from a metropolitan adventure, the car headlights glide up  the dark  mulberry tree and allow us to glimpse still,  fluffed up, shapes on the  branches of the tree. These are mostly the sparrows, fast asleep on their perches.  Yet another of the quieter mysteries of life and living that clutch and thrill the heart. Yes, sometimes, all it takes is a tree.


  1. lovely! the last sentence is so true, and ... sometimes, all it takes is a hibiscus bush - we had one such in our flat in calcutta, that gave us such pleasure, and so many lovely memories.

  2. Loved and relished the article as much as the mulberries....Heavenly

  3. bird's eye view indeed! i am out of depth where birds are concerned but sitting in the balcony can make one really get immersed in bird calls...quite a different, calming world altogether! Like reading your piece here!

  4. "There is a pair of red whiskered bulbuls, which arrive with a flourish and nest in the tree. Sprightly and enthusiastic, they strut about in their jaunty top-hats, reducing their red-vented relatives to ordinary stolidity." Nice! Ratna, am sharing your post with some friends who are very fond of the flora and the fauna as well as good writing on the subject.