An Avian Tale With A Happy Ending

bird

Our office in Yelahanka Bangalore is small and homely. The second floor place is surrounded by lovely trees, and we can see thick foliage from our windows.

Last summer, every now and then, we used to hear loud thuds. Not too often, but often enough for us to wonder what it was about. To begin with, we couldn’t figure out what on earth those were about. But then we realized that birds were crashing into our windows. Generally, it was crows. One day, a female koel hit her head. They all banged into the windows and then fell onto our narrow balcony. It did not seem to affect them too much. They just rested for a few minutes and were on their way again.

But one day, there was a huge bang and thud. We rushed out to our balcony, to find a small bird lying on its back. It seemed to barely be breathing. We panicked. We had no clue what to do. Anuradha and Sudha got busy talking to friends who might know what to do. But no clear suggestions came. They then tried calling animal shelters, NGOs, the Forest Department. Some numbers were old and out of commission. Some didn’t respond. Some didn’t have any solutions. The Forest Dept. was helpful. They suggested we could take the bird to their shelter. But unfortunately, that was 25 kms away. A drive of 2 hours during morning hours in Bangalore. It was unlikely the bird would survive the traffic and drive.

We did not want to disturb the little bird, but noticed some crows circling around, and figured it needed to be moved indoors. So we found a cardboard box and put it into it. It was still opening its eyes once in a while, so we held on to hope. We put it away in a quiet, dark room, with a bowl of water by the side. We restrained ourselves with great difficultly from going into the room every two minutes to check on it. We used the time, and a little help from friends, to figure out that it was a juvenile brown headed barbet.

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We gave it half an hour and then went in. And lo and behold, to our great relief and joy, it was sitting up. Still looking dazed, but definitely alive. We once again closed the door and left it alone. After another half an hour, when we went in, it was sitting on the window sill.

bird 3

Now the challenge was to get it out of the office and out on the wing. It was extremely confused and kept flying away from us and the door. It took 10 minutes but Vinod, a colleague who luckily was visiting the office that day, managed to gently catch it. Then the release ceremony! We took it outside and with a gentle tap, it flew into the tree top.

What a relief!

But the morning was so traumatic, we felt we couldn’t go through such an experience again. So we tried to work out out why the birds were crashing. Finally, we figured that it was the tinted glass windows. The trees and thick foliage around were reflected faithfully in this and it looked like open skies, so birds seems to continue flying forward, not realizing that there was a barrier. We were not sure, but since it was the only possible solution we could think of, we decided to replace the tinted glass with plain glass. Before that, we went through elaborate trials, when we called for various types of glass, propped them up and checked the reflections.

Since the day we replaced the glass, there have been no bangs, thuds or accidents, so looks our problem analysis was right.

Though I have to admit, my room is uncomfortably sunny on some days! Well, a small price to pay.

He Said It!

My day started well. This morning my newspaper informed me that May 5 is being celebrated as World Cartoonists Day! That brought a smile to my face even before I turned to the daily cartoon strips in my newspapers…something I do before I read the headlines. Faced with the continuous ‘breaking news’ of a world gone mad and bad in every which way, the cartoons remind me that, depending on what lens you use to see the world, there can still be something to laugh about!

Quite by coincidence, I recently read the autobiography of R.K. Lakshman, India’s best known cartoonist, illustrator, and tongue-in-cheek commentator on life and times.  Lakshman was an essential part of my growing up and growing older, as it was for at least two generations of Indians. Lakshman’s You Said It! daily cartoon provided a glimpse into the world through the eyes of the silent spectator, the Common Man.

Reading his autobiography The Tunnel of Time provided a peep into  Lakshman—the man himself, as he rambled through memories of places, people and events with humour, wit and yes, some irreverence! Since the time he can remember he wanted to be an artist. “An artist is what I wanted to be…I decided that I would pass my examinations but I never attempted to get high marks….My parents and elders were a great help, for they never took it seriously when one of the sons got pitiably low marks or even failed!”

