The "Seven Sisters", a group of small and credulously innocuous birds, give me my wake-up call at 6 in the morning every day. They get this name as they are seen mostly in groups of seven to nine. Their continuous squeaking and chirping noise can be heard the whole day in our garden.
I did not attempt to find out their nest hidden somewhere in our solitary mango tree as even a small disturbance can lead to their permanent flight without notice. They roam about freely in our garden picking up worms from the ground, occasionally eating happily the grains my wife spreads on the open terrace to dry.
The bird feeder that we specially brought for them and kept hanging, filled with grains, in our front verandah is left untouched. The reason for their intentional indifference here is unknown.
Their regular visits help us feel refreshed whenever we see the uninvited guests cheerfully roaming about here and there freely with no latent worries or stress like the rest of us.
Again, when we came back home after few months abroad, we found to our astonishment a pair of honey suckers living around the staircase in their newly built nest on the telephone cable with their young ones. We welcomed our new tenants with pleasure and let them live undisturbed. In short, these birds have found our house comfortable for their continued stay. They live with us peacefully and help us too to live happily.
But many decades ago, as a schoolboy I was not friendly with the avian community. Hunting birds was my hobby those days. My friends and I used to hunt birds with a catapult just for fun and pleasure. We used to go to the bushy forest areas outside the city limits to hunt birds of all kinds - big and small.
Bird-hunting with a catapult was a common hobby for many school-going boys like me those days. I used to feel happy whenever my friends admired my talents in this horrible exercise. I enjoyed the merciless pastime, never realising that it was inhuman and unkind. The greatest misfortune of it all was having to leave the dead birds in the bush itself without the least sense of guilt and go away. We used to disregard advice from elders to give up such butchering.
When wisdom dawned
At the age of 15, wisdom dawned on me one day and I gave up hunting of birds abruptly and forever afterwards.
It happened after I shot at a bulbul, which fell dead from a tree and lay motionless. The immediate reaction from another bulbul (which I presume was its pair) was appalling and heartbreaking. It came quickly from somewhere and settled on its dead partner, making a mysterious melancholic noises, seemingly trying to speak and revive it back to life.
Tragedy in the family
I stood silently watching the tragedy that I had caused in their family. Soon, I left the dead bird and its agonising partner with a heart full of guilt, despondency and uneasiness. That sad and wretched scene got embossed on my mind and I stopped my bird-hunting trips from that day. Today, after 60 years, when I hear people talk of the slow disappearance of birds like sparrows that lived around us once, I used to feel sad and sick about my offensive equation with and coarse treatment of the birds as a boy.
No more cruel hobbies
It is a blessing that today's children, though they are often blamed for sitting indoors and spending the whole time with their computers and pads playing video games, have not picked up such cruel hobbies as bird-hunting. These days I am yet to come across a single boy roaming about in our street with a catapult shooting birds. We always tend to blame new technology but seldom realise how it has also helped eliminate callous and bloody hobbies such as bird-hunting that were being practised by the earlier generations.
The article appeared in The Hindu