In 2019, I decided to ditch the traffic and pollution of Delhi to move to Bangalore. All I desired was a bit of quiet and solitude. North Bangalore beckoned, not being as densely concretised as the rest of the city. But local friends looked askance, wondering how I could stay so far away from the “happening” parts of town, which were all in the south. Little did they know how happening my new home is, so much so that I have never had a moment of peace or quiet. No, I am not complaining. Quite the contrary.
Every morning, I am crooned awake by a couple of plaintive greater coucals with their deep and resonant cooing. Sometimes, I spot the pair clumsily trotting on the compound wall below my window, insects twitching in their beaks. When I look up, I am gazing right into the mischievous eyes of a baby monkey hanging from a tree by its slender tail. In fact, a troop of some twenty macaques are daily visitors, perching all over the branches that almost reach my window; they entertain me with their endless antics. Leave a window open for a second, and a couple of them sneak in noiselessly to help themselves to the bananas or even milk from the fridge.
Some days as I roll out of bed reluctantly and head to the kitchen to make my coffee, I spy movement out of the corner of my eye. Just outside my living room’s French window, I see five feet of an eight-foot-long serpent hanging out of the hollow of the tree outside. It is a frequent visitor, sampling the eggs or bird fledglings that innocently open their beaks for a worm thinking their mother has come. Perhaps the snake has forgotten it had gobbled up both the barbet chicks from this very same hole only a few days ago. It was so traumatising to see the distraught barbet mom holler and peep into the hollow in disbelief, long after the snake had made its exit. Today, much as it roots into the cavity, the snake finds nothing. All the same, a parrot and a couple of mynahs harry the serpent, hoping it will not slither up to their caches of eggs or fledglings. After all, this old tree has many such cavities, each home to a different species — mynahs, parrots, and barbets. The anxious mother mynah actually pecks the serpent’s tail causing it to shoot out of the cavity in annoyance. But in the end, it gives up and slithers down reluctantly, much to the glee of the birds who gloat raucously and hover around the descending serpent.
In April 2021, at the height of the lockdown, while it was quiet everywhere else, my study became unusable thanks to the incessant racket from a whole host of avian kingdom denizens. An otherwise nondescript tree outside my window had lit up overnight like a Christmas tree with a million red and green berries — a magnet for a stream of winged visitors. First came the Asian koels – the males with their ear-shattering trills and then the demure and gorgeously speckled females flitting from branch to branch, combing the tree for ripe berries. The koels and cuckoos took their time, choosing and savouring berries. A couple of squirrels constantly screeched to intimidate the koels but to no avail. Eventually, the squirrels settled for the bits the birds discarded. As the wind picked up and parted the leaves, I spotted the resplendent yellow of a shy golden oriole perched on an inner branch. The orioles visited early when the other birds were not around. The bulbuls didn’t seem to care for the berries, but perhaps they liked the merriment and buzz and flitted about excitedly. Sunbirds awaited their turn and took a quick peck when big birds had had their fill. A crow came to investigate, but the berries were perhaps too tiny to hold its interest. There was even an amused kite perched on a higher branch surveying its domain, unmoved by the commotion below. Soon the simians came too, attracted by the buzz. The simians and birds argued raucously over choice pickings.
When I moved into my apartment, I did not know I would be privy to the amorous nudging of maned yearlings. My flat overlooks a stud farm where at any given time, there are at least half a dozen horses, some playful, others munching away seriously. One chases the lapwings that hunt for insects in the grass. Snorts, grunts, and neighs have become part of my auditory universe, almost as cacophonous as my Delhi flat. When the horses are taken away for grooming, peacocks and peahens strut around as if they own the place and announce their presence with harsh calls. The balcony attracts tailorbirds who examine it every day, although they find nothing worthy. My satellite dish is the favourite perch of a wagtail that sings lustily and fans out its long tail.
I spend my evenings on the terrace. I may see a bevvy of blue-green bee-eaters pirouetting in the sky. Barbets flock to a tree that has shed all its leaves. A gaggle of milky white bar-headed geese fly across to nearby Jakkur Lake where they come to winter. Occasionally, I spot a grey pelican or crane on its lonely flight towards the lake. A pair of grey hornbills routinely perch on a high branch to preen and sun themselves.
On another tree, a pair of regal serpent eagles have made their home. I fetch my binoculars to watch their meticulous preening. A pandemonium of parrots argue noisily as they fly past. When I look down on the adjacent plot overgrown with lush green vegetation, I spy an entire family of mongooses gambolling around the shrubbery. Quite a few trees have sprouted baya weaver nests, and the chattering yellow birds make multiple sorties to embellish them further. Attracted by the greenery, a shepherd walks his herd through this ground — the scene is almost Biblical and surreal!
Some 300 metres from home is the Avalahalli forest. But to reach it, I must trudge through vineyards and orchards, not to mention swathes of ragi fields. The turf is shared by a host of residents — impressive snails, plump leeches, finger-thick red millipedes, an army of leaf-cutter ants, and flitting butterflies of all hues and sizes. Hares spring out of the undergrowth and skitter. A baby python slithers and disappears into the grass, but a cobra stands its ground, raising its hood like a selfie stick while I scamper to safety.