As the youngest of 6 sons (one of whom was the famous author R.K. Narayan) and 2 daughters Lakshman grew up in a big household; he was left to himself all day, happily spending his time playing or drawing. So much so, that his parents did not realise that it was time that he was sent to school until a visiting uncle noticed him at home when all other children of his age were at school. He was promptly taken to the nearby municipal school—kicking and crying! From where the young Lakshman promptly ran away, and resumed play, until some months later another visitor took him back to the school. And there he stayed; as he says, “I moved year after year, class after class,” all the time filling the margins of his notebooks with sketches and doodles. The same continued through college days until he graduated with a BA degree; and immediately moved to Madras to try and get a job in one of the newspapers while his elders “as usual generously cheered me on my way into the world.”

As we continue to travel through the tunnel of time with the budding and determined cartoonist we learn about attempts and adventures as he makes his way into the world as an aspiring cartoonist, until he eventually became a cartoonist for the Times of India, and there he remained for the next five decades!

For all of us who imagine that a cartoonist just has a Eureka moment and with a few swift strokes produces a cartoon, it was indeed revealing to learn what it really took to put the Common Man on the front page every morning without fail. “I would be at the drawing board in the office exactly at 8.30 in the morning, reading and concentrating on news items, political analyses, editorial commentaries, opinions, spending the time tormenting myself, waiting hopelessly for the muse of satire to oblige me with an idea for next day’s cartoon before the deadline. When the idea did at last dawn, the rest of the work was comparatively easy. It was like shooting a movie—choosing a suitable setting, selecting the characters, compressing the script into a brief caption. By then I would have put in six hours of continuous work. Mentally and physically exhausted I would go home. But the sense of fulfilment and creative satisfaction would be immense.”

R.K. Lakshman shares delightful anecdotes about his travels and his many interesting friends, his close encounters with the powers that be, and the highs and lows of chronicling the facts and foibles of every aspect of social and political life. The Tunnel of Time is a treat of a read.

–Mamata

 

 

Heaven’s Flower 

Re-telling of a tale from Bhagwat Purana about Nyctanthes arbortristis, night-flowering jasmine or parijat, a species of Nyctanthes, native to SouthSoutheast Asia

(A long-read, this one!)

My parijat tree has just started flowering

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Narada entered Indra’s court. Indra was obviously in a bad mood. All the minor gods and goddesses, apsaras and attendants, ghandarvas and gyaanis looked uneasy. Indra was firing a courtier:

‘How dare you question my decision? Don’t you know that I am Indra, the greatest of the Gods? The ruler of heaven and earth? The warrior before whom the world trembles? Even the Gods listen to me, and you question my wisdom?’ he thundered.

‘Great Indra! I know what a great god and king you are Sir! I do not question your wisdom. I only wanted to give you some information that I thought you might not know,’ said the trembling courtier.

‘Don’t try to act smart. I know all there is to know. My decision stands. Court is dismissed,’ said Indra in his rudest tone.

Narada was worried. ‘Indra’s arrogance is growing beyond limits now. He is rude to one and all. He respects neither age nor wisdom. He doesn’t listen to his well-wishers. If a ruler is so arrogant, it does not bode well for the kingdom. A ruler must be open to criticism as well as praise. He has to listen to all before he takes decisions. And he must be kind and just and fair. Indra has forgotten all this. He needs a lesson.’

Narada in his tension was playing with the flowers he had gathered for his puja. Suddenly he looked down at the flower basket. His eyes sparkled.

‘Ah ha! Two birds with one stone. Two nice people who have become proud and arrogant can be brought back to their senses with one drama!’ There was a smile on Narada’s lips

And when Narada smiled, someone was going to be in trouble!

It was but a jiffy before Narada was over Dwarka.  He smoothly landed in Rukmini’ courtyard. He knew this was the time Krishna would be there.

‘Narayana, Narayana!’ he said—that was his usual greeting.

Krishna and Rukmini welcomed him warmly. But behind Krishna’s smile was a small doubt. What was Narada up to now? He never went anywhere without a purpose!

‘What a privilege that you have come to my house Revered Muni! How may I serve you?’ asked gentle Rukmini, a bit flustered with such an important visitor.

‘I just thought I would visit friends on Earth, Rukmini. And obviously the first of these friends are Krishna and yourself. Just a casual visit, to chat and catch up.’ Narada turned to Krishna casually. ‘Vasudeva, have you seen the flowers of the Parijat tree? The tree that came from the seas during the Manthan, the churning? It has the most beautiful and fragrant flowers! See, so unusual. White petals with a coral stalk.’

