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Summer Arrives In Jaipur! At Savista, The Nightingale Starts to Sing!

Asian Koel (Indian nightingale)
Asian Koel (Indian nightingale)

April 14 was celebrated as the start of the new year by several culture regions of India. The people of Tamil Nadu and Kerala in southern India celebrated new year’s day as Puttandu and Vishu, respectively. In Bengal (in eastern India) it was Noboborsho and, in Orissa, new year was Maha Vishuva Sankranti. In Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and the Mithila region of Bihar (all in northern India) new year was celebrated as Baisakhi, Bishu and Baishakhi, respectively, while in Assam in the north east new year was Bihu.

Although India is a country of sub-continental proportions with mind-boggling diversity, one of the many unifying cultural forces is still the centrality of the agricultural cycle and the rhythms of nature in the lives of the people. One major harvest has just been brought in, and another agricultural cycle is set to begin, in what is hoped-for as an unceasing cycle of prosperity. The sun has reached its peak, and and will remain so for the next two months; summer is now entrenched across the subcontinent.

In the northern Indian plains, no creature of nature announces this seasonal change more eloquently than the Asian Koel, known as the Indian nightingale. The Koel’s lilting call is unmistakably associated with the summer – the onset of the dry stifling heat, the gradual browning of the soil, followed by the longing of the parched earth for life-giving rains… As the Koel waits out the summer heat, its musical notes get more and more persistent, intense and haunting almost as if its heart (and throat) would break were it to have to wait any longer for the rains. Its song has become a metaphor in north Indian classical and folk poetry and music for all that is beautiful, yet heartbreaking, about love and longing.

Almost to the calendar date this year – April 14 – at the break of dawn, we heard the Koel’s first call of the season. A little later that same morning, we once again heard its clear notes coming to us, this time from just outside the haveli. There, almost within arm’s reach, perched on the highest branch of the almost-bare Karanji tree that has just begun to sprout new leaves, fully visible and totally unaware that it was being watched, sat the singer. We could see its glistening jet-black feathers, its bright red glowing eyes, its large body and long tail, and its throat muscles vibrating with every trill. Such a rare and amazing sight, given that Koels are among the shyest birds we have, whose natural instinct is to hide themselves. All through the summer they will sing from dawn to dusk, from behind a camouflage of thick foliage. And they will fall completely silent the moment the rains arrive, to be heard again only at the start of next year’s summer.