Spring Songs of Love
By Nandita Bose
The young vulture Shaknu could not believe that he was free – that he was outside the jail surrounded by wire nets and cages. He tried his wings and hopped to the top of the majestic banyan tree. Then he tried his voice – hissed and grunted. Now, what was he to do?
The vulture really did not know what to do. Shaknu was an orphan – kidnapped by man when in the egg. But now that he was a young fellow they did not want to keep and feed him. His keeper set him free whispering, “Fly off. Multiply. There are so few of you in the wild. But remember never peck and eat the dead holy cow. The flesh of cattle is poison … it is our fault. It is man who has poisoned the cattle to make them work harder even when they are old or ill. The flesh of the cow is poison so…” Shaknu did not wait to hear the end of the sentence. He tried his voice as he joyously spread his wings.
But after some time Shaknu became hungry. Hungry! There was no keeper around. But he did not know how to find food.
Below the tree, there was the old lady Yamma talking to her young grandson – Vidan.
“Be still my child. A young vulture has just been released from that building – their conservation centre.”
After flapping his wings and circling the air for an hour or so Shaknu decided to hop down to where the pair was sitting. He was used to humans and hoped they would understand his problem – hunger and loneliness.
Just then the two divine birds – Kaga-crow and Pechu-owl seemed to appear out of nowhere. Striding after them came a creature sometimes on all fours and sometimes on two legs like a mini-sized human. It was Rattu. Shaknu knew him. Rattu lived in a cage with other rats not far from the conservation where Shaknu was imprisoned. Shaknu now wondered. How did the fellow swagger out of that impossible cage?
Rattu was throwing around his weight – a huge big rat. A cat snoozing nearby ran off seeing him! So did the old dog – ran with his tail between his legs. It made Rattu even more arrogant. He looked around ready to talk. He simply had to brag about his escapade. There was no dearth of listeners as Shaknu came forward and the two divine birds hopped down from the branches onto the shoulders of Yamma.
Rattu gave a loud squeak.
“Man thinks he is very clever. He is. He gave me stuff to eat to make my body strong. He called it an experiment – a scientific experiment. At first, I was frightened. I accepted the situation. I had to. I had to. I waited. I must escape. I waited and watched. Man forgot two things. The food and medicines he gave me made my body so strong that I could gnaw holes through the base of the cage and cover it with odd things carelessly left behind by the workers. Not only my body but my mind became strong – stronger and stronger. I began to plan. I began to think like man.. I began to plan my exit. And so I exited. Here I am!”
Pechu-owl put in a word. “Man did not see your change?’
Rattu gleefully rubbed his forelegs and bared his molars. “My change was so gradual – steady and sure that although the head man scribbled it all down he did not realise what was actually happening. Actually happening.”
When the original excitement faded, and the ancient Yamma retired with her grandson the animals became as gloomy as the falling dusk. Now what? Kaga-crow became busy in the deserted temple courtyard, with his euthanasia clinic where the old and weary animals lined up. The divine crow would show them the easy path of exit from this world – whatever method suited each. As he was pairing off the peacock to help the old snake to meet his end, Shaknu entered the courtyard.
Pechu-owl hastily ushered him out. “You are young. Your exit time has not come. This clinic is no place for you.”
She took him out and said soothingly. “You do not have your mother to show you the ways of vultures but so what? You must now find a mate – a companion.”
Rattun had also come to sit beside the vulture. All his bragging seemed to have come to nought. He too needed companionship – someone to share his woes and well – look with admiration at his height, weight, muscles and brain. But where to find her?
In this way, a few days passed. Then Spring broke in full fury greeted by occasional showers. Yamma got busy pointing out to her grandson the wonders of the season.
“Translate it into music – capture it in your voice – each drop of water dropping from the leaves makes a different sound as it ties up with the trembling smell of the damp earth and the rumbling of thunder. Listen carefully – can you hear from afar the songsters, the koels, the cuckoos …?”
The animals too came out overwhelmed by the love songs of the cuckoo pair. One sang while the other replied; one trilled while the other sidled up and whistled back.
Yamma looked at the lonely vulture Shaknu and the morose Rattun. “Have you got the message? To find your mate you must sing. You must sing.”
Rattun snapped back angrily “We have no voice like those shameless lovers – the cuckoos – the kokilas and koels, who leave their eggs in the nest of others.”
“Don’t be silly” Pechu Owl chipped in. “If you really did manage to sing like the cuckoo then why should a rat bride respond? You make your own noise and leave it to the wind to plait it into music for another lonely soul hopefully lurking nearby.”
Her words made sense. Rattun squeaked. The reply was another squeak. Shaknu hissed and grunted. Somewhere he heard it echo. Could it be? Could it be?”
Soon music burst forth with pigeons cooing and honey-suckers trilling with visiting bees. Music and love slipped into the falling night as somewhere in secret spread the mantra of creation waiting to break forth in a frenzy to tango with Spring and Summer.
THE END- Total nr. of readings: 160 Copyright © The author  All Rights Reserved. This story may not be reproduced without the express written permission of the author except for personal use.
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- Age range: 9 to12, Teen
- Category: Animal Story, Indian
- Animals: Owl, Rat, Vulture
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