Krishna and Rukmini peered at the string of flowers in Narada’s hand. Indeed it was exquisite, unlike any other flower they had ever seen.

‘Oh, how foolish of me! I brought the flowers for you Krishna, and look at me, holding on to them! Here, take this sting of heavenly flowers. Give it to the one you love,’ said Narada with an innocent look, as he handed over the flower to Krishna.

Krishna saw Rukmini looking at the flowers longingly. He knew he had no choice but to give it to her! ‘Here Rukmini, put the flowers in your hair. It will look beautiful.’ Rukmini was thrilled!

Narada stayed chatting about this and that and the other for a good hour. Krishna and Rukmini couldn’t stop laughing at all the stories that he told about the rishis, devas and asuras. All true no doubt, but with a little Narada-masala sprinkled!

‘Oh, it is getting late. I must take your leave Rukmini! I need to visit dear Satyabhama too before it is time for the lamps. Thank you for your hospitality. I will come around again in a few months’, said Narada as he made his way out of Rukmini’s palace.

Rukmini gazed at the flowers in her plait. They were so beautiful—like pearls set in coral! It had such a lovely fragrance. Never had she seen anything like it! “Oh, Indradev should share the flowers of his tree with all. It is so beautiful. If I could get these flowers, I would make garlands every day for you and for the Gods in the temple! Everyone looking at them would be so happy.’

“Yes indeed Rukmini! Beauty should be shared. I wish I could get you more of these flowers. But Indra is very possessive about his tree,’ said Krishna.

In the meantime, Narada was already with Satyabhama. After all, her palace was right next to Rukmini’s. He got as warm a welcome there. Satyabhama set out the most delicious snacks as he regaled her with news and stories.

Just as he was about to take his leave he said: ‘Oh Satyabhama, how rude you much think me, that I have come to visit you without a gift. But I did bring one. It was a string of beautiful parijat flowesr, from Indra’s tree. I gave it to Krishna and told him to give it to his loved one. He gave it to Rukmini.’ With this parting barb, Narada bowed to Satyabhama and disappeared.

It took Satyabhama a few minutes to digest this news. She hadn’t ever seen a parijat flower. But she knew that the tree grew in Indra’s garden and that he wouldn’t give it to anyone. It was heavily guarded. So she knew it must be very special. And Krishna had given the flowers to Rukmini! What was he thinking? Was she not his loved one? Was Rukmini more precious to him? Her eyes blazed with anger.

‘Call Krishna here immediately! I want him here, now!’ she called out to her maids.

They knew better than to dally! With Satyabhama in this mood, they didn’t want to be in the way. Obviously Krishna had done something, let him take the flak!

A breathless maid soon ushered in an apprehensive-looking Krishna. ‘What is it my dear Princess?’ he asked. ‘You look so bothered and flustered. What has happened? Has anyone offended you?’

‘Oh innocent Gopala! Oh intelligent Sumedha! Oh Vasudeva who runs the whole world! Of course you don’t know what’s wrong! Of course you don’t know what has happened and who has offended me!’ began Satyabhama, who had resolved not to tell Krishna what the problem was. But she couldn’t desist! ‘Narada gave you heavenly flowers to give to your loved one and you gave them to Rukmini! So I am not worth such special gifts? I am not the loved one! I am just some stupid ill-tempered girl who must make do with some silks and jewels bought from the local merchants! I am the one who can be ignored and not counted in this household!’

Krishna understood what this was about! His unease at the sight of Narada was borne out.

‘Beautiful Princess! Lovely Satyabhama! How can you talk so? It was just another flower! Rukmini happened to be there, so I gave it to her! See, for you also I have brought so many lovely jasmines and lotuses,’ cajoled Krishna. ‘Don’t you understand, it is just Narada pretending that he gave me something very special, when actually he came to see me with one little string of flowers.’

Satyabhama was not taken in. The argument went on and on, till finally Satyabhama completely lost her temper. ‘Krishna, I have had enough. You gave Rukmini parijat flowers. I want the whole tree. Nothing less will do. That tree had better be planted in my garden in the next week. Otherwise, I will never ever speak to you. Nor eat, nor go out.’

