Thursday, April 3, 2014

House Sparrow Memories

It is the 1960s timeline yet again, this time, about the then ubiquitous House Sparrows.  
Click on the link and read - it is in Kannada. Kagakka is a she-crow and Gubbakka is a she-sparrow.
In italics below is the English translation [thanks to my veteran friend Gouri Satya for this] for non-Kannada readers:

“In a little village, lived Kagakka and Gubbakka. Kagakka’s house was of mud. Gubbakka’s house was built of stone.  One day it rained heavily. Kagakka’s house was washed away in the rain. Thinking of what to do, she went to Gubbakka’s house and knocked ‘tuk’,‘tuk’ on the door. When Gubbakka asked who it was, “I am Kagakka. The heavy rain has washed away my house. Allow me to stay for a day in your house” said Kagakka.

Gubbakka replied, “Come after five minutes. My husband is eating now.”

After five minutes, Kagakka again knocked ‘tup’, ‘tup’ on Gubbakka’s door. When Gubbakka asked who it was knocking on the door, Kagakka replied that it was herself. Then Gubbakka said, “Come after five minutes. My children are eating their food.”

Kagakka returned again after five minutes and knocked ‘tup’, ‘tup’ on Gubbakka’s door. Gubbakka immediately opened the door and asked Kagakka to come in. “Where will you sleep?  There are rice bags, wheat bags, Bengalgram bag,”, Gubbakka asked Kagakka.  Kagakka chose the Bengalgram bag.   

After some time, there was ‘Katam’,’Kutam’ sound. When Gubbakka asked what that noise was, Kagakka replied, “I am hungry. So, I am eating some grains of Bengalgram.” Gubbakka asked her to eat without making any noise.

Kagakka ate quietly and slept. She flew away after getting up next morning saying thanks to Gubbakka, to build a new house.

There are a few variations of the story but this is more or less the same I had heard in my childhood, except that the ending was slightly different.  In our version, Gubbakka wakes up the next morning and finds Kagakka missing, so also the entire content of the bengalgram bag and to her disgust Kagakka had pooped a huge smelly heap after eating so much of bengalgram grains!  The story ended there and left us wondering.  We fell asleep in that wonderland and never questioned why, when or how!  The next night was the same story!  It was the top bedtime story in our generation. It thrilled us because real kagakkas and gubbakkas were an integral part of our neighbourhood.  By the way, there was a Subbakka [in fact it was novelist 'VaNi'], also! 

There were plenty of kagakkas and gubbakkas in those days.
In the evenings the racket created by the murder of crows [flock] to reserve their space on the branches was sometimes too noisy for tolerance.  We were also used to get splatted on our heads and shirts with hot crow-poops [crows were black but their poops were white!] walking under the roadside trees.  Such was their number which has alarmingly declined due to several reasons. The chirping of the sparrows in the shrubs at dawn was as pleasant as it was noisy at times. The cuckoos, sunbirds, tailorbirds and sometimes parakeets and mynahs also joined the chorus.  Good times they were!
It is sad that we have reached a day when 'World House Sparrow Day' [March 20th] is being observed worldwide and there are several 'Save the Sparrow' campaigns!  

Let me share some of the Sparrow [gubbi or gubbacchi in Kannada] memories from my childhood I spent at the famous 1100, Devaparthiva Road, Chamarajapuram [Pictures that follow are taken after sparrows disappeared - all the greenery were created by my own hands - except for trees].

Front yard. 

Side yard shrubbery.

Front yard - right.

More shrubs near the gate. 

Entrance gate.

House sparrows had thrived because they got their food by various means.  Hand cleaning of grains at home and throwing the bad ones out in the yard was enough for them and they knew that the ladies who were culling rice would sprinkle the broken grains for them. They roosted in the nearby shrubs and also made nests inside old houses which had roof tiles where they found suitable crevices.  We had a lot of shrubs and plenty of open spaces in our yard as did many houses, which they loved. They lived happily where they found plenty of seeds, worms and insects. In the olden days, kitchen waste water was let into the earth behind the kitchen where also a small vegetable garden used to exist.  So they found something there also. It was a common sight to see sparrows flitting here and there.  I relived this sight when we visited the Andaman Islands recently. See a few pictures down below.

Sparrows also controlled the small pests in the garden and because of them we hardly knew of any infestations!  We realized this only when they disappeared from the neighbourhood when the infestations began to ask our attention!

Sparrows flying in and out of the house was a regular affair.  We had not known of any superstitions of a bird flying into the house, both positive and negative. Otherwise, my grandmother would have amplified them no end! They had made a nest inside the damaged portion between the beam and the wall near the ceiling. They used to enter through the mesh grills or through the broken portion of the glass ventilator in the hall [picture below].

The sparrows would sometimes perch on those photo frames. That is the beam I mentioned above. 

  When our house was painted in 1970, the nest was closed with a piece of cardboard.  From many angles this nesting business was reaching a level of nuisance.  We had respite thereafter.  The invasion of concrete monsters and electronic mobile towers in peaceful old cities drove these sensitive little birds away.  Mysore also became a victim. Their number quickly declined when they could no longer make their nests when people started cutting away shrubs, paving open grounds and stopped throwing out grains in the open and old houses gave way to concrete ones. 

Sparrows still thrive in the city but in just a few areas, esp. the vintage Devaraja Market. Its old structure has provided shelter to the sparrows for all its life!  Their food also is just there!  The following two shots are from April 2013.  The blue tint is from the plastic sheet they have hoisted as sun shade. 

House sparrows are quite abundant in the world, but disappearing in many places.  In Switzerland they live happily.  While a sparrow enjoys the park the other takes a mud bath.

In the Andaman Islands, they are at peace, even in the Cellular Jail! 

These little birds foraging on the ground and flitting near our hotel at Port Blair brought back nice memories of those beautiful days at Devaparthiva Road.

Sparrows have lived with human habitation, but human urbanization has driven them away.  Many bird-lovers are making their little attempts to invite sparrows back by making bird-houses and spreading grains, but many experts opine that the proliferation of the mobile transmitting towers is one of the main causes of their discomfort in cities, being extremely sensitive birds.

I close this, mimicking the typical whistling-chirp of the sparrow.
Let's hope to hear the Sparrows chirping back. 

No comments: