Seeing Orioles makes my insides flutter. They look like they are on a mission from another planet. Perhaps, they are here to tell us that there is such a thing as too much yellow. Or that our ancestors weren’t primates; they were plants. And how silly it is that we move around so much instead of sitting still and reforesting our homes.
I bet it was something our ancestors had never bothered to listen to. It is probably why the Orioles gave up and turned into earthlings. Eat. Poop. Procreate. Sleep. Repeat. No more spilling of universal secrets through subliminal birdsongs.
I have seen three different sub-species. The Golden Oriole, the Black-Hooded Oriole, and the Black-Naped Oriole. They haven’t yet asked me to take them to our leader. Perhaps, they know how poorly governed we all are.
It isn’t easy to distinguish the Orioles. I confuse them with Flame-Throated and Yellow-Browed Bulbuls. Besides being an amateur birder, I can barely tell my own species apart. As an Indian, identifying the people around me by their skin color is really hard. We have shades like typefaces have glyphs. Judging them by the contents of their characters is even more difficult. Because how different are we really from each other?
Look at those we surround ourselves with. We avoid interacting with anyone who offers a different perspective from the one we have, no matter the topic. It’s a cerebral lethargy. Many choose to communicate only within closely-knit communities who talk and think like they do. It causes redundancy in our narratives and hinders our progress as freethinkers.
It’s not as though each Oriole is unique in the way it sings or behaves. But I am less inclined to believe that it has anything to do with laziness.
I have spotted Indian Golden Oriole hundreds of times all over south India. Ever since I stumbled upon an article about one preying on a flying lizard, I have wanted to see it in the middle of a hunt. So far, I haven’t had the privilege. But I know I will. Then, I can be sure that fate has had nothing to do with my growing love for them.
I have found the Black-Hooded Oriole across the foothills in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. There is a disturbing Bengali folk tale behind the origin of its name. The story is that a merchant’s woman, after being tortured by her mother-in-law, was reincarnated a Black Hooded Oriole. Hence, it goes by the name of “Benebou” (“merchant’s wife”).
I had seen the Black-Naped Oriole about two years ago in Valparai. I had assumed then that it was a Golden Oriole boasting of a seasonal plumage. But soon, its bandit mask was evident. It was like no other I had spotted before. I stared at it, lovingly, as I came to a conclusion about its identity. And as I type this, I realized something about my own journey.
The world may be ugly, dark and deep. I may not have promises to keep. And there aren’t exactly miles to go before the next bird-watching trail. But, I will stop by any neck of the woods, irrespective of the weather forecast for the evening, just to spend a few seconds with an Oriole.
empties her skirt
pockets, and weeps,
she fears that
we may paint her
fully yellow once
she falls asleep.
(Photographs: Tamil Nadu & Kerala)