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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Here comes the sun: The magical hours of dawn and sunrise

The crack of dawn feels like a new beginning, as if you are starting life all over again, having discarded any rancour, anger, envy and bitterness from before

Written by Ranjit Lal | New Delhi | September 27, 2020 6:30:48 am
Twilight raga: A whole orchestra of birds performs at sunrise. (Photo: Ranjit Lal)

Every dawn is magical and it doesn’t matter where you are — the city, the countryside, a forest, the mountains, a beach or on the banks of a lake or river. It is more magical than sunset and dusk simply because, now, the world is waking up afresh, brand new and distilled, and not shutting tiredly down for the night.

I remember the sunrises in Mumbai: our home overlooked the whole of central and east Mumbai and the first blue-grey of the sky would gradually lighten to pearl grey and pink. Below us, the great city would stir — people’s voices floated up from the tenements at the base of the hill, drowsy but scrubbed schoolchildren clustered at their bus stops as the sun heaved itself up, turning blinding gold. If you were on the beach (facing west), you’d see the first peach-gold rays set fire to the frothy white wave tops as the fishermen pushed their heavy boats out or brought them in (depending on the conditions), the women and kids waiting quietly on the beach. As the sky lightened from a deep Prussian to powder blue, the sun would shoot its rays through the coconut groves, lighting up the beach, which was still deserted for miles. All too soon, you’d feel the first trickle of sweat down your back and begin heading home.

Here in Delhi, I’ve noticed that all the gravestones in the Nicholson Cemetery next door, face east and it is impossible to see the sunrise because of all the trees. But I’ll never forget the pair of besotted barn owls in the Qudsia Bagh next door, doing the best surya namaskar ever — smooching on a freezing foggy January dawn, while their three woolly babies watched.

On an overnight trip to Sultanpur jheel, we set out well before dawn and settled on a promontory beside the lake. It was too dark to see any birds but we could hear them: the plaintive squeaks of the ubiquitous black-winged stilts and other waders as they probed the shallows: fishing by feel, not by sight (their beak tips are especially sensitive). Up ahead in the dark, we heard the restless rustle of a huge flock of cranes as they stirred, sensing the coming dawn. Even before the sun was up, they readied for take-off, sounding exactly like a major air terminal stirring. On the lake, the thousands of migratory ducks would murmur restively and float in circles — their heads still buried deep in their wings, fast asleep. They’d only stir around midday. Bharatpur (the Keoladeo National Park) was usually fogged over on winter mornings — amidst the gleam of water you could make out the shapes of the ducks and coots. Suddenly, the water would tremble and it would sound like a giant had begun gargling: coots scooting across the water in panic as a marsh harrier did her rounds. Then, through the fog, a flock of bar-headed geese would fly low past you, honking, and plash down in the jheel — how they navigate in these conditions is anyone’s guess.

In Gir, we set off well before daylight — here the colours were a dusky biscuit and beige. You can just make out a leopard, drinking at a trough. A little way ahead, from the dark, the hoarse coughing roar of a lion, establishing its territory and setting out on patrol, makes your hair rise. The same roar would not have the same effect in bright daylight.

In another forest near Naukuchiatal, you set out when it’s still too dark to see any bird. The dark-blue sky begins to lighten and a bird calls tentatively. It is joined by another and, soon, a whole orchestra is going at full volume as the forest rings with birdsong, leaving you mesmerised. In the mountains, even if you’re too lazy to get out of bed, it can be enthralling as the first long sweet notes of the blue rock thrush break the stillness and silence. Soon, it’s joined by mellifluous bulbuls and white-eyes and even an enthusiastic tailorbird who gives two hoots about talent. Far down the mountain road, you hear the guttural mutter of a diesel engine labouring up the hairpin bends and changing gears and you know that the world, too, is waking up. But in the mountains, it’s worth hauling yourself out of bed and going out. Every leaf, every web, every petal, every dragonfly’s wing is pearled with dew in this bejewelled garden.  Stretched ahead, you can barely make out the peaks of the mighty Himalayas until, suddenly, a peak is touched with pale peach gold. Then another, and another — the colours still pastel and not the brittle beer-bottle gold of sunset. These magical moments are gone far too soon as the sun gains strength and the dew vanishes.

Dawn and sunrise feel like a new beginning as if you are starting life all over again, having discarded any rancour, anger, envy and bitterness from before. As for that vanished treasure chest of dewdrops — worry not. It’ll be there again tomorrow, reminding you that there are some things you can’t take with you but which you must appreciate.

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