There is a pair of black kites nesting on a tamarind tree in front of my bedroom. From my balcony, it is not possible to see the nest as it’s too high up and obscured by branches. Which is a good thing maybe.
Decades ago, in Bombay (as it was then), a pair of kites had set up residence in a peepul tree in front of our fourth floor verandah — and in this case it was possible to look down at the kite’s residence and spy on their family life. It certainly wasn’t the sort of family life your parents would have fondly envisaged: two chicks were usually hatched, at an interval of a day or two and the raison d’etre of the elder chick’s existence was — getting rid of his or her younger sibling: By beating it senseless with tiny wings, smothering and most of all viciously stabbing the baby of the family till it lay bleeding and forever supine, after flapping and cheeping weakly for the few days of miserable existence it was fated to. And, of course, as always, it was the parents who were to blame!
They ignored the little one’s plight, and the mother would lavish all her TLC on fattening up her lout of a first born, ignoring the runt. The reason was ruthless: The second chick was nothing but insurance, a back up in case something dreadful happened to the ladla beta (or beti). Then there would always be another to carry on the family’s good name (and genes). Two are less risky than one, but once the first baby thrives, the second (no matter how cute) is redundant. Time to dump it and Baby 1 will have its cake and eat it too! Alas, some nations seem to be following a similarly horrific policy.
For their prince or princess, the parents were always en guarde. When you appeared on the verandah, the mother would slip off the nest, drop height and swerve around the side of the building, out of sight. Here she would circle and gain height — and then come screaming down around the shoulder of the building in a blazing dive, beak agape, talons extended, straight for your eyes. A fairly deep overhang prevented her from ripping off your face or plucking out your eyeballs, but you could feel the rush of wind from her wings as she stormed past. The dive bombing attack would be repeated — and I must say, it did give me huge thrills, especially while trying to photograph it (not very successfully — there was just too much excitement!). But I soon realised that I was unnecessarily upsetting the birds, so I began to avoid standing out in the verandah openly. We had to warn unsuspecting visitors not to do that either. Here in Delhi, I spend winter afternoons out on the balcony and would not like to be dive-bombed by an infuriated raptor mom at regular, sudden intervals. So it’s just as well I can’t see them and they can’t see me.
Not that I haven’t regularly rescued foolish fledglings, and they owe me. Over-confident teens invariably crash against the walls of the house and have to be rescued as they lie bewildered in the garden, playing dead as you approach. Now you can examine them closely and admire their beautiful, goldstippled chocolate plumage.
Usually, they are undamaged, just dazed and need maybe half-an-hour of quiet contemplation to get their act together. And within weeks, perhaps, they will be acrobatically diving down between a spaghetti of cables and live wires to snatch up a flattened rat from the lunatic gullies of Daryagunj right under your car’s front bumper.
Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and bird watcher
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