Krishna knew that this was serious. Satyabhama was the sweetest girl, but she was prone to throwing tantrums when she didn’t get her way! And boy, could she be stubborn. He had no way out but to get the tree!

‘OK Satyabhama. Of course if you want it so much, you will get it! Your wish is my command, Princess,’ said the harassed Gopala.

Krishna left immediately for Indralok. He knew he had a tough task ahead. Indra was very possessive about this tree. But Krishna was sure he could convince him. After all, it was not just about Satyabhama. If the tree came to Earth, everyone could enjoy its beauty.

But Krishna was not prepared for the new not-at-all-reasonable Indra! Indra would not even talk civilly to Krishna! ‘No Vasudeva! Sorry! I cannot part with the tree. I got it as my share in the Manthan. It is for me. It is too beautiful to leave Heaven. No other place deserves to have it. I am sorry,’ he told Krishna. And then turned away to talk to his other courtiers and ignored Krishna totally!

Krishna was shocked! This was no way for one god to treat another, for one ruler to behave with another. Even in refusing a request, there must be politeness. And anyway, there was no reason to refuse the request. But Krishna knew how to keep his cool. ‘Is that your last word Indra? My request is reasonable and I have been polite. But don’t you think that you have been both unreasonable and rude?’ he asked.

‘I have every right to refuse the request. You may be a big guy, but you can’t get whatever you want. Thank you for visiting me,’ said the unrepentant Indra, and started to walk out of the court.

‘Indra, you have exceeded all bounds of propriety. You need to be taught a lesson, and I shall do so. Prepare for war!’ said Krishna, cool but firm.

And war there was! A war in which Indra had no chance before the skill, intelligence and technique of Krishna. In no time Indra suffered a humiliating defeat.

And with that humiliation, came good sense! He realized that Krishna had not fought the war to get the tree, but to teach him a lesson for his arrogance. He fell at Krishna’s feet. ‘Jagadisha, forgive me! I understand that I had grown too big for my boots. My pride had gone to my head. I thought that I was so powerful that I could behave as I wanted, do what I liked. But that is not true. No one is above anyone else, and no one is above law. A ruler especially is here to ensure the well-being of all. It will never happen again.’

Krishna was pleased. His mission had been accomplished. The parijat tree was but an excuse. ‘All is well Indra. Rule wisely and kindly. I take my leave now.  All earthly beings and Satyabhama will be so happy with this tree—I thank you.’

As Krishna turned to go, he spied Narada standing in a corner. A smile came to his lips. ‘I take my leave of you also, Kalahapriya!’ he said.

‘Farewell Govinda. Take the tree carefully and plant it as soon as you get to earth. I know a spot where the soil is just right. On the edge of Satyabhama’s garden, right next to the compound wall adjoining Rukmini’s garden is a nice spot.’ He said. ‘And oh! I hope you know, parijat flowers are never picked off the tree. They fall on the ground early in the morning. All you have to do is spread a nice clean cloth on the ground and the flowers will fall on to it. You can tell Princess Rukmini that.’

‘Tell Rukmini? You mean Satyabhama?’ Krishna was confused. But when he saw the gleam in Narada’s eye, he understood. He understood why Narada had asked him to plant the tree near the compound wall next to Rukmini’s garden.

And sure enough, that is what he did! As soon as he returned to earth, he made for Satyabhama’s garden. A triumphant Satyabhama stood beside him as he planted the tree in the spot indicated.

‘Oh Krishna! This is a magic tree from heaven, right? It won’t take time to take root. I think it will start flowering tonight itself.’ She said.

And she was right! She got up early the next morning and she looked out of her window, thrilled to see the tree in her garden. But what she saw the next moment did not please her so well! It was true that the tree stood in her garden, but all the coral-stemmed flowers had fallen into Rukmini’s compound. Rukmini and her maids were picking them up.

And Satyabhama understood Krishna’s message. She had got the tree by throwing tantrums and being unreasonable. But she was not going to get the coveted flowers!  She smiled wryly to herself. Krishna had indeed taught her a lesson! Bad behavior does not pay in the long run!

And in his palace, Krishna smiled. And in the heavens, Narada smiled.

–Meena