Happy Anniversary: Bird BUsiness

How do you know when you love a book? I know when I resist finishing it. It’s a habit I picked up for Lord of the Rings. Today, I did finish reading the Bird Business, by Rohan Chakravarty: the illustrated peek into the daily lives of a 100 species of birds in India (paraphrased). The last few pages greeted me like old friends.. As it turns out the last page was on Shaheen, the Peregrine Falcon of India, its namesake the peaceful battleground of anti-CAA and anti-NPR movement led by muslim women of Delhi. And the poster Rohan made that I took with me to Shaheen Bagh, because of which I have a photo that reminds me of, well, me.

I usually call myself a birder, which will tell you I officially took the tag on in the US, because in India, I would have called myself a birdwatcher. But I started in India, my most amazing friend from Bangalore introduced me to birdwatching in Delhi, I only had perhaps three outings with him and friends. With no personal binoculars, I clearly (!) remember seeing the golden oriole and a peregrine falcon, hahah, I know, I saw a greyish bird far-ish away and VSM jumped 2 feet, which was utterly peculiar behavior for him, even on a birding trip. So I guess my relationship with the falcon has culminated today and I am its forever. Thankfully, I am not a feral pigeon, as RC will point out in his illustration once you read his book. In my numbered birding (oh, it is fewer letters) outings in India, some were in Bangalore, one was to see water birds, egrets and ibises, in Rangenthittu. At that time two people in my group had binoculars, so I saw a lot better. Today when I flipped through Bird Business I was reminded of a bird I saw on the boat ride, the Indian cliff swallow in their ‘mud apartments’, as RC calls them. I had no recollection of these birds until he mentions where to see them. For each bird, since the book is on bird behavior, the illustration is of its characteristic behavior, presented in a way only a genius could have done. I do not use that word lightly, if you text mined my blog AND any other thing I have written you may find 3 instances of use of the word “genius” and they are all well deserved. To drive the point home: the bats reflected in the eyes of a Shikra, which only hunts in dusk for the pipistrelle bat, as the text tells you, are an example of the expert illustration. This type of a knack for detailing cannot be taught or learned, and therefore is genius, dang, text mining has to be supervised, but you get my meaning. Anyway, I digressed, so in addition to a characteristic behavior there is an explanation of mechanics: like for the Red crossbill and its special bill for pine seeds. There is also more than one dance illustration. Until you see them, or I saw them, I had no idea how well non-human dances can be depicted in masterful strokes of color, it was beyond my imagination and my generally hard-to-blow mind was blown back in January when I first opened the book. I have a thing for dancing (which I have never mentioned in this blog, so there’s another first).

Today I started with first looking at the illustration of the rosy starlings murmurations, because its now a part of a curated hall of fame in Singapore, and yes, I have seen European starling murmurations, I am not blind, but I don’t think even the rosy starlings can live up to what the illustration makes of them swinging around. Or they might.

The habitat birds occupy often determine their characteristic mating behavior, as I have been aware before of course, but had no idea that the Lesser Floricans leap high to attract attention in the tall grass they live in, “high-jump gold-medalist” RC calls them. I cannot-not-mention the coordinated courtship dance of the flamingoes, because, what else is there in this life if one is not at least aware of such a phenomenon (even if this “one” has never seen one, sniff!), flashmob he called that. The final piece of dance I want to mention is the Eurasian Wryneck and its twist (girls like to twist, and we will get to swing): this twist is accompanied by hissing and is an adaptation to ward off predators the wryneck faces, by taking the form of snakes.

While all birds are special and in this book they all get a VIP treatment, with spa and ego massage, I want to special mention two: the Nicobar Scrubfowl that incubates eggs using a special mechanism that you cannot just guess. If any of you make compost, that’s a hint, but read the book to know. The second is the white browed bushchat, which does a delightful dance move, which I would call a shimmy and a spectacle it is too. Last week I saw a video for it for the first time and today I saw it in the book, and I have to say both the bushchat and RC do the shimmy proper justice. As do I, so sorry, not sorry, for another mention of dance.

Finally I want to take space and time to make note and highlight how courtship, mating and raising the young is handled in the book with love, spice, mischief, majesty and respect. Birds do it all, males raise the young as female finds new mates (Pheasant-tailed Jacana), both raise the young, female raises the young, are promiscuous and may mate for life (Sarus cranes) , what they don’t do as RC will tell you: is be disrespectful. And he gives a peek into his own personality of being respectful and a feminist as you finish the book. Of course, if you follow Green Humour comics you already know that, but I hope this time I am not singing to the choir and someone reads this who does not already follow his work.

I want to finish with special mention to the Indian roller illustration as I have actually seen them roll (back in Bangalore) and that was the day I knew I would be a birder. My current most favorite illustration is that of the Greater Racquet-tailed Drongo, who knows individual rights, as well as how society works with cooperation, as it nucleates mixed flocks by mimicking various pretty birds. But may startle them with calls of a falcon too, so they drop a fly or two.. This is not merely an illustrated book on Indian birds, I have always defied categorization of ethereal things. RC is elven, this book is artistic, humourous, joyful and an uplifting treatise. Trust me.

While I still haven’t finished reading the last chapter of The Return of the King, because Frodo will reach his primary goal and what he does next is unknowable to me; Rohan Chakravarty – Green Humour and king as well as the ring-bearer ( since he defies categorization) of wildlife and environmental comics for India, has only just begun. The world cannot have enough of his work.

Happy Anniversary Bird Business.

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