The three words in the name of oriental magpie robin do full justice to the beautiful, handsome, dashing black and white bird. It’s a flirtatious dandy and imitates many birdie voices when it’s just looking for fun. However, when it wants to convey its strength and masculine charm, it gives a chhrr-chhrr-chhrr type of sawing sound. But its real beauty comes when it falls in love and gives sonorous, high-pitched notes of cheeu-cheeu-cheeu for a considerable time to woo some lady. His love call scores over the rest of the birds among the trees around the house.
Flings are very easy these days but love is something one has to strive for very diligently. Since the birds cannot just have casual flings like we humans, the dandy bird has just one option of deep love and this means singing out continuous love notes as the tired monsoonal clouds retreat in the blue skies. If we leave the humans apart, the rest of the species are into the game of life full hearted, there being no half-hearted effort, be it love, war, fun and playing or committing to parental duties.
The white wagtail is a small passerine bird that sways its longish tail with attentive rhythm as it picks up ants and little insects from the ground. It’s a beautiful sight to watch the birds walking. There is a captivating grace in their little steps. The white wagtail looks an elegant well-bred lady as she walks on the ground picking up her breakfast.
The Indian rockchat also loves snapping out insects from the ground. Its looks are very modest with its pale coffee unichrome. Its fur misses the distinctive patterns or designs that make the birds look beautiful. It’s a plain-looking bird but it makes up for all this by being very talkative. Listen to their pre-dawn gossip session. They have plenty of things to gossip about before setting out to pick up breakfast.
The oriental magpie robin is busy with his love notes. The Indian robin and the white wagtail are walking with ease to pick up ants. The wire-tailed swallows are darting in the air, picking up airy food in the form of fleas, dragonflies and mosquitoes. A solitary pair of parrots goes flying. There aren’t many seen these days. A few bee-eaters are diving and turning expertly to complete their breakfast before the late morning turns to full noon. The sun is bright and the noon turns very hot, so they prefer rest during the hotter part of the day.
Huge cloudy wagons float lazily in the sky. They don’t seem to have any purpose anymore and loiter around, almost directionless, here and there.
A room with a window with some natural view is special by default. The upper room window opens to more trees than housetops. I just have to look out and the banana leaves greet happily. Inspired by this greeting and the busy birdie world with a song on its lips, I try to give my best to what attracts me the most. Not too much guess for this, it’s reading and writing.
Try to give your best even in the worst of a job. Even with very little success so far, I take my writing very seriously. There is a scope for perfection in every nook corner for all ranging from the fortune 500 CEOs to the bathroom cleaners. I have seen beaming bricklayers, stonemasons and sweepers and cribbing, frowning CEOs in the costliest cars. What is the use of hitting too big and lose your smile. Hit only that much high as would not rob you of your smile.
My smile is encouraged by the languorous hand-waving by the banana leaves as I look over the tree-tops from the upper room’s window. One sip of the view outside and another of the book in my hand. My smile tells me that life is really good. Then I read something and I turn serious. This is no smiling matter. I read that scientists are trying to revive the Siberian woolly mammoth that became extinct around 10,000 years ago. From the skeletal remains sufficient genetic material has been retrieved to clone an embryo.
This is disturbing. Why dig up the past to this extent. I think the best thing is to use genetic engineering to extricate the genes responsible for anger, hate and greed from the Homo sapiens. That would make our earth liveable, not reviving the woolly mammoth. In any case, the Siberian snows will vanish in a few decades, so where will the big animal stay. Probably they will have to repeatedly shave its wool to help it feel a bit cool.
All these musings backgrounded by the birdie songs scamper back into a corner. If you have a huge tractor bellowing its powerful engine at the best of its capacity and still louder music blaring out of the big speakers, there is no need to go near a fighter jet to test the capacity of your eardrums. The young farmer is bursting with his ebullient hormones. The bellicose tractor and rowdy music are the tools of his adolescent revolt. And the revolts have their victims. The monkeys run away. They don’t stand any match here. The birds fly to safer trees.
I cannot hop over the roofs like the monkeys, nor can I fly away like the birds. I use the faculty of discretion to fall in love with this portable discotheque now pounding the air in the neighbourhood. So I assume that I like this music and engine noise and sway my head to the tunes.
The Haryanvi desi songs are a war cry even at their gentlest best. But the raunchy ones would suitably provide fitting background music to the real third world war if it happens. Combine it with the massive heaving guffaws of a big tractor and it turns something unbelievable or unbearable. Even at your loving best you cannot afford to like it the least. As I shake my head to the war-music, the initial symptoms of headache surface. I give up. It’s better to hate it straightaway.
Never commit the mistake of complaining because in that case the proprietor of this music will teach you a lesson for your intolerance to his youthful spirit and continue with the music and tractor noise with even more volume till the time he feels convinced that you have been punished sufficiently.
The bird of peace has been shot down and I have to think of doing something else to keep my smile. I am mellowed down completely and surrender the spirit of protest for my legal right also in its wake. Which legal right? Ok, telling this now.
An hour ago, I received a call from the courier operator at the nearby town. I have been waiting for an important communication.
