Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Saturday, Jun 10, 2006
Columns - Reflections
The Hornbill obsession
For over three years now Dinesh Kothari has spent hours at the Residency Park in Indore noting down and taking on film every detail of the nesting by the common grey hornbill (Tockus birostris). The bird nests between March and June and my friend is there at Residency Park watching. Every time we met in the forests, Dinesh Kothari would remind me of my promise to spend a few hours at the Park with the birds.
One made it to the Park some two weeks ago on a bright morning to share Dinesh's obsession with the bird. "Sometimes I lose myself completely watching the birds," Dinesh told me as we settled down on the grass in front of a gul mohur tree.
Even as Dinesh set up the camera, a male common grey hornbill flew across to settle on a tree a few feet away from the gul mohur, where his wife had set up home. The female and her chicks (it could have been eggs) were inside a hole, on the top branch of the gul mohur, covered with brown mud (the bird's droppings, according to Dr. Salim Ali) except for a thin, vertical vent. After about 10 minutes, the male flew across to the nest, looked round for a few seconds before passing on the food to his partner through the slit.
Watching the action through one's binoculars, one quit time and space for a few seconds. The male bird does not call as he floats in silently making a long detour to detract intruders.
The bird-man Ali puts it best: "The nest is a natural tree-hollow, walled up with the bird's droppings after the female has settled herself within, leaving only a narrow slit through which the male feeds her during the self-imposed confinement. The wall is broken down after the young hatch out, and both parents forage for the young thereafter."
At a second spot, near the ancient Circuit House in the Park, one saw a baby hornbill looking out of its open nest for its parents. After a few minutes, the parents came calling with a loud kae-kae but did not alight directly on the nest.
They paused before the mother dropped on the edge of the nest, pulled out a red, round fruit and a green object from inside its beaks to feed the little one. About a minute passed before the parents left, shooing away on flight a Blue Jay, to search for more food.
It was about 8.30 and we had spent about two hours observing the common grey hornbill, which, as its name suggests, is grey in colour with a casque on its sharply curved bill.
For Dr. Salim Ali, "it is a clumsy brownish grey bird," though for this writer it is a decently, passable bird with its nesting oddities making up for the absence of colour. We saw about four pairs of the common grey hornbill in the Park girdled by roads and the sore-throated squeals of cars and bikes.
The Park is spacious, clean and has a few old trees providing housing facilities to Blue Jays, squirrels and others. Dinesh is well-known by sections of the crowd on a morning stroll. Most of them are chartered accountants "spending entire days twiddling books of accounts to avoid taxes" as Dinesh, who belongs to the tribe, put it.
They are with their wives and kids who are given a free course in aerobics by an over 6 ft tall Sardar. The Circuit House inside the Park is usually reserved for wasted and aged politicians from New Delhi and Bhopal, sticking to power with a daily drop of Fevicol.
Then it becomes a high security zone and the voting public is shown its proper place. By about 9 we left the Park and drove down to have "pohe (aval in Tamil) with onions and masala" at a street shop under a banyan sporting the title, "Bom Bhole". A cup of tea at a second stall and we were at home.
Indore can be termed Holkar city though there is little left of their imprest. Like every urban centre, Indore is also changing with trees being cut to widen roads. `There will be more parking space for cars but no standing space for trees," claims Dinesh as this mindless drawdown of Nature has become an epidemic. Every kiosk or cubicle houses a computer hooked to the National Stock Exchange and the public bets with zeal on stocks, whether Sensex goes up or down.
They do not peruse balance sheets or newspapers. "Are kya bazaar mandi hoga (Has the market turned bearish)," is the only query tossed about by punters as one watched a "small investor" put his money on Chowgule Shipping, Bata and Reliance Petroleum.
Long ago, Alan Watts had mused in his A Mountain Journal: "I simply do not understand the goals and rewards of the Western Way of Life, apart from such side-effects of the project as anaesthesia for dentistry (which can just as well be effected by hypnosis). What is the point of Progress if the food is tasteless, the housing absurd, the clothing uncomfortable, the religion just talk, the air poisoned by Cadillacs, the work boring, the sex uptight and mechanical, the earth clobbered with concrete, and the water so chemicalised that even the fish are abandoning existence?"
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