This is an old story, but not that old, as it was told by Nabbu’s budh bui, his great grandmother, to him when as a child he was learning to explore his world. Now Nabbu, also known as Naveen Singh Rawat works for the Uttarakhand Transport Corporation and is settled in Haldwani. His ancestral foothold is a village near Kausani.
This story is about another village. A village where his ancestors lived before, they moved to Kausani. Clutching on to his great grandmother’s Gattu- Pakh, the traditional black woollen dress of Bhotiya women, Nabbu started moving out of his home boundaries. It became a daily routine. Nabbu still remembers some of the stories that budh bui narrated during those walks. The most interesting one is about their native village where she used to live earlier. And which is no more.
Because they lived in such close communion with nature his ancestors knew that large landslides were probably going to happen in and around the village where they had lived for centuries. They also knew that it was time to move. So, the villagers formed scouting parties to look for safe land to make their new settlements on. The clan scattered to different locations. Nabbu’s family ended up in a dense forest grove near Kausani. They cleared a small piece of land and built makeshift structures to call it home. Life gradually returned to normal with its daily routine of milking cows, grazing a few goats and tending small fields that sustained the seeds they had brought with them from their old village.
It was a new world, much lower than their ancestral village in the high Himalayas. There were lots of birds and animals, some of them were actually new for them. As the enthusiasm of escaping the danger and living safely in a new settlement evaporated, they began to realize that something was missing in their new life. The womenfolk being more sensitive identified this void.
All this happened when Nabbu’s Budh Bui was herself a kid. Soon the women who were older started talking about the sparrows that had lived in their houses in their old village. The cause of the gloom was identified and collectively established by the women. They remembered the sparrows, how their life rhythms matched theirs. How they danced around the suppa to get their daily feed, some of them brave enough to even land on the suppa as it stopped momentarily.
These daredevils were even named and all the women knew them well, their personalities and the tricks they got up to. How they started chirping with the dawn, followed them to the cattle shed, hovered around the place where they washed utensils as if participating in the current gossip going around. How the mating season resumed annually with the tireless job they witnessed in the making of nests and how they sometimes abused and cursed them for creating a mess. And how they curiously observed when the nest became active and the chicks started making noises, how feathers appeared on their fragile pink bodies and the innocent flutter of wings signalled the arrival of new players in their stone paved courtyards.
Sparrows became talk of the small hamlet so much so that the men folk became convinced that happiness would only come back to their lives if somehow, they could get the sparrows from their abandoned village. They even cursed the women for forgetting the sparrows when they had left the village. The women had their own arguments in defence, they had been busy collecting herbs which are not found in lower elevations. Herbs that they used to brew the stuff they drank every evening.
Finally, the women were able to convince their men to go back to the abandoned village to catch a few sparrows and bring them safely to their new home. And so it happened, that the men went back to their old abandoned village armed with ringal baskets and feed which the women made specially for the birds.
Sitting on the edge of their village, Nabbu’s budh bui shared this story with Nabbu while she showed him the flock of sparrows sitting on the roof of their house.
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Featured and top photo: Sunil Kainthola, Boy in Doorway: Naveen Rawat and Sparrows: Vijay Butola