I don’t have a penchant for birds of any particular kind. I do not want to be sentimentally attached to a pet or to any living creature lest I cannot give full attention and care for it.
My uncle used to trap merboks, a kind of singing bird. He had that uncanny talent of spotting a bird landing area just by looking on the ground. He would walk around the wastelands. At certain strategic spots which to the untrained eye would appear ordinary he would stop. ‘There !’ he exclaimed pointing to the ground in front of us. Sure enough. The sand and grass appeared disturbed a bit. There were little marks and light scratchings around them.
He would then go about setting up his trap. It was the primitive type. It comprised one of the spokes of a golf umbrella with a string attached. At the end of the string was a loop laid out over a perch. A step on the perch would trigger off a backlash, and the trap is sprung and the loop would tighten around the bird’s leg. Very simple but very effective.
He would have to check it early the next morning lest poachers (man and animals alike) might not beat him to it. If that happened he would exclaim the same word everytime ‘bingkas’ (meaning ‘sprung’), even when we were 10 metres from reaching the ‘sprung trap’. He could ‘smell’ a spung trap from a distance in the dim light of dawn.
It took time to train the newly trapped merboks, though. The good ones apparently could engage in a melodious reaction just to a snap of the fingers from outside their cages After some time the good ones got sold. These were replaced by some newly trapped ones to be trained yet again. That was why he had many of them all in their cages hanging around his house all the time.
I told him I was fascinated with birds with bright colours but not his drab looking merboks (where incidentally a good one could fetch a tidy sum from the right people)
One day he brought home for me a ‘serindit’ akin to the parakeet (a long tailed smaller parrot-like bird, green in colour). It didn’t cost anywhere near to a merbok but it was just as adorable.
It came in a special horizontal egg-shaped cage with a bamboo shaft in the middle as its perch. When in the mood, it would jump down from its perch and walked and the cage would turn. The cage would twirl round and round when it went faster. It was fascinating to see how it seemed to be enjoying itself, running. It fed on rambutans, and occasionally bird seeds. Salt was an absolute no-no, it would be fatal, apparently.
I had a wonderful time seeing the cage twirl every now and then. However, after some time even at that tender age of 10 years I could feel the cruelty and guilt.The serindit was imprisoned through no fault of its own.
One fine morning, I had an inspiration. I told myself I would just let the serindit decide for itself. I would open the cage door and ‘see what gives’. It would have to make its own choice. I was sure it would, bird-brained or otherwise. Let us see. Would it or would it not. I would open the cage door and see what would happen.
That I did. I had it opened. It must have seen me doing it. It flapped its wings, still perched. No, it wouldn’t. Yes, it would. It walked a few steps to the left as if to decide, then back to the right. It flapped its wings again, the cage rocked. In that split second, in the confusion, it suddenly made it through the cage door!
Yes it did! Clever bird. It decided for itself. It flew out and settled at the edge of the roof. It looked down, surveying, seemingly debating what to do next. It took a few steps, stopped as if to say good-bye and flew away never to be seen again. It was victory for me, for having helped the bird to decide. How very satisfying. The bird was free to fly wherever it desired to go.
A few years later I sensed that strange sensation of victory when I passed by my old school, the Victoria Institution (V.I.) in
These birds would swamp out of their nests as a flock, flew out and disappeared behind the trees and appeared again to later land on the pigeon houses again. I had that same feeling when my serindit flew out and perched on the roof. It was free to decide to fly out or to land. I was glad that I had made the choice to release the serindit years ago.
When I got on the monorail recently, fast tracked to 2008, passing V.I. towards
The mosque is spotless white, a stark contrast to the drab and dirty Pudu Prison abandoned for some time now just barely 1 km down the road.
The Prison is such an eyesore. It is premium territory. Many parties had registered their interests as reported in the media not too long ago.It should be turned into something better, an ultra-modern commercial centre, office complex or park or anything at all, just so it is more kind to the eyes.
Hafi my elder son, when told of the birdhouse plans I was working on endorsed it readily but without the excitement yet. However, deep inside I believe he was happier knowing that there would be some impending economic activities on the vacant land.
Hafi was fascinated with birds. On one occasion he had nearly 15 of them on his head, his shoulders and arms at one time and he could still hold the tin of bird seeds in his hands. It was
With the birdhouse, I suppose he’ll be directly involved in due course. This being a long term venture, and he being the elder boy. He would have to take upon the responsibility of managing it in time. Only one birdhouse now, maybe more later. Time will tell.