Birding at dusk
On the shores of Mangalajodi: one of Chilika’s few undiscovered corners, the boatman welcomed me with warmth in his eyes. As these wetlands happen to be the turf of these poachers turned naturalists who know it like the back of their hand, my boatman managed to oar me with no apparent difficulty to those secluded spots, unexplored by us tourists but frequented often by a rich diversity of birds, making them a perfect spot for birding. He described birds (both native and foreign to this lagoon) and their aspects with great alacrity and a profound understanding that could match that of an expert on birds.
As we boated through the dull green waters of the dank marsh, I could almost feel transported to a strange new world: the heat struck lilies opened at dusk, appearing splendid as light filtered through them; a Black winged Stilt stood among the bronze forest of reed on one foot meditating; the flamboyant Purple moorhens strutted among the emerald blades; and the sky above the horizon was speckled with kaleidoscopic feathers of the Glossy Ibis as they took wing. The picturesque sight of the glut of birds made me wonder how these birds year after year managed to find their way back to this village- their wintering home, as if some map were printed in their head?
But I couldn’t fail but notice the foreboding atmosphere, so thick and palpable that you could cut it with a knife. Everything was nervous: the air, the forest of reed didn’t dare to make a sound. The sky on the horizon was also splashed with crimson, the sun bleeding out like a cut thumb. In spite of the misleading pink fairytale bloom of the lilies, I couldn’t help but feel the steely edge of a cold unshakable purpose.
The boatman gently nudged me out of my reverie and pointed his finger upwards. My eyes followed where his fingers were pointing towards. I fumbled for my binoculars at a lightning pace and trained them on the horizon. I saw a swarm of birds flying in frenzy like a looming thundercloud, for their dear life. I wondered what could have set them off. But I didn’t have to guess for too long. Two chestnut wings loomed large against the sunset whose raptorial grandeur dazed me. One couldn’t miss that unmistakable white hooded head even from a distance. It was the one and only Brahmany Kite hunting. The puny birds were done for.
Some drum-song of hunt seemed to be playing in the Kite’s ear, drowning out the loud hush of the fenland. His eyes seemed to blaze like a meteor. Hurled by the taut bow-string of his will, he flew like an arrow at his target, with steel in his nerves and veins, flourishing his body like a poem, snatching the poor bird by its hooked talons, tearing it to shred.
I felt something die inside me. If all my organs were birds, then my body housed a glut of dead birds. My exoticism shattered. Suddenly, the thought of learning more about the world of birds, enjoying it, and devouring all its secrets filled me with a feeling of shame. I felt like that annoyingly over-enthusiastic tourist who got caught peering into a keyhole, and witnessing some secret ritual sacred to a world alien to theirs. While I contemplated the foreignness of this new found world to ours and tried to bridge the gap between the two, the Kite hovered above me, indifferent to my gaze.
Rituparna Sahoo is a proud mad poet from Bhubaneswar, India. She has bipolar affective disorder and uses her writing to explore her ever-changing psychological landscape. She holds a masters degree in sociology from University of Hyderabad.