Summers are hot and humid in the plains of southern India. It’s a tough season. We sweat, like incompetent lawyers, the moment we step outside our front doors. We feel dehydrated every few minutes. The tar on the road angrily gleams, barbecuing the soles of our feet. Suddenly, the sun assumes that we are all direct descendants of Icarus.
It’s a brutal season for the birders too. Starting mid-April, it won’t be easy to find non-endemic birds. Many will be gone until November. But I am ready for the drouth. I just returned after spending a few days in the Anaimalai Hills. I can handle it. I have enough love in me to take over a small Polynesian Island. I swear that I can turn summer into mango-scented curd.
I had the privilege of spending time with Malabar Trogons and Great Indian Hornbills as they fed their young ones (more on that later this week). I watched Pompadour Green Pigeons flock together for a fruity feast. A darling damsel of a Scarlet Minivet showed up , daring to steal the yellow from the sun that was starting to blush in frightening colours.
A pair of Common Hoopoes stopped by too; not for a second did they take a break from practicing for the fun parts of Cirque Du Soleil.
I also spotted three of the four types of primates in this part of India. A Brown Mongoose as it stalked Red Spurfowls behind tall vines. A Bronze Grass Skink biting and tonguing its way through a plastic bag with its new prized possession – a bloody piece of chicken leg. A pair of young peacocks on the prowl for a world with no cameras. And finally, a herd of Indian Gaurs that cautioned me against loitering in the wilderness.
I came back with lots of memories. Plenty of stories. One or two epiphanies that may or may not have any impact on anything that happens to me in the present or the future. I also came back with the strength to wait for the summer to pass until I can go birding in the hills again.
The birds in south India aren’t fond of summers either. There isn’t enough water for them. They die of heat strokes. Their nests are charred by wildfires. We haven’t made it easy for them, with the wreckage we leave behind in the name of development.
Let’s be nice for a change.
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (1918)
by Wallace Stevens
“Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.”
(Photographs: Atakatty, Valparai, Korangumudi, Parambikulam)