I whistle like a Bulbul

By Julia Fernandes

July 9, 2011                                      


God loved birds and invented trees. Man loved birds and invented cages. -- Jacques Deval


I must have been around eight or nine years old when one fine evening Dad came home from work and gave us a little surprise. He placed his bag in the middle of our room and put his hands inside his bag to reveal a small nest that was home to three tiny baby Bulbuls. On one of his rotational shifts, Dad was posted at Butcher Island (Jawahar Dweep) -- an island off the coast of Mumbai. Most of the island is covered with dense vegetation. It was from here that Dad picked up this little nest.


Bulbuls are a family of medium-sized passerine songbirds. The Bulbuls that Dad bought home were brownish in colour with a crest on their heads. They were very small and unable to fly. As a little girl I was thrilled to see them. Next day, a cage was bought and the cage became their new abode.


Out of the three one of them died immediately. The remaining two Bulbuls grew up and soon became a part of our family. Out of the two one of the Bulbuls was my favourite. I remember grinding Bengal gram in fine powder and then mixing water to form a thick paste. This was their meal which I would feed them with my index finger. With their little beaks they would pick up the food. They would look at my finger; shake their little heads and size up the best position to pick up the food. They would then drink water from small vessels that were kept at the respective ends of their cage.


After a full meal they would fly to their favourite place -- the swing situated at the centre-top of their cage and doze off blissfully. I would sometimes gently shake their swing to put them to sleep. When it would be dusk they would fly helter-skelter within the cage, giving us a signal that it was time to cover their cage with a cloth and introduce darkness for them to sleep. The Bulbuls would sleep with their heads shoved at the back of their wings making them look like cute little brown powder puffs. And they would take their one foot in and sleep on just one foot.


They were full of life with an innate capability of picking up tunes. There’s a particular tune played in the last dance routine in most Indian Catholic weddings. My parents would often whistle this tune repeatedly to our two Bulbuls. Gradually, they picked up this tune. One day when we came home from a family function we were in for a little surprise. The moment we opened the door both the Bulbuls merrily began whistling this same tune, which my parents had taught them. As if to express how happy they were to see us!


In my home everybody knew how to whistle, except me. I would try my best but I just could not manage to whistle. The time spent with my Bulbuls enabled me to imitate their sounds. And then one fine day I, finally, learnt to whistle -- just like a Bulbul. Their love enabled me to reach out for what I thought was impossible.


After a year or so the second Bulbul, too, had died. Only my favourite Bulbul remained all alone in the empty cage. And then one fine morning when I removed the cloth on their cage a ghastly sight greeted me. My Bulbul was dead -- lying upside down with his one foot tightly clasping the swing. He probably died in his sleep. Till today that image is still fresh in my mind. From that day onwards we never kept birds as pets.


Even though we snatched their freedom they still loved us. It is said true love leaves an indelible mark in some part of your mind or soul. But in my case my Bulbul’s love left its imprint in the most unusual place of my self -- my whistle! And till today, even after so many years, I continue to whistle just like a Bulbul…


(My small prayer)


Dear God,


Every creature is created in love by you. Man has no right to separate young birds from their mothers and put them in cages. Pour out compassion in our hearts that we may be compassionate towards other beings. I hope, wish and pray that birds all over the world may be released from their cages and soar high in the skies. For this world belongs as much as to these little beings as much as it belongs to us.


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