'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Monday, September 22, 2014

To a Little Blue Bird

Let me first own up to a bit of license taken in the title above. The bird we talk about is certainly blue but not particularly 'little'.

1. A lovely Malayalam film song penned by P. Bhaskaran (in my prosaic prose):

"Once, on a balmy summer evening, Lord Krishna of Guruvayur was roaming the country in the guise of a mischievous little urchin(*). He came upon a spreading peepal tree beside a gently flowing river and resting in its cool shade, began to play his flute. Divine happiness spread all around. Goddess Lakshmi herself came down, radiant as Moonlight, and sat beside her beloved. The music charmed the surrounding woods and gradually the entire Earth itself into profound silence; even the twinkling stars above were lulled into blissful sleep...

And in that heavenly dreamtime, the young lord and his lady turned into little blue birds(**) and flew away and were lost in the deep blue sky. And never since have they been seen by anyone - the Earth, its denizens or the distant stars."


2. The essentials of a folktale as retold by Ruskin Bond:

In the wooded hills of western India lives "the idle school boy", a bird who cannot learn a simple tune though he is gifted with one of the most beautiful voices of the forest. He whistles away in various flats and sharps and sometimes, when you think is is really going to produce a melody, he breaks off..."

... the young God Krishna was wandering along the banks of a mountain stream when he came to a small waterfall, shot through with sunbeams. It was a lovely spot, cool and inviting...

Krishna was enchanted. He threw himself down on a bed of moss and ferns and began playing on his flute... a fat yellow lizard nodded its head in time to the music; the birds here hushed; the shy mouse-deer approached silently on their tiny hooves to see who it was who played so beautifully.

Presently, the flute slipped from Krishna's fingers and the beautiful young god fell asleep. But it was not a restful sleep, for his dreams were punctuated by an annoying whistling, as though someone who didn't know music was tinkering with his flute.

Awake now, Krishna was shocked to see a ragged urchin standing ankle-deep in the pool, the sacred flute held to his lips. ...

It was too late, for it is everlastingly decreed that anyone who touches the sacred property of the gods, whether deliberately or in innocence, must be made to suffer throughout his next ten thousand births(***).

Krishna, in his compassion for the little boy, pondered... surely the punishment could be less severe?

Krishna said: "forever, try to copy the song of the gods without success!... and May your rags disappear and only the dark blue colors of Krishna remain!" And lo, the boy was turned into a bird we know as the Malabar Whistling Thrush, with its dark blue body and brilliant blue patches. He continues to live among beautiful, forested valleys... trying unsuccessfully to remember the tune that brought about his strange transformation.

Note: As an earlier post here noted, Italian renaissance man Cardano once said: "The story of Narcissus is an allegory - of a writer who gets so obsessed with his own work that he keeps editing and polishing it to the exclusion of every other study". Maybe the whistling thrush is an allegory of the writer who can only produce scattered blog posts.


3. Excerpts from the travel notes of contemporary Malayalam writer Santhosh Echikanam (my translation):

"Who have we come to meet in this jungle?" I asked with growing impatience.

"The Malabar Whistling thrush!" said Jaison with a lound laugh.... "Yes, he is a singer, the very Yesudas among birds! The White Saheb called him the 'whistling schoolboy'. But man, he is no idle whistler but a composer of genius; he never repeats the same melody like the cuckoo. .. A life totally dedicated to music - each time he sings, he tries a different raga, sometimes even alters his voice.... and he is a great looker too"

Jaison showed me a snap. I was impressed: "Perhaps no coincidence, but he looks like Ilayaraja" I said.

The whistling thrush is the most disciplined of birds. He wakes with the rising sun, bathes and begins his sadhakam/riyaz. His 'bhoopalam' and 'mohanam' soon calm the woods into meditative stillness; even the wind stays calm lest his sruti be disturbed... When the sun rises above the trees, this avian Yesudas falls silent; but when dense monsoon clouds block out the sun, he makes an exception and delivers an extra performance on an altogether different key.


4. A bit from Khasak (there is chance the reference is to a different bird altogether):

As Ravi approaches Khasak for the first time:

"the whistling call of a bird rang high from up above. The old porter listened with intent: "Its bound to rain in the evening or maybe tomorrow!" he said, for the whistle of the maanian is the harbinger of rains.


5. Wiki: "The male thrush sings its varied and melodious whistling song from trees during summer. They may sing for a long time around dawn but at other times of the day they often utter sharp single or two note whistles. They were once popular as cage birds, with the ability to learn entire tunes"


6. Over to the Guru of Kerala birdwatchers, the late Professor Induchoodan:

The whistle of the thrush lasts but 8-10 seconds; and it is repeated over and over, aloud. Whatever, its call has a certain electrifying quality.... its high decibel level can be attributed to an effort to be heard over the roar of monsoon-fed jungle streams. And when in form, the thrush gives the impression of a Gandharva, lost in his musical offering to Nature. ...

It has been reported that this bird is easily tamed and it settles comfortably in human households. However, one feels its call, which can overpower even the persistent din of waterfalls, could be sheer torture in a quiet human dwelling. But in the sun-dappled depths of a forest, while singing full-throatedly beside a gurgling stream, this little bird adds a whole dimension of sweetness to the joy of Nature. It is pure music that can turn any birder crazy enough to seek it out into a full-fledged poet. Once a like-minded friend of mine asked: "Can one not liken the roar of the waterfall to the rumble of thunder and the song of the thrush to a bolt of lightning?". Sure, my Friend! And those out there who may harbor doubts could consult Keats's ode to the nightingale or Shelley's to the skylark.

And now for a thimbleful of disappointment: The great Salim Ali has said:

"Personally, I would choose as our most accomplished songster, the Greywinged Blackbird of the Himalayas. A number of its close relations, members of the thrush family including the Malabar Whistling Thrush and the Shama follow close on its heels"


7. A confession: I have never seen this bird. And I can't quite remember ever hearing its call. Those who have seen Ray's 'Pratidwandi' (aside: it should ideally be spelt 'pratidwandwi' in English) would recall its recurring recall of an unseen bird's whistling call. Was it our hero (google with 'pratidwandi bird')? As of now, I have no sure answer. The film too does not tell us if Siddhartha's query to an unseen bystander: "what is that bird called?" elicited any reply.


(*) 'urchin' is a translation of the original 'karumadikkuttan' (the latter is the byname of an ancient black stone Buddha idol, now installed in a small shrine in the backwater villlage of Karumadi in Kerala).

(**) Malayalam poets casually use the words "kuruvi"(sparrow) and "kili" (parrot) to mean any "little bird" - Bhaskaran's choice is 'neelakkuruvi' (blue kuruvi). Blue sparrows do not seem to really exist anywhere on Earth. The exact Malayalam word for 'thrush' appears to be 'pullu' but curiously enough, the Mal name of the hero of this post goes "choolakkaakka"( literally, 'whistling crow'). 'Maanian' appears at best a very local name.

(***) Another episode from our mythology: While celestial sage Narada was on a flight somewhere, a garland of divine flowers slips off his 'veena', drifts down and, blown here and there by a breeze, gently comes to rest on queen Indumati - the unsuspecting lady is killed instantly! And moving abroad, one recalls the fate of Phaethon the Greek, who dared to drive Apollo's chariot.


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