By Tanaya Nair
My life seemed to have geared into overdrive during my final months of college in Bombay, and I felt as though I was finally in sync with the hectic pace of the city. My reward for graduating with a B.Sc. in Zoology was to set off on a dive trip on a live-a-board in the Similan Islands in Thailand, followed by two months of dive training in the Andaman islands to be certified as a Dive Master. Instead, everything I had planned for and had been working towards was cancelled. Who would have thought that a virus would turn life as we know it upside down?
Instead of holding my breath and rolling backwards off the boat in Thailand, I found myself back in the home I grew up in. Uncertainty and doubt filled my bedroom as I struggled to come to terms with what was happening. A few days into lockdown, it felt as though someone was slowly turning down the volume of the constant chatter of the radio that was spewing updates of a war. I heard Amma watering the garden and noticed how she had allowed the plants to grow freely, without imposition, to make it look tall and brave like a forest. She did the same with her children. As I wrapped myself in my floral quilt of turquoise cotton, I realised that this was an opportunity to let go, listen and observe. I could finally hear the gentle sway of the leaves on even the tallest tree in my neighbourhood. I felt my breath get deeper and gentler. I heard the familiar sounds of eight paws walking on the mottled tiles of my floor and onto the dry leaves in the garden.
The naturally overgrown backyard garden at Tanaya Nair's Bangalore home. Photo: Tanaya Nair.
Every day a pair of resident Red-whiskered Bulbuls arrive, swift and quiet, to bathe and preen in hanging pools of water. Their occasional absence leaves us disappointed and checking to see if their pool is in good condition. Our tailorbirds come in pairs too, singing their sweet songs. In the evenings, a group of mynas bicker, while the Rose-ringed Parakeets leave a feathery gift of green and blue by our doorstep. My favourite though is the Purple-rumped Sunbird. The males show off a glorious green crown, purple rump, and a yellow belly on a dark body, truly outshining their dull female counterparts. They hover upside down to drink nectar from the flowers in our forest. One special evening, I hear the call of the Greater Coucal, and can’t stop calling “oop oop” for an entire day after that. On rainy nights, the slugs and snails explore the floors and walls bravely, while Cocoa, Ruby and I tread lightly to avoid collisions. One particularly stormy evening, a squirrel’s nest drops from a tree above. I prop up the nest on a shrub and wait patiently. In a short while the mamma arrives. She inspects the nest, flings her baby out of it, holds it in her mouth and scurries up the tree.
As time passes, old leaves wither at the arrival of new ones, and Cocoa’s vision diminishes. Her eyes are grey; a colour that always seems on the eve of changing to some other hue. Even Amma and Accha have become more sensitive and fragile. My bulbuls have two fluff-ball fledglings now, the parents work tirelessly to teach them to fly short distances, and bring back worms and fruits in succession.
A male Rose-ringed Parakeet (for representative purposes only). Photo: Arun Kumar Gupta.
While I lie on the grass and watch the clouds move past a light blue sky, a tailed jay passes above me. Ruby is lying beside me and I see the whites that have replaced her brown and black coat. I see her fur making waves and whorls around her chest. I see her eyes that have turned cloudy but still looking intently into mine. Once again, my life seems to have synced with the rhythm of my home. We bask in the sun, take cover in the rain, tread lightly and trust that we can share this space together. My forest isn’t a rainforest in Agumbe, I’m in the heart of Indiranagar in Bangalore. Yet, I need not travel to understand ecology and biodiversity. All the lessons I seek are right here, at home.
People will go to extreme lengths to guard their home and protect what they love. When you give yourself a chance to listen and live with wildlife in your backyard, you will notice that your home isn’t limited by your walls, it includes everything around you. You don’t need to study science and travel to remote locations to be a conservationist. Voice your opinion, loudly, boldly and vociferously to protect what you love.
Tanaya Nair is a student beginning her career in wildlife research and conservation. She is most herself when she is looking for birds in a forest, hovering over a coral reef or dancing in her living room.