‘Bhai sahab your letter is lying with us. Come and pick it up from our office!’ he straightaway commands.
‘But we have paid for its delivery to my door. Won’t it be nice if I get service for my money,’ I sheepishly protest.
‘We never deliver to the villages. You have to pick it up from us otherwise I will return it by four in the evening!’ he is even louder and iron-willed.
‘Kindly tell me, if you don’t deliver to the villages, why was the booking allowed in the first place?’
‘That I don’t know. That guy who booked your parcel made his money. Now as per company policy, I can only deliver it within the town. So I will return it. You don’t worry.’
‘Your company name is DtDC. Door to Door courier. And please listen, my door is at least 15 kilometres away from your office. What kind of service is this? I am recording your conversation and will forward the issue to the courier company headquarters.’
He is very pleased to hear this as if I will do him honours. ‘Please do it. As a franchise I am only following the company policy. If you complain, the booking guy in the other city will be questioned, not me. So please complain.’
I had decided to escalate the issue and force them to deliver the item at my doorstep. But the tractor-cum-discotheque stabs my enthusiasm and I decide to leave the scene and make the most of the time by travelling to the town and pick my document. So there I go riding my two-wheeler.
It’s a swashbuckling new road, a national highway that sucks speed out of even the most lethargic vehicles. Cars, buses and heavy trucks zoom past with hair-raising speed. There are many accidents and many people die but the supreme cause of progress and development swiftly jumps over such minor road-bumps.
This road was a small, peaceful district road during our childhood. There were massive century-old trees on both sides and we recognized distances through huge banyans, peepals, sheesham, mulberries, acacia and eucalypts. Then it was converted into a state highway to be finally changed into a brutally asphalted national highway. The trees vanished. The entire countryside looks changed without those trees.
I ride sullenly trying to spot any tree that I may recognize. Not a single old tree is left. Construction is still going own. The air is foul and plumes of dust hit the helmet screen like tracer bullets. Throughout my life I have seen roads getting built, one after another and still we are short of roads. I think finally roads are all that will be left and we will stay on the roads, always on the move.
I am further beaten in spirits by the time I reach the courier office. It’s a tiny establishment, a single room. An old tauji is cooling his paunch under a water cooler. I introduce myself. He remembers the phone conversation and seems offended at my poor self raising a voice for my right.
‘People are very lazy these days. They cannot move even on vehicles. During our days, we used to walk this kind of distance on foot without cribbing,’ he chastises me.
‘To me, not delivering a service for which you have been paid is cheating,’ I retort.
‘If you want to fight for your right then allow me to send it back,’ he seems very confident of his case.
I mull over it and think it wise to take the parcel. I sign and pick up my article as he looks hostilely.
‘And for your information, the courier name is Desk to Desk not Door to Door,’ he chides me.
‘But uncle my desk is in my house, not here,’ I try a counter punch.
‘Ok, no problem. If you still think that way then let me return it,’ he lunges for the thing in my hand.
I literally run out to save it from his old crooked fingers and forget my helmet at his counter. As I plod back like a defeated old soldier, I can sense that my loss is more than what appears on the surface. Then I realize that the helmet is missing. I sheepishly return to his chamber and ask for my helmet.
‘See, your fight for your rights would have cost you even your helmet,’ he reprimands again.
I rest my case and ride back sullenly, more for the loss of huge majestic trees than the half-baked service.
There is a little crowd by the side of the road. A drunkard has died. His body is put half on the asphalt and half on the roadside.
‘Actually he died there at the end of that field. That field is mine. But we have brought him here to pass it as a death on the road so that his poor family gets some road death compensation,’ a simple farmer informs me.
I move on and recall two drunkard pals in my village. They died in contrasting temperatures. One was left by the drinking group under the open skies in the fields after he passed out. It was a frosty January night and he was found frozen to death next day. The other was left in similar circumstances in a field on a boiling hot June noon and was found baked to death late in the evening.
‘They should have used some sense like these farmers and put them on the road to get something for their poor families,’ I think and move even more sullenly.
As I reach the farmlands outside my village, I see Ranbir trying to maintain his steps by the road. He is drunk most of the time. People call him gunman. Well, he never had a gun in his hand. Actually, his right hand got crushed so severely in an accident—he was a good driver who drank less and drove more to earn a decent living—as to leave a crooked twisted mass that curves to the side of his stomach like a policeman holding his sten gun. People gave him the honorary title of a gunman. Now he drinks more and drives not at all.
One has a special corner in one’s heart for the former classmates. He was my classmate from class first to matriculation at the village school. The soft corner for your classmates with whom you grew up is almost permanent. You smile when you meet them. He laughs and I smile and then turn sad as we move on with him pillion riding on my little two-wheeler.
‘An elephant jumps on its heels to raise unnecessary dust; a lion jumps on its paws to hunt majestically,’ he is saying this loudly. I don’t have any clue to the origins of his exclamations. He repeats it many times till we reach the village. I help him get down at the place of his choice. He waves his hand with a smile as I look back. The vanishing trees, the undelivered parcel and the portable discotheques lose their meaning as I think about his wasted life.