My Wild Home in Bengaluru

My Wild Home in Bengaluru

Two years ago, I decided to ditch the traffic and pollution of Delhi to move to Bengaluru, all I desired was a bit of quiet and silence.  North Bengaluru beckoned, not having been concretised densely like the rest of the city, but my local friends looked askance, wondering how I could move away from ‘happening’ parts of town which were all in the south. Little did they know how happening my place has indeed been, so much so, I have never had a moment of peace or quiet. No, I am not complaining.  Quite the contrary.

Every morning, I am crooned awake by a couple of plaintive Greater Coucals with their deep and resonant cooing. Sometimes I spot the pair clumsily trotting on the compound wall below my window, a dragon fly or insect twitching in their beaks.  When I look up, I am gazing right into the mischievous eyes of a baby monkey hanging from a tree by its slender tail. In fact, a troop of some twenty macaques are daily visitors, perching all over the branches that almost reach to my window; they entertain me with their endless antics. Leave a window open for a second, a couple of them sneak in noiselessly to help themselves to the banana bunch or a milk packet from the fridge.

Some days, as I roll out of bed reluctantly and head to the kitchen to make my coffee, I spy a movement out of the corner of my eye. Just outside my living room French window I see all five feet of an eight-foot serpent hanging out of the hollow of the tree outside. It is a frequent visitor, sampling the eggs or the poor fledglings which innocently open their beaks for a worm.  Perhaps the snake has forgotten it had gobbled up both the barbet chicks from this very same hole only a few days ago; It was so traumatizing to see the distraught barbet mom holler and peep into the hollow in disbelief, long after the snake had made its exit. Today, much as it roots into the cavity, the snake finds nothing.  All the same, a parrot and a couple of mynahs harry the serpent, hoping it would not slither up to their own caches of eggs or fledglings.  After all, this ancient tree has many such cavities, each home to a different species – bulbuls, mynahs, parrots and barbets. The anxious mother mynah actually pecks the tail of the serpent which shoots its head out of the cavity in annoyance, but in the end, gives up and slithers down reluctantly, much to the glee of the birds which gloat raucously and hover around the descending serpent.

In April this year, at the height of lockdown when everywhere else it was quiet, my study became unusable thanks to an incessant racket set up by a whole host of denizens from the avian kingdom.  An otherwise non-descript tree outside my window had lit up overnight like a Christmas tree with a million red and green berries, a magnet for a stream of winged visitors.  First came the Asian koels – the males with their ear-shattering trills and then the demure and  gorgeously speckled females which flitted from branch to branch, combing the tree for ripe berries. The koels and cuckoos took their time, choosing and savouring the berries. A couple of squirrels screeched incessantly to intimidate the koels, but to no avail. Eventually, the squirrels had to settle for the bits discarded by the birds. As the wind picked up and parted the leaves, I spotted the resplendent yellow of a shy golden oriole perched on the inner branches. The orioles visited early when the other birds were not around. The bulbuls didn’t seem to care for the berries, but perhaps they liked the merriment and buzz. So they flitted about excitedly.  Sunbirds awaited their turn and took a quick peck when big birds had had their fill.  A crow came to investigate, but the berries were perhaps too tiny to hold its interest.  Even an amused kite perched on the higher branch, and surveyed its domain, unmoved by the commotion below. Soon the simians came too, attracted by the buzz. Since then, the simians and avians argued raucously over choice pickings.

When I moved into my apartment, I did not know I would be privy to the amorous nudging of maned yearlings. My flat overlooks a stud-farm where at any given time, there are at least half a dozen horses, some playful, others seriously munching away. One chases the lapwings that hunt for insects in the grass. Snorts, grunts and neighs have become part of my auditory universe, almost as cacophonous as my Delhi flat. When the horses are taken away for grooming, peacocks and peahens strut around as if they own the place and announce their presence with their harsh calls. My balcony attracts tailor birds which check it out everyday, although it finds nothing worthy of interest. My satellite dish is the favorite perch of the wagtail which sings lustily and fans out its long tail.

My evenings are spent on the terrace, watching the pirouetting of a bevy of blue-green bee-eaters. Barbets also flock to a tree which has shed all its leaves.  A gaggle of milky white geese fly across to nearby Jakkur lake where they come to winter. Occasionally, I spot a pelican or crane too on its lonely flight towards the lake. The pair of grey hornbills routinely perch on a high branch to preen and sun themselves every evening.  Yonder, on another tree, a pair of regal serpent eagles have made their home.  I fetch my binoculars to watch their meticulous preening.  A clutch of parrots argue noisily as they fly past.  When I look down on the adjacent plot overgrown with lush green vegetation, I spy an entire family of mongooses gamboling around the shrubbery.  Quite a few trees have sprouted baya weaver nests and the chattering yellow birds make multiple sorties to embellish their nests. Attracted by the lush greenery, a shepherd walks his herd through this ground; the scene is so surreal it could have been from the Bible itself!

Some 300 meters from home is the Avalahalli forest. But to reach it, I must trudge through vineyards and orchards, not to mention swathes of ragi fields. The turf is shared by a host of denizens, impressive snails, plump leeches, finger thick red millipedes, an army of leaf-cutter ants and flitting butterflies of all hues and sizes. Hares spring out of the undergrowth and skitter while a baby python slithers and disappears into the grass. A cobra, of course, stands its ground, raising its hood like a selfie stick while I scamper to safety.