Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on May 29, 2020 Published on May 29, 2020


Bins is in the backyard when I call. “Hear that chirping?” he asks. “Of course,” I say. A pair of red-vented bulbuls are shrieking at him. I can’t identify them from the racket they’re making, but Bins had mentioned them before. “Leave the poor things alone!” I tell him.

“Well, I’m only trying to help,” he says. “I’ve been watching them for a few days. First they made a nest, then they sat on it and now the babies have hatched. But they’re too adventurous! They keep jumping out of the nest! Next thing I know, they’re on the ground.” With cats prowling about. And other birds. And humans who might not be careful where they place their feet...

“So of course I’ve been putting the little nut-cases back inside the nest,” says Bins. “Oh dear,” I say. “This story’s going to have a sad ending.” “Not so far,” says Bins. “The parents are getting quite used to me. The reason they’re making such a noise isn’t me.” According to him, there’s a little hawk perched on a nearby tree. “He’s looking away, pretending he doesn’t know why the parents are yelling like this. But he knows! He’s just waiting for his chance.”

I tell Bins that I’ve been reading a very interesting book called Wildhood, by two authors, Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers. “It’s about the period between childhood and adulthood, which is usually called ‘adolescence’. The authors felt they needed a word that better described this very difficult period in the lives of all creatures — including your bulbuls — so they called it ‘wildhood’,” I say. “A time when young creatures, including humans, must learn to fend for themselves. They’ve got to take risks. Like driving cars without a licence or jumping off branches before they can fly.”

“Risks!” exclaims Bins. “This is more like a death wish! They don’t even have tail feathers. Every evening I say goodnight to them, thinking they’ll be gone in the morning.” I nod wisely on my side of the planet. “Yes, according to the zoologists, wildhood is a dangerous time for everyone passing through that phase.” The book focuses on other animals as well as humans to illustrate its points. Apparently all living creatures experience adolescence in some form.

“I’m sorry,” says Bins, “but these bulbul parents don’t seem to have the least idea how to look after their chicks. The nest is very cute and nicely made, but the babies just keep popping out onto the branch! Then they totter about wanting to be fed until — plop! — on the ground.” “What are they doing now?” I ask. He says all three are inside the nest, keeping very still. “Meanwhile, the parents have called in their friends and now all four are yelling at the hawk! He is still looking far away!”

Then, quite abruptly the frenzied chirping dies down. “What’s happening?” I ask. “Mr Hawk got bored and flew off!” says Bins. “Happy ending to the drama!” For today.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

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Published on May 29, 2020
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