The White Brested Waterfowl
© Copyright 2023 by Chaitanyamoi Chetia
The waterfowl in the kitchen. Photo by the author.
In the morning as I go out for a stroll in the grassy land I would see a few waterfowls roaming in the field; they would stealthily glide along the walls of our house and to everywhere, chirping as they passed by. Sometimes, they would accelerate their walking with their long legs and would conceal in the bushes; and would try to hide in a course of bricks placed next to one another near the boundary walls. They would plod in a surreptitious manner, so as not to be seen or heard by anybody, and they would hide quickly. Most of the time when they did that, I would try to glance at them, and peep through the bricks running horizontally, but these birds were so fast in their movements in concealing themselves that I could not see their long white beaks nor their bodies anymore.
“Wak! Wak! Wak! Wak!” came the chirping sound of the waterfowls. With her chicks the mother would stride along my window side chirping in the morning.
Wak! Wak! Wak! Wak! they chirped as they traipsed everywhere feeding on insects, earthworms, and shoots of some plants. Sometimes they traipsed near my bed before the sun’s rays fell in the meadows; sometimes singly and sometimes with chicks and their sounds made me arise quickly from bed.
My grandmother loved to feed one such waterfowl that would come near her; it would enter the house through the steel fabricated grills and sometimes to the kitchen. “The waterfowl comes to me and is not afraid of me,” she said to me in joyfulness while we both were observing the bird.
I would not give much interest to my grandmother’s sayings, until one day I saw from a close distance that the waterfowl was entering the house and slouched near the furniture of the room and then to the kitchen. “This bird really loves you,” I said to grandmother, and immediately clicked a photo.
“Look! how this bird enters inside in search of edibles,” grandmother said, “it walked on tiptoe with a view to avoiding the utensils being falling down on to the floor and traipsed all over the shelves and marched away.”
My grandmother loved people also; sometimes she would gossip with other women for hours; giving them advice! When an acquainted man would bring long fine strips of cane to her, she would serve the man with tea and hot flat bread of flour.
There was a “saloni” hung in the outside wall of the house; it was traditionally used by the Assamese people, and it was made from fine bamboo strips having heavy sequences, meshed with embroidery work. The frame of the saloni was torn, and so she needed cane strips to knot the borders of the saloni. “It has become difficult for me to separate husk from rice, now I shall amend and modify the frame of the saloni with cane strips,” she said to the man and praised him for bringing the strips.
She also had fondness for the people of our housing colony; when someone would come to arrange the soil for plantations, and would make beds for flower saplings, and would bring down betel nut as well as coconut from the trees with a long bamboo stick fitted at the top with a harvesting sickle, she would give money, and a coconut as a compliment. When people assembled our house for works she thought it a duty to serving them tea with round flat breads.
“Give them biscuits and tea, instead!” I said to grandmother, “now you have become aged, and you will feel ache in your waist and in the wrist of your hands and forearm if you cling to preparing flat breads.”
“Nothing will happen, preparing a small quantity of breads will not give stress in my body, and I am adapted to preparing these things,” grandmother said, “I used to prepare dozens of such breads once.”
“There are biscuits! You may hurt your body and may twinge, therefore I am telling you.”
During the day time, many men and women came to our house; they would press the calling bell and would stand outside for my grandmother. My grandmother with an incomplete nap would come out and would help them in whatever way she could. I came to learn that between the 1980s and 1990s of the last century when my father had been a school boy then, many relative uncles of our native village used to stay at our house. My grandmother did not get much physical rest at that time as most of the time she had to be busy in her daily chores from cooking and gardening and watering the vegetable plants and preparing school tiffin. And grandmother did not feel any trouble taking care of my uncles.
“The waterfowl is ambling there,” I said to grandmother as I saw it striding here and there, jerking its body with its long bill picking up grains and seeds.
“This waterfowl always comes to me, and waits for me to eat rice from my hands,” grandmother said.
Sometimes I could see my grandmother dispersing rice on to the floor whenever she would see a waterfowl jaunting to her in search of any edibles. This bird would always try to attach itself with my grandmother; I also learnt that birds often returned their emotional feelings of love to human beings. This waterfowl that spent most of the time in wet marshy land and in swamp area of our house boundary developed closeness with my grandmother, and I was amazed looking at it. I also saw that whenever I would slowly walk near it, the latter would immediately run away and would try to hide in the course of bricks that lay near the boundary walls, or in the dwarf small bushes in the swamp areas.
Today morning again I saw a waterfowl running from the marshy area to the course of bricks making continuous sounds – “Wak! Wak! Wak! Wak!”
Seeing the bird coming, I gave the news to my grandmother. “The waterfowl is coming,” I said.
“I haven’t seen that particular bird for the last few days,” grandmother said in grief, “I don’t know what has happened to that bird!”
“It has come to the backyard and is sauntering near the wet areas, look at it!”
“Let me see,” she said, and gave a glance at the bird.
“Look!” I said, “this is the bird that used to come to you!”
“No! no! this bird is not the one that used to come to me.”
“Are you sure?”
“Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!” grandmother summoned the waterfowl. She repented that the waterfowl did not come near her, and was not concerned at my grandmother’s voice.
“Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!” again grandmother summoned the bird. The bird did not approach her, but marched away.
This time I was certain that the waterfowl that used to come near grandmother had been disappearing for the last few days.
“The beautiful waterfowl must have become a prey to some people,” grandmother said in agony, “whenever it would hear my voice, it immediately ran towards me.”
The attachment of the waterfowl and my grandmother made me believe that the waterfowls have emotions and they showed their deep feelings of love to people and they cultivated an emotional relationship with my grandmother. These birds returned their feelings of beatitude to a human being; moreover, it was an emotional attachment; this waterfowl would walk to my grandmother and then forage along the edge of water body. It would come close to her with long toes and short tail making loud and repetative calls and it had developed a faith in her; it shook its tails to show its feelings of love to human beings; this bird used to remain with her for many minutes, showing a feeling of beatitude to her. It pleasantly flapped its feathers seeking attention without moving away when my grandmother came near it and that showed that the bird was rapturous seeing her, and she was also jubilant in her mind at the affection of the waterfowl.