The Tribes on my Frontier
Having moved into a quiet bungalow in the College campus, I looked forward to a pleasant interlude after all the years of toil. Very large in my scheme of enjoyable solitude was my garden; still coming up after a marathon of planting by my father-in-law and now blooming from some TLC after a couple of years of neglect. What can be better than a quiet Sunday morning snooze on a garden chair in the lawn or an afternoon 40 winks on the diwan under the verandah shade before a refreshing cup of tea emerges forth from the house lovingly proferred by wifey. Paradise, I thought and began to enjoy it all. Alas, it was too good to be true. For you see, I had not accounted for the tribes on my frontier!
They creep up on you unsuspectingly. One drowsy Sunday morning, with head nodding, I heard a plop on the small teapoy in front of me. It was one of the avian tribesmen, golden and black in colour, making an offering to the great sahab of his guano. The wretch not only spoilt my newspaper but thoroughly woke me up with a musical trill which brought my son, Aashay, out saying ”Oh look Pappa, its a golden oriole!” I ask you would you forgive Lata Mangeshkar or any other heavenly singer if she crept up on your slumber in the garden and blasted you in the ear no matter how melodiously she sang. You would despatch her rather quickly, but with a reputation for being a bird-lover, I was forced to smile to match my son’s enthusiasm. It seemed that the bird would never stop singing! By the time it left, I couldn’t sleep any more.
I tried the early afternoon instead, and found a green red-whiskered barbet delightfully tapping out his monotonous beat on the dead tree next to my garage. Finding a dirty look instead of appreciation, he cringed and flew off but sent big brother, a Maratha woodpecker, instead. Louder, bossier, and tapping fast enough to get him an interview in any workshop, dirty looks were of no avail as he had his speckled back to me. Words of abuse did not get him to lower his red cockade. I shook the tree violently and sent off this ruffian ‘Katphora’. But it was too late, I was wide awake.
Few things gave these creatures solidarity as their endeavour to disturb my well earned repose. One rainy afternoon, braving the occasional leak and rejoicing at the absence of birdsong, I had barely settled down when a large shiny black carpenter bee, no doubt an MES employee, came inspecting the rotting rafters of the verandah. He buzzed loudly around me ignoring the frantic swats from my newspaper. He paused overhead as if to say, hey Bud, you know I have no sting, let the rain stop and I’ll be out of here before you can sing honeybee. At long last, the rain stopped and the bee went away but now the soporific patter of a rain shower was replaced by a mismatched drip drap of different series of drops with one freshly born stream created just for anointing me. It was useless, I moved into the house.
As I had worked very hard for this pleasure, there was no way I was going to let these pesky aborigines deprive me. So one day I selected a nice hammock under the Gliricidia trees, but rushed back very soon as I had forgotten the carnivorous mosquitoes of CME who descended on me like the hordes of Genghis Khan on an unsuspecting Central Asian city.
The large cemented patio at the back of the house finally seemed to do the trick and in the warm sunlight I blissfully entered the jungle of my dreams. A soft rustling disturbed me. I ignored it awhile hoping it would subside but it persisted. At last I blinked awake to stare into the astonished faces of a pair of mongooses taking some quality timeout together. They looked at me as would a pair of Burmese natives if suddenly a pot-bellied laughing Buddha statue of their pagoda suddenly came to life. They did a disappearing act worthy of Houdini but not before a bunch of lascivious ‘sathbhais’ or large grey babblers in the ‘Parijaat’ tree beyond, who had been ogling the svelte mongooses, set up a devil of a cackle on being deprived of their entertainment. I rushed inside into the dark shadows of my bedroom for some solace but it was not to be – the neighbourhood tomcat encouraged by my daughter Aditi’s daily offerings of milk had alerted my pet dog Tashi with predictable results. Sometimes you just can’t win. Seriously, its almost enough to put you off wildlife.
Note. This blog entry is dedicated to the late Edward Hamilton Aiken, naturalist and writer extraordinary, whose classic account of nature in Kutch holds the same title as this piece. Read more about him at the blog entry above.