By Santosh Bakaya
Title: Birds of Different Feathers
Author: Ampat Koshy
Publisher: Authorspress, Delhi, 2018
PP. 66, Price: INR 250
In this delightful book of 65 pages, there are poems about pigeons, sparrows, the Greater Coucal, the Black Drongo, the crow pheasant, the Black Swan , nightingales, warblers, the raven, the harshly cawing crow – the scavenger with ‘the bright spark of intelligence’ in its eyes (p. 15), the wheeling and reeling eagle (p. 17).
Drawing comparisons between the birds tweeting and the human beings speaking, the poet finds the avian twitters very sweet, whereas, to him, the human beings talking is ‘often just irritating like a pestilential rat’s squeak’. This reminds me of what Walt Whitman had said about his desire to turn and live with animals who ‘are so placid and self-contained / …not one is demented with the mania of owning things.’ Well, the poet’s birds also fill one with such a yearning – a yearning to at least learn something from these charming choristers.
My favorite in the collection is the absolutely heart-warming poem, “The Little Sparrow”:
‘The little sparrow
twittered for him in Tamilnadu
twitters in my college courtyard
twitters in SriLanka
twitters in Palestine
twitters in the Supreme Court
twitters in my son’s special needs school
and even in airports
All it wants is some grains of food’ (p. 65)
As the omnipresent sparrow has frugal needs, can we not take a leaf from it?
Then there is another sweet poem dedicated to the little sparrow, “Fly, little sparrow”:
‘Fly, little sparrow
You have gone beyond
become an eagle…
May your wings cut the air
in a swathe of sunlight’ (p. 60)
This poem appears to be a prayer, a benediction, a blessing, that the poet showers on his child, who apparently seems to have stolen a march over him. Here the sparrow also becomes a metaphor for inner strength and resilience. Despite its small frame, it has the spunk to exhibit the indomitable spirit of the awe-inspiring eagle.
And in another of his heart-warming poems, “My Friends”, he writes:
‘I love you birds,
You are not like human beings
You ask nothing of me…..” (p. 45)
His birds become an allegory for freedom, harmony and peaceful coexistence.
One of the poems in the book also transported me to the iconic filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky’s Sacrifice. (Andrei Tarkovsky’s Sacrifice, p. 56). It was while my daughter was doing a Film Appreciation Course, that I also happened to see all of Tarkovsky’s films along with her. The scene, where Julia runs after the skittering chickens that the poet refers to, is etched in memory. By referring to Tarkovsky’s classic film ‘Sacrifice’, is the poet trying to hint at the ravages that mankind is wrecking on nature?
The poet believes that the ‘Birds should fly free in the sky’ (“A Bird, p. 27).
‘learn from the natural world,
I never saw a kingfisher against its own kind ……
I tell myself – the thought my only prayer
that I light like a candle of no blame or accusation
to blaze and flame like a wish for world peace in my heart
today, of all days – I bow my head.’ (“Independence Day”, p. 29)
This is indeed a book to be kept within easy reach, to turn to, when ‘the weariness, the fever and fret’ of life becomes too intimidating. Just flip the pages, and either a magpie or a tiny sparrow will fly out, bringing happy tidings, drenching one in the soothing notes of love and peace.
Many are the poets who have written odes to birds. Was it not while strolling in the lanes of Livorno, Italy, on a summer evening amongst the myrtle hedges that Shelley and Mary had been enchanted by the blithe notes of the skylark, wishing, that like the skylark, humankind could also
Hate and pride and fear.’
We continue to hear those immortal notes even now. Whether “Ode to a nightingale” was written under a plum tree, in his own garden or in the garden of Spaniards Inn, Hampstead, where Keats had been overtaken by a ‘drowsy numbness’, we are not sure. But the themes of death, (the weariness, the fever and the fret) and annihilation set against eternal renewal and immortality symbolized by the nightingale pouring its soul ecstatically forth, continues to serenade us even so many years after they were penned. Same with the poems in this sleek and pretty book, which the poet, ‘soul unfurled, spirit alight’, pours forth with a breathless exhilaration, ensuring that we never forget his birds and their messages.
One closes the book with a happy sigh, wishing that one could learn something from the poet’s ‘pure pigeons’, who preen and twine their beaks in harmony.
‘They dwell together in the land
I never see my pigeons fight.’ (p. 63)
These lines also catapulted me to that immortal Muhammad Rafi song, from the film, Hum Panchi ek daal key: ‘Hum panchi ek daal key, sang sang doley, boli apni apni boley,’
The publisher has once again done a wonderful job. However, for a book of 66 pages, one feels that the price should have been lesser. This is a book for all lovers of good poetry and also all bird-lovers. Go grab it!
Dr. Santosh Bakaya is an academic, poet, novelist, essayist, and a TED-speaker. She has been widely published and anthologised. Her poetic biography of Mahatma Gandhi, Ballad of Bapu (2014) has been internationally acclaimed and awarded. Her other books are Where are the lilacs? (Poetry, Authorspress, Delhi, 2016), Under the Apple Boughs (Poetry, Authorspress, Delhi, 2017), Flights from my Terrace (Essays, Authorspress, 2017). Besides, she has co-edited many books: Umbilical Chords (Global Fraternity of Poets, Gurugram, 2015), Darkness there but something more (The Blue Pencil, Delhi, 2017), Cloudburst: The Womanly Deluge Global (Global Fraternity of Poets, Gurugram, 2017).
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
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