Sabyasachi Patra

Of Birds and Birdsong by M. Krishnan

Of Birds and Birdsong by M. Krishnan

Edited by Shanthi and Ashish Chandola

When I came to know that Shanthi and Ashish Chandola had compiled Shri M. Krishnans published writings about birds in a book titled Of Birds and Birdsong, I jumped and ordered online. While reading this book, I realized that I have read a lot of these writings before in many places including his column in The Statesman titled Country Notebook. However, Shri Krishnans writings have a timeless quality about it. His elegant prose, choice of suitable words at appropriate places, an eye for incredible detail makes me often wonder why we dont notice what he notices. He finds beauty in the common birds that flock our backyards and villages and astounds us with his deep observations. I will share a couple of quotes from the book to quench your thirst.

Of Birds and Birdsong

On Brahminy Kite:

The Brahminy has been called a coward by many ornithologists, a chicken-raider that will not face the mother hen, a snatcher of small fry from the basket of the fishwife. That opinion, I feel, is not scientifically sound. We rarely make allowance for avian values and individual variations in judging a birdss character. Many of the eagles, which this kite resembles in miniature in build and flight, alo live mainly by scavenging and piracy. Moreover, the Brahminy Kite can be quite aggressive on occasion.

Brahminy Kite flying

Once, feeling curious about the contents of their nest and trying to get a closer look, I was attacked with such determination and persistence by a pair of these birds that I had to beat a hasty and undignified retreat, though I knew I was being critically watched by three small boys. And though it is true that this kite gets its living picking fish and other things off the surface of the water, and by robbing successful but smaller hunters, it can and does kill snakes; I have seen one with a four-foot rat snake in its clutches, but it could be that the snake was killed by some villager and later picked up by the bird.

Brahminy Kite

Brahminy kite perched on a mound in a grasslands

That brings us to the question: is this the Garuda? The Garuda (omit the terminal a for most North Indian languages and add n after the terminal a for Tamil), according to mythology, is the most feared enemy of the snake tribe, the bird whose very name strikes terror in the heart of the denizens of the subterranean Naga-land. Throughout South India the Brahminy Kite is called Garudan, and even in paintings (paintings of no great antiquity, say, about a century or two in age) this bird is shown in depictions of the mythological Garuda. However the Crested Serpent-Eagle, the Short-toed Eagle, and some hawk-eagles are much more given to the snake-slaying than this kite, and are much nearer iconographic descriptions of the Garuda.

Shri M. Krishnan aslo describes interesting incidents interwined with beautiful insights, throwing in the views of renowned poets to decorate his prose further.

The Dying Gladiator:

Only once as a school boy, have I seen a cock-fight, and have confused and almost staccato recollections of it the crowd in the bylane, people squatting and standing in a ring around two gamecocks, the earnestness of men, the indifference of the birds to each other; then, unexpectedly, the spontaneous flare-up of combat, the incredibly swift and savage attack, flailing legs and flying feathers and blood; and then the sudden collapse and death of one of the combatants in an unrecognizable shuddering mess of disheveled plumes and slashed flesh. I have seen dogfights, ram-fights, partridge-fights, even a brief tussle between two circus camels, but for sheer shock and impact and savage fury that cock-fight was unapproachable. Blake must have known its violence and gore at first hand, to have written:

A gamecock clipped and armed for fight
Doth the rising sun affright.

Naturally the law takes a grave view of cock-fighting. It is a rather horrible sport, but even I, who feel revolted by its carnage, realize it is a sport: the kind that stimulates speculation and betting. Once zamindars and other rich, leisured people were much given to patronage of cock-fighting, but those days are past. The gamecock is a rare bird today, and getting rarer.

Having been profoundly influenced by Shri M. Krishnans writings since my childhood days, I would consider it a sacrilege to try and write a review of his book or a compilation of his writings. This book is a collectors edition as you get a compilation of his writings about birds in a hardbound cover which will stay in the coffee table and inspire the new generation.

The price is Rs. 595. You can order it from flipkart or pick it up from your local bookstore.

Sabyasachi Patra
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