The call of the koel (cuckoo bird)
Have you heard the koel calling? What does it make you feel? I remember as a child returning to India for the summers. That’s when the koel is heard the most- a beautiful high pitched call.
I would sit around in my grandma’s home listening to her call and calling back to her. It was one of those lazy, fun, harmless childhood past-times. While the adults busied themselves talking to each other, I would be busy talking to the cuckoo bird. He always answered back, louder. Then I would call louder and then he until he’d grow tired and stop leaving me waiting for the next round.
The Koel’s call now, after all these years, is still sweet but it does not sound fun anymore. I do not find it annoying as yet as some people may but there’s an uneasiness that’s hard to shrug off.
It must have been 4 a.m. or half past three
When I heard her call
Once, twice, thrice and stop
Still dark outside
I cannot sleep, neither can she
I hear her voice, again
Once, twice, thrice; an urgency hard to shake
Reaches a crescendo
And then it stops. A silence.
I strain my ears; will she call again?
The whirring of the fan
Tirelessly revolving; the sound of the air against the blades
The calls begin once more
Once, twice, thrice; a desperation
Louder, faster, louder
Gaining momentum, an impatience, a restlessness
Is it a call for the rains?
The earth an inferno, no longer bearable
Or a lonely heart’s cry for a soulmate?
She starts again and stops. Silence.
Once, twice, thrice, she calls again
And continues untiring, relentlessly
And when she stops
I hear another
is it an answer, a response, a confirmation?
Are they sharing their sorrow?
Or is it a desultory conversation
Or are they praying in unison?
What is it that bothers them so
The infidel, selfish cuckoo birds.
I will never know what it pines for
For the rest are still asleep
And it is only I who hear
Sense her longing and feel her anguish
Is it really her then or is it me?
Note: It is the male cuckoo bird who calls koo-o-o koo-o-o. But in the poem I have taken creative liberties to refer to the bird as a ‘she.’ For those of you who haven’t heard the Koel’s call, I have attached a video of it below.
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