Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Walk on the Wild Side

We have a new friend, of the winged variety. I’m fighting the urge to give him a name (hopelessly anthropomorphic, I know. I had a tea-pot called Enrico, so there’s no hope in this department...) and was considering Percy, but that would get him mobbed, here in Mumbai. I’m now thinking Pakhi, which means “bird.” What do you reckon? Anyway, he comes every day - if you sit very still, he comes right in. Mr Roland’s less than thrilled by the advent, because Pakhi’s a pigeon, but I’m honoured by his presence. I choose to believe that it’s the same pigeon, every day. The possibility of there being Pakhi I and Pakhi II and Pakhi III, ad inf., is unpalatable to me, so it’s fortunate that all pigeons bear a passing resemblance to all other pigeons. Flying rats, Mr Roland says, but I think you have to be a bit more ornithologically condolent. I’m not feeding him (yet), Pakhi comes to peck between the window runners, where I can only suppose there’s microscopic life.

There’s also life, on the ledge, outside our bathroom. Pigeons, again. A man comes to check for leaks, since the rains are giving all the mortaring what-for, on the roof. He opens the louvred door between our shower and a hundred yards of fresh Powai air. This is a first for me - I look at the little bolts, as I slap on the conditioner every morning, but I’ve never actually opened the door. Now I do, I quite see why I haven’t. Our man doesn’t find any leaks, but he does find eggs. Poor, poor pigeons, making a nursery out of hostile concrete. But, human babies are born, every day, on the streets of Mumbai, with paving-slabs for cradles, so it should be no surprise that the birds have to make do and mend. The nest’s right by my window, which explains why I think Ma and Pa Pigeon are actually under my pillow, cooing and flapping, first thing in the morning, with their avian PA system. The only drawback that I can see, is that, should we ever have a break-in, as the burglars jemmy their way into our apartment, we’ll just say, “Oh, drat the pigeons!” and roll over back to sleep, as the felons stuff their booty bag full of laptops and carved elephants in elephants. The Pasty-face Who Cried Pigeon.

Yesterday, the discussion, in the car, concerns the Cow with the Poorly Leg, which lives on the road, as you turn into Powai from Parkside. She has a problem with her front nearside leg, which seems not to bear weight. I wonder, since cows are objects of veneration, here, and you can expect two years in prison, if you run over one, why no-one has brought this limping specimen to the attention of a vet. According to Monu, “Many people no like the cow!” Today, he says that, retracing his steps after dropping me at home, yesterday afternoon, he comes upon the cow again, and this time he stops, and gets out. “I examine the cow,” he says. Dr Singh reckons it’s a birth defect, there being no sign of injury or breakage. You can take the boy out of the farm, I tell him, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy. I’m just being utterly charmed, when I remember. How come he’s allowed to touch the cow? I get out of the car, to take a photo of the Cow with the Lying-Down Horns, on the road to Powai Lake, and Monu whips on his Bovine Police hat. “No touch the cow, very danger animal!” Aforementioned cow does not want to be patted, I discover, but I think it’s a language-barrier thing. A toss of the head, a flick of the ears, even I can understand that. When the ears wiggle, the horns move too. If you don’t believe me, here she is. Or he is. I wasn’t born on a farm in Uttar Pradesh, like some, so what would I know?

Since we’re on a wildlife roll, here, let me tell you that the kites are back - black kites, and plastic kites, both. The birds are such a feature of the Mumbai skies, I don’t know if they get wet feathers and stay indoors, for the monsoon, or if they slope off to sunnier climes for the duration – I imagine the thermals are a bit damp, in the rainy season, for lazily looping the loop all the livelong day. But, they’re in circulation again, which has to be a good sign. The little – and not so little – boys are back, too, flying their kites, to the peril of life and limb. They balance on a concrete plinth by the roadside, spanning the railway, with power cables overhead – it couldn’t be any more dangerous, unless they had a burning sword clenched in their teeth, and a loose tiger fore and aft. If kite-flying were an Olympic sport, we’d all be whistling Jana Gana Mana by the end of Week One. It’s an art-form, and these boys are masters, even with a kite made from a supermarket carrier-bag.

What's more, it's dragonfly season. At home, it’s rare to see more than two, in one eyeballful, but here, they hunt in packs. Or flocks. Or shoals. Whatever the collective noun is for dragonflies, they’re doing it, and very beautifully too.

The monsoon’s still monsooning, and I’m getting twitchy about our UK visitors, due this weekend. On Tuesday, the rain’s so heavy and insistent, the roads flood. Monu and Tariq can’t get back across town to go home, and have to sleep in their cars. I’m just about to ask, if they were warm enough, when I have a small internal geography lesson, concerning climate, and keep my mouth shut. (It was bound to happen, at some time....) I refer to the car, wittily, as the Hotel Innova, but I am appalled, nonetheless. This morning, however, the sun’s streaming through the windows, like the first day of the summer holidays in Enid Blyton stories.

I delegate meteorological responsibility to Monu, who’s quietly confident. “Last rain, Saturday. Sunday, no rain. I arrange.” I’m not the only comedian round here, I see...