She had done alright, she thought, looking at her partner of many years. He had kept himself well and had proved a good father and a good mate, if a bit of an airhead. But that couldn’t be helped. His beauty would always come in the way of any real need for self-improvement. He still took her breath away though, each time she looked at him. Nobody could have accused her of being the prettiest of her flock, but she had always been clever and industrious and of good stock. Even so it had been to everyone’s greatest surprise when the most handsome of the lot, the golden boy himself wooed her ardently. There was some tittering among the local wits about the indecent haste of her accepting his proposal, but she’d always been very self-possessed and unflappable. And eventually their marriage proved a solid one and they had managed to raise beautiful babies.
The winds were changing in their summer home at the banks of the glacial Iskanderkul, encircled by the craggy Fann Mountains of Tajikistan. The lake had been named after some ancient human king who had fought a battle there. It was said that that his beautiful black stallion Bucephalus had drowned in the lake. Well, that part was most likely true, because she had occasionally spotted his shimmering apparition emerging from the lake on moonlit nights. But the rest of it, these tales humans told were always confusing and rather boring. All that she ever needed to know nature, both within and without, told her. The changing colours of the trees, the changing temperature of the lake, the lengthening of the shadows and of the night, they all spoke to her. And that undeniable voice was now telling her that it was time for them to fly to their winter home in the plains of India. She sighed, knowing it was also the time for their annual ‘Big Fight’.
“For once, can we not try another part of the country”?!
“No, Sonu, we always go to Bombay in the winters. You know how much I love roosting in the fig trees…”
“Fig trees are found all over India and you know that. Fine, lets at least go to Borivali National Park, along with the rest of the clan. I hear there are plenty of fig trees there”.
“ No, husband. We have to go to Chembur. We have been going there for…”
“Five years! I’ve had enough. I’m going to Borivali this year.”
“Just this year. We’ll show Junior around. Let him take over from you. Next year, we’ll go to Borivali.”
“You say that every year. You know how uncomfortable that human female makes me.”
“Oh, you stupid bird, she loves you, you know that. She’s practically hanging outside the window every morning and evening to catch a glimpse of you”.
“I know! What’s with the relentless staring, for heaven’s sake. And worst of all, why does she have to cry every single time!”
“It’s your beauty, Sonu, it gives her hope. Look at the cages these humans live in.”
“OK, OK, fine. This is the last year. Next year, junior takes over and we move to Borivali.”
It was nearly October when they reached Bombay. Normally they wouldn’t reach before November, but things were changing, winters were arriving earlier now. And every year that they arrived in Chembur there were fewer trees. She never said it aloud, but each time she worried if their Fig Tree would still be there or would it have been chopped to make way for a mysterious human idea called Development that made everything a whole lot worse than it began with. Phew, it was still there, their beautiful green home that they shared with a couple of Coppersmith Barbets and a Black Drongo. Their neighbours were aggressive and a bit ill-mannered like most Bombayites , but it was tolerable because it kept the bullying crows away.
She wondered if the human would be around, as they alighted upon the tree whose branches grazed her window. It was 5 pm.
“See she’s not there, she doesn’t care, let’s go to Borivali.”
“Wait just one minute…”
Just that second, the window was thrown open and the familiar grey-haired human looked out. They couldn’t have known that from mid-August she had been keeping a look-out for them. That a pair of small brightly-coloured birds would fly all the way from Central Asia to the grey and dingy suburb of Bombay was nothing short of a proof of the existence of the Mother Goddess. Every year she prayed for their well-being. Every year she prayed that the climate change would not affect their families.
“C’mon Sonu, you know you secretly enjoy the attention. Go on, preen a bit,”
“I feel so objectified. Females of any species are impossible…Oh boy, here begin the waterworks.”
The two birds looked at the human. Tears were streaming down her face as she intoned silently, thank you, thank you, thank you.
Winters in Chembur and many other parts of Bombay ring with the fluting one note song of the Indian Golden Oriole. The Orioles are among the rarer birds of such bright plumage to visit Bombay. They literally are the colour of the winter sun. Although the female of the species is a dull olive colour. But she makes up for the dullness with her sleek, built for speed and efficiency body. There is research emerging that while there are resident populations of the species, some of the population still remains migratory. Apparently one such Golden Oriole was tagged in India and was found nine years later in Tajikistan. And that little factoid led me to write this story and write myself into it.