Al Majaz Park is no ornithologist’s dream come true… The birds that frequent there are of the obese, sweating human kind, or the regular kits and lofts of pigeons… the ubiquities of sparrows… and of course, the ones and twos of mynas… Come November, the green of the park will be speckled in white…with sea gulls that appear out of no where and linger till February… It is indeed a pleasure to see them all take short flights en masse and settle down again moving restlessly here and there. We also get a lot of migratory birds… skeins and sedges and wedges of them… making the UAE skies seem worse than its roads… I have spotted hoopoes and parrots in the parks of Sharjah and <?XML:NAMESPACE PREFIX = ST1 /><ST1:CITY><ST1LACE>Dubai</ST1LACE></ST1:CITY>…but somehow one gets the feeling that the Creator had not been in a generous mood while allotting birds to this region… My home, the ancestral home referred to as ‘Ram Mandir, Paatturaickal, Trichur’ by my better half, had a large compound and plenty of trees and it used to be the haunt of many a volery of birds… We used to get regular visits from companies of parrots creating quite a pandemonium during the weeks the mangoes ripen… In fact, they’d help us locate mangoes hidden in the foliage… We used to get a small bird similar to hummingbird, though not as small as those… with its long pointed beak, it used to hover above the yellow ‘kolambi poovu’ drinking nectar… We had an occasional woodpecker giving Shivamani a run for his money with its staccato taps on the boles of the trees… There were what we called the Adakka kuruvi and Rudraksha kuruvi …I really don’t know their scientific names or even common English names…I have a feeling they were the finches and sparrows… some of them used to have nests among the eaves of our tiled house…and once in awhile a nestling would fall out and we’d be cautioned by elders not to touch or meddle with them and wait for the parent birds to come to rescue… Often, I used to feel very upset for, the unfortunate victims of accidents would end up inside a preying cat or a marauding crow! My favourite feathered friend used to be the crow pheasant or the ‘chembothu’ or ‘uppan’ as it is called locally. I had once seen it written in my horoscope that it is my bird… I have never asked anyone how a chembothu will affect my life…May be unconsciously, I accepted that our destinies were entwined… So whenever I espied one, I used to watch it silently, curiously trying to draw as close to it as possible…But felt it was such a stand-offish bird for it never reciprocated… We had an old abandoned pond behind our house beyond our property. On certain nights and silent <ST1:TIME hour="12" minute="0">noons</ST1:TIME>, we used to hear the vezhambal or the hornbill cry out dolefully. The cry used to fill me with fear and sympathy because those vezhambals were the reincarnations of cursed human beings who had refused to offer water to a thirsty person in their previous life! This knowledge was gleaned from the stories told by ‘Acchu’ ( the endearing short form for Athai) our grandaunt… Ahhh! Childhood was such a time when you believed anything and everything the adults told you. Today’s kids will just not accept such absurdities! I feel guilty even today for having tortured a particular species of bird, throughout my childhood and youth. I flinch when I think of the sadistic side to my otherwise sensible nature… All those trees would attract the Asian Koels or the kuyils …very regular visitors… There would be invariably two of them in the vicinity…the jet black one and the grey and white spotted one. From my childhood, I was known for my voice. And on the lazy days of summer vacation, when we heard the Koel – or the kuyil as we called it- give a lilting ‘Coooo!’, I’d imitate it and tempt it to call back… Sometimes, I’d do it so many times and then stop suddenly leaving the puzzled kuyil calling out again and again, sometimes in anger, till, exasperated by my silence, it would fly away… I stopped doing this after an incident in ’82 or ’83 when I was doing my Masters in the <ST1LACE><ST1LACETYPE>Institute</ST1LACETYPE> of <ST1LACENAME>English</ST1LACENAME></ST1LACE>, <ST1:CITY><ST1LACE>Trivandrum</ST1LACE></ST1:CITY>. I stayed in the YWCA and right outside my room was a guava tree which attracted koels. Once, during some ‘Study Holidays’ – days of preparation before exams- I started taunting a koel by exactly mimicking its call. Our jugalbandi continued for nearly half an hour, and soon others in the hostel thronged outside my room to see who’d win the session… The bird would just not fly away….it carried on in a frenzied manner, answering each of my call…each call louder and more piercing than the previous one… and then suddenly something happened to its throat. Its voice broke… I jubilantly cooed again and the bird returned the call in a broken squawky tone…and then I was shocked at what I had done! The import of what I had done dawned on me…and I literally wept tears of regret… Maybe I had destroyed that bird for life… I only hoped and prayed that eventually its glorious voice would return to it… After that I have never teased another koel! Today, when I am able to raise my pitch to sing a ‘Rasik Balmaa’…I remember the kuyil….may be it had cursed me too before flying away… Poetic justice! Then there were the crows… Crows are an integral part of a Tam Bram existence. They are considered to represent our ancestors and are fed on the death anniversaries of ancestors. Even on a daily basis, it is customary to keep a ladleful of cooked rice on the wall or any open space, as soon as it is cooked… Only then, the members of the family eat. So I used to try and recognize each crow…and fancied myself another ‘Kakkassery Bhattadiri’, the legendary character in Aithihyamala, who was so intelligent in his boyhood that he used to point out the crows that visited them during the Shradham or the annual ceremonies performed to appease his departed father and other ancestors…hence his monicker… I used to spend a good number of the noons of my summer vacation lying with a book in hand, in a bed near a window so that I could glance out once in awhile especially to see an eagle skydiving and soaring in the blue expanse…so free…no studies…no exams… How I used to envy them… Now I look out of my window I see concrete structures…and lamp posts…cloudless dusty expanse of Middle Eastern skies… And I have to be satisfied with the pigeons, sparrows, mynas and seasonal gulls… How I miss the birds of my paradise!