Saturday, August 25, 2012

Oh, For a Forest in My Backyard

You will notice that in Kerala, people build houses in only a tiny portion of their land. The rest, which can somewhat inaccurately(because of its size) be termed a backyard, is sown with all kinds of fruits and vegetables and whatnot and grows into a dense, care-free forest. This forest is the pride of all Malayalees. It is easily traversed by men in lungis and women in saris who water the plants and lovingly part leaves and branches to look for vegetables or ripe fruit  or whatever else the plant has to offer them. You will often find them standing on their verrandahs and looking contentedly at their overgrown garden.
I am always taken for a tour around this forest and showed which tree is what and earn a beaming glow if I can tell them what it is. Extra points for their Malayalam names.

A while ago, I visited my uncle's house in Kerala and sat by the door watching all the goings on in their backyard. There was so much activity! So much in the air, for birds to tell each other about. Often in Kerala, I only have to casually look outside the window to be afforded the beautiful colours of a kingfisher that would have landed outside just then.
This time, it seemed even the beings outside were celebrating the engagement of my cousin sister. From inside the house, I heard a shrill and loud cackling coming from outside and on closer investigation found around twenty Jungle Babblers flying together from tree to tree and hopping about the ground, foraging and announcing their finds amidst louder chatter.
The house was full of relatives I hadn't seen for many years, but the outdoors seemed so much more interesting. So soon, I established a routine that involved going around talking to everyone for a while and then sitting outside for a little longer.
Each time I doubled back to the outdoors, the air burst a little more with the heady scent of several ripe jack fruits, the crickets' conversation was a little more deafening.  I tried observing the Jungle Babblers, but was frequently, and happily distracted by butterflies that were the bluest of blue and the blackest of black and many shades in between, and by squirrels with brown heads and rumps. No sooner had a Common Golden Backed Woodpecker took off in flight, than a Rufous Woodpecker flew a little closer to my vantage point and kept up a constant rat-a-tat-tat to contest the croaky creaking of the crickets.

It was only reluctantly that I let myself be led away to lunch.

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