One day not long ago, I decided to convert the tiny balcony adjoining my kitchen into a breakfast joint for my feathered friends.
I began with scattering breadcrumbs on the ledge, but the health-conscious birds informed me that refined white flour was not going to get any customers. I switched to Arhar Dal, which I had stopped eating because it was not of good quality. Apparently, it wasn’t good enough for the birds either.
I was about to give up in despair, when Mammageddon arrived and suggested I use bajra (millet). A packet of the same was duly procured, and grains were scattered on the ledge. I stood by the window of the living room, which offers an excellent view of the balcony without disturbing its occupants. I waited. After fifteen minutes, one sparrow “Came. Pecked. Left.”
In the evening, a lot of the bajra was still there. “Wait a few days. The sparrow will inform her friends today,” Ma said.
The next day, Mrs. Sparrow brought her husband along. I left the balcony door open by mistake. Mrs Sparrow, assuming that this breakfast joint could be relied upon for constant food supply now, boldly flew into the kitchen to examine the gaping hole in the ceiling (for the fan) as a potential home. I had to rush in to inform her that my landlord would not allow me to sub-let the flat.
The morning ritual became a habit. I put out bajra before I had a glass of water myself. In about ten minutes, sparrows, pigeons, and crows began their rounds. I sat perched upon the window ledge and watched the spectacle.
On the first of January, I reached home at 9 in the morning. There was a ruckus on the balcony. A dozen very loud sparrows were perched on the horizontal bars of the iron railing, looking like musical notes that were singing themselves out. They were livid at me for being late. Feeling ashamed, I put out the bajra even before I put the lock and key down.
As I put out the bajra today, one hungry sparrow-lady arrived on the ledge while I was still standing there. With one “cheep” that probably meant “Would you leave already?” she shooed me away. Her pals joined her as soon as the door was bolted.
They follow a hierarchical routine, my feathered friends. The sparrows come first of all. Then one pigeon arrives. The sparrows make room for it. Then another pigeon arrives and hovers around the sparrows, fanning them with its wings. It tries to land ON the sparrows! “Oops! Madam, did I step on your toes/beak/wings?” “Pardon me sir. Is that your tail under my pink claws?” Being stupid and clumsy is very helpful if you are trying to make your way through a tinier population. Anyone who has dragged two trolley-fulls of luggage at an airport and left half a dozen co-passengers in need of knee-replacement surgeries will know what I mean. The sparrows just up and leave in disgust.
The pigeons eat and eat and eat. The sparrows gang up on the downstairs balcony and make some attempts at guerrilla warfare, but the pigeons promptly put up the stupid and clumsy act again.
Three crows fly in formation to the ledge. All the other birds disappear. I wonder if crows dig bajra, or just get kicks out of ruining the party. The peck uninterestedly and leave. It is many minutes before anyone else appears again.
I’m planning to buy a water bowl and build them a swing soon. My own bird circus!
P.S. They are eating so much bajra that they are running up bigger grocery bills than me!