June 04, 2005

The White Rebel

In a month from now rains will move up from the West and shower Bombay. I looked out my window today morning. Opposite, a three story building is getting its pre-monsoon marammat. Over the last week, the housing society offloaded cement bags onto the terrace. Through the open door to the little room I could see the cement bags, neatly stocked. The last few days their number depleted as workers, daily wage labourers, men and women who travel where their jobs take them, stripped the terrace of its cement flooring, the parapets of their cement plastering, and re-laid them after laying the floor with red bricks and cement.

Today, they began scraping the fa├žade of the building, exposing the greys. Beyond the building a large dollop of gulmohar flowers just about raises its head and sways in the wind. Crows land among the blooms looking for twigs they can carry to build nests in the few trees that line this part of Bombay, most of them however scour narrow ledges of buildings where window guards extend out to accommodate clotheslines. They look for raised space between window openings and the window guards. Where they find them, upturned buckets, cardboard boxes and the like, they fly in metal wires of all kinds, and twigs if they can find them. They don’t waste time looking for twigs here. Wires are readily available, and there is only so much time before the Western skies spew venom. The nests got to be ready in that time. Then it is time for a scrap with the apartment owner if they discover the nests before the crows’ve laid eggs in them. Apartment owners know it isn’t easy to get their ‘tenants’ to leave once they have piled up the wires into comfortable curves. It’s a daily battle. I’ve seen two of those.

Sunjoy Monga reported seeing dead crows around Borivali; hundreds of dead crows. There is talk of some kind of virus striking crows. The Times of India carried a report about dead crows, quoting Monga, and subsequent member response on Birds of Bombay, the birding group on Surfbirds drew more sightings, of dead and dying crows. Then came news of the same from Goa, to south of Bombay. Sunjoy Monga signs off each posting to the newsgroup with ‘Cheers’.

Where I stay, I see mynahs. With Spring on its last legs, the mynahs have disappeared. Only the crows and sparrows are left, then there are the pigeons, Blue Rock Pigeons. Otherwise there are not many birds you can see in the city; I hear Koels though. I’ve heard more koels than I’ve seen. The sparrows keep to themselves, unless one of them gets it into her head (yup, females are the more aggressive in the lot I see around there) that pigeons are too much of a hassle to have around and that they need to do something about it. They crowd the pigeon and generally harangue it until they decide it’s about time they picked someone of their own size. They find squirrels a safe bet.

A solitary squirrel has made the place his home, using trees to move from one structure to another. The sparrows there just can’t seem to tolerate the squirrel. Between six and eight sparrows make up the volunteer army when they aren’t nibbling off the tender Tulsi shoots in clay flowerpots that my aunt nurtures for use in early morning prayers.

White clouds float across the sky. Each one is sized the same as the one in front and the one behind, and they appear to be marching to the same beat, in orderly rows. When there are many of them making their way across, their number enforces the kind of order you don’t see around the time Spring tiptoes in. But there is something to be said of a solitary cloud floating in the blue skies. The white rebel.

I cannot remember seeing too many of those lately. Moreover the black one is dying and nobody seems to know why.