Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps the singing bird will come - Chinese Proverb (so says the internet)
It’s the time when the city is at its quietest and darkness is still heavy outside. A singular mellifluous eight-note song of the fantail in the almond tree outside my bedroom window signals that night is about to end and dawn break is not far away. And within the hour, a cacophony of birsongs bursts forth every single day in the limited trees that we have within our society compound.
In my arm-chair bird watching style, I have counted just over 20 species of birds in the one mango and one almond tree that dot my windows: from crows, sparrows, drongo, pigeons (dumb and forever fornicating just like humans!) to copper-smith barbet, golden oreole, purple rumped sunbird, common tailorbird, and even a single male paradise flycatcher. It pains me sometimes to see so many birds in just a few trees, each struggling to find its own space (crows and pigeons mostly win). But somewhere I count myself fortunate to yet wake up to birdsongs in a city before chaos takes over for the rest of the day.
This became all the more discernible when I was travelling in Germany and Slovenia during fall last year. Though I missed the ancient beech forests of Germany, the ones that I visited in both the countries were second or third generation forests, carefully regenerated and then ‘managed’ for ecological as well as economic sustainability. In Germany, citizens have the right to walk inside any forest, private or public, but within stipulated paths and trails. Different from India, I felt breathless and lost in the beauty of these young forests: in myriad hues of yellow, orange, red and green, in colours more heightened when the slanting autumn sun filtered in through the transforming leaves, in forest floors layered with fallen leaves, and in the pervasive silence everywhere. Coming from a country where noise is the prime sensory overload, the silence of these forests was like going deep in meditation. So absorbed was I in this other type of sensory overload, that I did not immediately sense the forests were more silent than normal. Even in a more rustic Slovenia, surrounded by craggy mountains and limpid lakes, the forests were cruelly still. So were the trees in the cities and city-parks. The singing birds did not come here despite the green trees.
|morning mist in a forest in Slovenia|
Our cities, villages, parks, forests, rivers, lakes, hills, mountains, salt-pans are alive, despite urbanisation: insects, dragonflies, butterflies, snakes, frogs, birds, small and large animals, fungus, algae…everywhere still. Our forests have an ephemeral silence as well as a constant chatter, filled with a raw energy. This energy can still be found scattered in pockets across the country, even though successive governments have been changing policy to forcefully create plantations in the name of forest ‘management’. The country’s forest cover surprisingly remains the same: dense forests are cut down while plantations (considered ‘forests’) take over its space. But then a time will come when our ‘forests’ will also become deathly silent.
Till that time, I am grateful for all the singing birds in my green mango tree.