‘Walks around Mussoorie? You must be joking!’
‘Footloose up here? And all those cars ready to mow you down!’
‘Where on earth does Ruskin Bond see those whistling thrushes?’ complained author Anees Jung, adding for good measure: ‘Or Stephen Alter’s crowing koklass pheasants? When does one spot Bill Aitken’s migrating bar-headed geese?’ Anees had escaped, or so she thought, to get away from the blistering Deccan summers and ended up in a modern-day concrete wonder astride the Mall.
There are, believe me, walks for the believers. The infidels may drive on.
Take twenty-six year old Officer Trainee Abhigyan Sankar of the 88th Foundation Course at the Administrative Academy. He had walked into one of my classes to learn the delights of writing with light.
This time though, the joke was on me.
During his five month training he soared above the delights of the Code of Civil Procedure to make the time to photograph over a hundred birds of these hills by the simple expedient of using his two feet. The Birds of Mussoorie, his first book was a run-away success. I’m told a second edition is on its way.
Or take the petite Puja Sharma, a banker from Delhi, whom I bumped into on the Upper Chakkar in Landour. ‘My claim to fame,’ she gushed at me, ‘is that I’ve photographed the elusive Spectacled Male Finch which hadn’t been spotted for years!’
So, here’s my free advice to bird-watchers: the next time you’re up here, choose where you stay with greater care!
Chosen with care is the Parsonage, surrounded by a canopy of oaks, rhododendrons, deodars where amid a fine strawberry patch the retreat of famed actor, Victor Banerjee, stands. On a quiet day, you will find him with a pair of binoculars, a pile of bird books, happily conversing with the Red-billed blue magpie or the Black-throated jay. I don’t blame him for disliking the pesky crows. They flap in from the nearby army Mess, with desiccated scraps in their beaks to moisten in his bird bath.
‘They muddle the water!’ he moans.
Muddling is exactly what happened years ago, when, as luck would have it, Mrs Sheila Bhate, his mother-in-law arrived. A no-nonsense person, she had arrived to keep her daughter, the beautiful Maya, company while our thespian hared off to perform as Christ at the York Mysteries of the York Festival in England. What, mom-in-law did not approve of was sharing her strawberries with the birds. In the old store, she stumbled upon a crumbling stuffed-toy panther. Pleased with herself, with much glee, she hoisted it in the middle of the garden in the manner of a scarecrow to frighten away the avian marauders.
Of course she did! Almost out of a year’s growth!
And the skittish visitors left the fruit, left the garden and left the locality not to return. A full month later, Victor returned. He shook his head in disbelief. Poor fellow! Aflame with indignation, he failed to join the dots of the plot and sat there gloomily, with the binoculars and bird books beside him for hours on end, scratching his head, puzzled. Where had the birds gone?
It was, a reasonable question, if you asked me.
Bad news was that mother and Maya were not telling. Nor was I! Sworn to secrecy, our lips were sealed!
Six months later, the Simla tits too, forgave and forgot and returned to gambol in the water once again.
‘There’s nothing like birding in the hills!’ Victor assures me.
How true! Who am I to tell him that for once, he is right?