Ode to a Summer Songstress
It is a scorching May afternoon. As I watch from my perch at the window, the streets empty out as denizens of the city retreat into the cool confines of their houses for a much-needed siesta. Even the patchy stray dog in the corner has limped its slow wavering way to a shady spot under the sparse hedge. The ‘Lady In yellow’, the amaltas, festooned with golden blossoms, has stopped preening itself and has settled into a lethargic and apathetic nod of her regal head. The Gulmohar and Jacaranda rustle quietly, resigned to the vagaries of an unrelenting sun. There are no children playing ‘nukkad’ cricket to be shooed in, out of harm’s way. The landscape has gone quiet, like a freeze frame. A whisper of a dearly beloved but long-forgotten melody caresses my ear delicately, breaking into my heat-induced inertia. The languid notes float in on the dusty winds with a seductive whisper that beckons the listener like a siren song. Then, as though the singer has overcome her initial stage fright, the notes become stronger and peel out with an insistent, operatic fervour. I look around, seeking the source of the melody. The blinding rays of the sun make my task well-nigh impossible. A glimpse of ebony black, hidden in the foliage of a mango tree reassures me. Yes, it is my old friend all right. So, I just hold my breath and listen. The rich melody holds me in its thrall. Strangely, my inertia has dissipated. I feel invigorated.
My mind flashes back to my precious childhood. Vivid images of summer vacations flash before the inward eye. The sprawling colonial Army house in Jabalpur with its resplendent mango trees, the chattering parrots taking refuge in the foliage, my cushioned seat under the tree, the squirrels playing around fearlessly. And the call of the koel inextricably melded with all these images. Like the metaphorical musk deer in search of ‘kasturi’, I would spend my summer afternoons in search of the koel whose call for me was synonymous with free spirited serenity. Her melody at times had the simplicity and innocence of a coy maiden. At other times she belted out her song with all the gusto of a rockstar.
Even after so many decades, these images bring to mind a sense of blissful freedom. The call of the koel was for me a harbinger of days spent in the lap of nature as a free spirit. A precious memory I saved up for a rainy day. Somehow, over the years, caught in the humdrum of life, I had let this image slip to the bottom of my memory cache. A glimpse of the sculpted ebony head brought it all back. Even today the rhapsody of the koel inspires me to be free, to look the world in the eye and celebrate the joyous palette of life. John Keats immortalized the nightingale, his light-winged dryad of the trees. This summer my more plebeian Muse spurs me to write this loving paean to my summer Songstress, the Koel.