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Story time: The tilted light

Story time: The tilted light

HALF asleep, before Ammi woke me up, I heard birds chirping outside my bedroom window. Sometimes a bird sang to itself, at another two birds seemed to be deep in discussion. During breakfast I would see them pay visits to the balcony, walk on the floor as if trying to appraise the territory. Sometimes they would try to sit on the tilted balcony light. Abu had tilted its square shade because it hindered in the opening of the kitchen screen door.

This year I had a pleasant experience. Birds came as usual, with their antics. Before I knew it, they were trying to build a nest on top of the light. ‘What a bad idea,’ I thought. ‘They will never be able to do this.’

Their activities increased. They got busy bringing in straw, most of which dropped on the floor. Smaller birds rushed in and grabbed the fallen straw.

In the frenzy of who did what, things got to a crescendo. I heard their excited, high pitched chatter through the closed door. With a background of trees swaying in the wind on bright sunny mornings, they showed life at its peak.

Presently, a nest nicely wrapped around the sharp point of the shade started taking shape. The bird sat in it arranging straws in their proper place, grabbing one in her beak and moving it in, the other out. Offhand I named her Rani (the queen). Another bird brought more straw and Rani used it. So he must be Raja (the king).

So far they had looked like some ordinary brown birds. They flew so fast that it was not possible for me to make out any other colours. But now, as they got busy making the nest, I had a better look at them. They both had red breasts. They were robins.

Now I was anxious to see what the robins did next. Over time, Rani started sitting in the nest, with her body nicely fitted in, and her head and tail out. It was probably time to lay eggs. She would fly into the nest, sit and strain, dip her head and do something with her beak, then fly away.

When I tried to move to the far corner of the kitchen to see what she was doing, she would sense my movement and fly away. Later, she learned that I meant no harm. She sat for almost the whole day now, with a tranquil look about her. Raja paid her many flying visits.

In a hurry, one morning, I opened the blind door with a bang. Rani darted away in alarm, then came back instantly, covered the nest completely with her feathers and sat facing the kitchen, looking at me with ferocious eyes.

I sincerely apologised. After that, we developed a working relationship. When she heard some noise, she sat facing the kitchen; otherwise she looked out into the open. Sometimes she craned her neck to see what the noise in the kitchen was all about. I sometime talked to her from behind the door, encouraging her in her effort. She probably understood because she looked at me intently.

Later, Rani started looking tired. She sat facing the kitchen more, perhaps out of concern for her eggs. She did fly out, probably to eat but came back quickly. Sometimes she sat on the railing to contemplate, her feathers in a bit of disarray. Once, in her absence, I looked out of the window and there she was, chatting and hobnobbing with Raja on the mulch, both pecking on the ground for worms, making short flights and chasing each other. Soon she was back in the nest with her preoccupied look.

Rani sat on the edge of the nest one day, doing something in it with her beak. Was she rearranging the eggs or prying them open? Our family had not stepped out or opened any window for fear of scaring her away. I hadn’t even heard her chirp. A while back, she had started being absent most of the day but returning at night. Once, as she sat in the nest, Raja brought some worms and she opened her mouth big. He ducked in. After that I saw them both bring worms and drop them in the nest. They also regurgitated and dropped some food. They couldn’t have had the babies already! It was too soon.

I had wanted to see the eggs. The nest was above my eye level. So, in the birds’ absence, I decided to feel inside the nest with my fingers. Either I would feel the eggs or the beaks. The nest was empty, smooth like ceramic. What happened? Somehow the nest started looking deserted because Raja and Rani paid rare visits. Sometimes they both tried to fit in the nest.

Where were the eggs or the babies? Was it the end? Had they taken away their eggs someplace else to hatch? Had they been disturbed by the kitchen noises?

As far as I could remember, they had been there for just about two months. That was a short period of time. I felt sad for having scared them away. Later I felt guilty and depressed. In my desperation, I decided to search on Google the lifecycle of red breast robin to see if I was responsible for the mishap.

I was not. I found out that robins can breed up to three times a year. The male brings the straw and the female makes a cup-shaped nest. She puts some clay in it and smoothes it with her body. She lays three to five bluish eggs and incubates them for two weeks. The male uses its voice to protect its territory.

I am not sorry any more. I had neither seen the eggs nor the chicks, nor heard any chirping, but I am sure the family, wherever they are, live happily ever after. The nest is there, like an empty house waiting for its occupants. It is losing its lustre, but I shall keep it as long as I can.

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