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1-bird-386

The other morning I was unlocking the front gate when I saw three White-cheeked Barbets having a game of catch-me-if-you-can on the moringa tree opposite. I stood there a trifle uncertain. Should I just watch them play or go get my camera from upstairs, by which time they were sure to disappear? The odds weren’t in my favor, I knew. Whenever I have returned with the camera the subjects have long left for greener pastures, or paparazzi-less locations.

The camera won in spite, and I rushed upstairs unmindful of my age, with the dog close at my heels ready to trip me if need be. Yes, the whatchamacallit dog of mine thinks that if I run it means we are having a race which she must win at all costs. It’s a matter of Labradorean pride you see, can’t have old ladies winning over a young and fit 3 years old (read 30 in human years).

Anyway I reached my room without mishap, collected my camera and rushed back. Once she saw the camera, the dog was like, ‘Oh this!’ after which she tried to outguess me as to which door or window I was headed for. Talk about a first-fixation! So down the stairs we came, and out through the front door, with the dog leading the way, only to find the moringa tree free of Barbets of any description. Yeah, what did I tell you? Change of plans. Sheesh.

I stood there twiddling my thumbs. Knobs of the camera would be more like it. It is like this. Once the camera is in your hands, you simply have to click something, even if it be something you have already clicked a thousand times. I know other amateur clickers like me, will agree. So I scanned the surroundings, especially the moringa tree, which seems to be an all-time favorite with a lot of birds. I saw a golden yellow leaf fall down from one branch to the next and get stuck on it.

Wait a minute. Yellow leaf?!

‘Are you sure?’ my brain, all skeptical, asked the eyes. The eyes have aged, the brain hasn’t. Not yet. That’s why the query. Not trusting the eyes and taking my cue from the brain, I raised the camera and zoomed in on the spot.

What I wanted to do when I saw what I saw was jump up and down and go, ‘Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!’ Luckily I didn’t. The bird, for it had been no leaf but a bird of a bright yellow hue that had hopped from an upper branch to a lower one, would have been startled and left in a huff. To my utter delight I found there were two of them and one of them was feasting on a hairy worm.

In case you are wondering what all the excitement had been about, it was the first time that I was spotting this bird in my locality, and I have been here all of two years. The next thing to do of course was to get the bird identified. Google came to the rescue and revealed that it was a Black-hooded Oriole (Oriolus xanthornus). Researching on the bird led me to this interesting story on Wiki:

A folk tale from Bengal says that the origin of the bird is from an unfortunate wife of a merchant family. The girl was tortured by her mother-in-law who used to make her starve for the slightest mistake. In one such occasion the girl was starving for two days and yet she had to make pithas (a handmade sweet dish of Bengal). The girl, who could not bear her hunger any more, started eating hot pithas directly from the vessel as her mother-in-law was out of sight. Her garment was already stained by the turmeric paste she used for the cooking of other dishes. Suddenly the mother-in-law came and in utter shock the girl jumped into a nearby pond. She died but the goddess that protects the children made her into a bird with the head covered with black shoot from the earthen vessel and body as yellow as turmeric paste, the black hooded oriole. For this reason the Bengali name of the bird is “benebou” which means the merchant’s wife.

Did something about the story strike you? It did me and then I remembered there are many more such tales, of sacrifice, suffering and then redemption. Notice how the daughter-in-law is tortured, denied food, yet no one comes to her rescue while she is still living. Not humans, not gods. And when she kills herself, out of fear of the dreaded woman who is supposed to be a mother figure to her, the ‘goddess that protects children’, turns her into a bally bird. Big deal. So WHERE was she when the ‘child’ she was supposed to protect was being mistreated? Oh, I forgot, protection comes after death, right?

Women (and little girls too) are supposed to live their miserable ‘adjusting’ lives and then accept the oh-so-wonderful *rewards* magnanimously handed out, of being beautiful birds or pretty flowers, or even trees, rivers and what not. Suckers, that’s what we have been and still are, falling over ourselves to do the suffering-sacrificing routine while waiting for our share of glory in the afterlife. Oh to be a beautiful bird and fly in the sky, eh? Don’t be daft. Birds have as tough life as humans. They get shot at too in addition. No good being flowers either, they get plucked, wither. Trees get chopped. Rivers get chemicals dumped in them. You get the drift?

I hate to think that the bright yellow bird is the sad little girl who had absolutely no support system that the only option before her had been death. What a sad reflection on our society. But what’s this I hear? Are you telling me that it is just a tale, not to be taken seriously? Then, you are so wrong. That’s how it all starts, with stories.

©Shail Mohan 2014

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