Friday, April 26, 2019

Sharing Peanuts

Memories of childhood always bring a whiff of nostalgia with them. There is something, rather many things about that phase which make it so very special. As we keep moving away from that time, the past  picture keeps getting better and better, isn't it? I consider it a zooming-out effect which brings out the essence of the complete perspective. 
We often tend to go back to some of those disjointed flashes from the past to relive the soul of the bygone time. Whenever they surface, they invariably manage to bring an innocent smile to our face.

We had a small traditional tandoor in our house which our father got made on order. I think it was made using the body of an old cylindrical drum which had its own lid too. It was a functional tandoor and at least once in a month, usually on a Sunday, tandoori rotis were made to go along with dal-makhani. As far as I remember, it was not a trivial activity. Cleaning the tandoor, preparing it, heating it up sufficiently for the rotis - all this itself would take some considerable time before actual roti making action. After its use, it was allowed to cool down, cleaned properly and secured with the lid.

I am not sure how and when but some years down the line, the usage of tandoor became less frequent. I think it was the time when father got posted to another city. It was later given away to somebody but strangely its lid was retained. I think it was a very smart move as that lid in its upside down avatar, naturally became a serving plate for the birds. Mostly house sparrows, mainas, crows and red vented bulbuls used to visit our home. Out of these the house sparrows were the most frequent ones and often came in large numbers. Those were the times when house sparrows were easily seen in the city. Mother would keep some bajra seeds, bits and pieces of the first roti that was cooked every day and any left over roti or rice in that plate, along with water in a deep terracotta pot - for the birds to feast on. I remember every day, early in the morning, while tidying up the house and the backyard, mother would clean up that plate and the water bowl and would refill both with fresh supplies.

During summers, early morning was the time when the sparrows would visit looking for their first meal of the day, in good numbers. Their chirping, altercations and bantering were a part of the background noise in our home. Their numbers would dwindle as the day became hotter. The pattern reversed in winters. House sparrows would come solo, in pairs, and in groups when sun brought some respite from the chill.

I carry one particular memory of those winter afternoons. Natural light, fresh air and winter sun are perhaps a few things out of many which were highly valued by mother. She always encouraged us to sit and study in the backyard to make the most of these three. After returning home from school during those winter days, we were served food outside on the foldable cot. While basking in the warmth of the sun, we would indulge in the last course of  any winter meal - roasted peanuts and gazak. Many birds, especially house sparrows used to pay us a visit during that time and we would gently flick some peanuts to their side too though cautiously, trying not to scare them away. It was a sheer delight to watch them feast on those peanuts and I must admit a little bit of sense of individual achievement that they ate what one offered. While writing this I can very vividly see that scene in front of my eyes where we all ate peanuts together. Years passed in almost fast forward manner, I moved out of the parental house first for my masters and then to build a separate abode after marriage. On every visit to that house, I couldn't help notice lesser and lesser sparrows coming to the backyard for food. They were fast getting pushed away by the bigger and stronger mainas.

House sparrows were tiny little birds, females had pale brown and grey coats while males had brighter black, white and brown markings. They were very shy birds. Sadly, they have become extinct in our city now. I miss them, because their chirpiness and their companionship are an integral part of my childhood memories. They remain the loveable background sound, in fact, music in my reminiscences.
We do have feathered visitors in our new house here too. After searching online for their name, I came to know that they are Jungle Babblers. They are bigger, brown coated birds with long tails and they chirp loudly. I scatter bread crumbs, leftover rice and pieces of first chapatti of the day for them on the backyard wall. They also visit in groups to eat and then fly away together. They are much stronger and fearless, rather aggressive than my old feathered friends. I like feeding them but I miss the little ones dearly, more so in winters when I eat peanuts.

Dear sparrows, this is my tribute to you. You will always have a special place in my memories. 

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