Rediscovering the house sparrows 

The very name of sparrows, harks the mind back to my childhood days when we lived in a village. Most of the houses were made of mud and roofs supported by wooden logs. These left so many awnings which acted as the niches where these creatures made their nests for raising their chicks.

Whole day, they will dart inside and out bringing semi dry grass stubble for construction of the nest. There was chirping all day. There was a mulberry tree in our courtyard where in the evening these birds rested in its cool and secure boughs. The cacophony in the evening would be ear deafening.

They were so common that we hardly noticed them. They were the part of Punjabi folklore. For example, the unmarried girls were compared with them, saying that these girls are like sparrows chirping all day in the verandahs of their parents and will also fly away when married.

As the time passed, moving towards modernisation, the cities began expanding and eating away the agricultural land in the neighbouring villages. The houses in the villages also gave way to pucallpa houses which left no scope for these birds to make their nests. In other words their habitat was destroyed and factors like mobile towers radiations from which are supposed to be interfering with their lives, added the more trouble.

But still there are places in rural areas which have awnings and bushes for them to survive. I discovered them at many places in my neighbourhood.

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Lots of Sparrows and Losing the Sparrows

This was in Panvel Mumbai

It is a happy augury that lots of sparrows are seen these days on the trees, windows ledges of our house, The sparrows were becoming very scarce and the world was forgetting about them. I bet many of our children today having seen the bird. There is an incessant chirping to be heard in the early morning. It is hint from them that they are hungry and requesting for the food. We scatter the rice, Bajra and Jowar in the bottom of our windows. Lot of sparrows vie with each other for the food. They push and shove. Soon the pigeons also land and scare the sparrows. Similarly the squirrels come especially for Jowar. Sparrows dart away and scatter like bullets at the slightest sound or arrival of anyone of us nearer the window.

In the morning they are so desperate for the food that sometimes they forget that we are scattering the seeds, they come darting and get scared and without landing maneuver to fly away to safety on the trees branches in front of the house. The credit for all this goes to my wife who never forgets to maintain the uninterrupted supple of food from the market. In the summer, she arranges the water in small containers for the birds whose throats have parched in the scorching sun. They quench their thirst and eat food. There is plenty of seed and they don’t have to forage for food here and there.

But here up in North India where we were born and grew up before moving away for earning the bread for our families, once plentiful sparrows are gone somewhere away. About 35 years ago, there were so many sparrows living in our homes and in the evening there ensued a great cacophony in the boughs of the mulberry tree which was in the open space of our home. They fought with each other to occupy the best perches. They made nests inside the houses which were not pucca houses and raised their chicks there. I am very much surprised that there is not a single sparrow to be seen here now. On the contrary, hundreds of mynahs flock to sit on the ledges or supporting rods of the platform roofs at railway station in Chandigarh. So much so that if you go there to catch a evening train, you will hear a deafening noise of their quarrels for claiming the best beds for the night. Difficult to understand the changes occurring in the surroundings.

The Sparrows

I grew up in a village. In my childhood days, there were lush green fields around our village. The land was very fertile and only animal manure was used to boost the crops. Water for irrigation came  from the canals and a schedule for distribution of water according to the area of land a farmer had was fixed. We used to go to fields everyday after our school. We took many detours on our way to our field. In the summers, we took dip in the cool refreshing waters in the canals in which cattle also cooled themselves. We stole red ripe tomatoes, raw and ripe mangoes, maize corn and sugarcane etc in the winter seasons. I clearly remember that in the compound of our home, there were heaps of haystack. We burrowed in to them, it became very comfortable. There were two or sometimes three buffaloes in our home for milk.

Everyone was having a plenty of time for leisure in those days. Old people use to sit under the banyan trees with cool shadows and whiled away the time by gossiping. Nothing could remain secret as the village was so well knitted. Women used to go to fetch the water into the pails from the village wells.

Though we were not rich but we had not a single worry in the world. We chased the ducks and other animals. Our parents will sometimes chide us for running here and there running over the crops. We climbed on the the branches of trees. Many a times someone will fall down and break his arm or leg.

There were plenty of sparrows in our houses. In the morning and evening there would be incessant chirping in the houses as they settled for the night. In the morning, they acted like alarms for the day breaking. The sounds we heard in those days were of the birds, dogs and people. There was hardly any radio. There was no electricity and we used the kerosene lamps . People ate very early in the evening and went to bed. They would rise very early in the morning. After taking tea or lassi and few rotis they will proceed to their fields with their bullock carts. When they returned, there was dry fagots, branches of trees, fodder for cattle and vegetables in the cart. Things began changing as the Chandigarh city began to expand. Industries came along and spread poison in the air and water without scruples. Green area began to shrink. With the electricity came noise which distracted these small creatures.

The sparrow have a good presence in the Punjabi literature. Sparrows, though very small in size, gorge on food very quickly. There is a idiom which says that “Now it is of no use to repent, because when the sparrows foraged and eat all the grains in the field”. The unmarried young girls are compared to the sparrows. In some sad folk song, the girls are telling their father that they are just like sparrows and will fly away someday which is an illusion to their marriage and will never come back. There is a tingle of helplessness in their narration.

Now, I live in the town near Mumbai. It is happy to note that the sparrows visit the windows of our house everyday thanks to my wife taking care of them with seeds and water. Also there are lots of pigeons. Squirrels also come but they like slightly rough and bigger seeds like groundnuts. Pigeons like Bajra and rice. Sparrows mainly gorge themselves on the rice. There are vacuous crows which are the loudest and the meanest and most efficient eaters. They generally don’t like the grains and forage into the food thrown by the residents into the refuse collector bins. Occasionally, they grab a frail or injured sparrow or smaller bird than themselves and eat it. We also hear the cuckoos.