Since i could never see an Aakkaatti in the night blue sky, not even the shadows of anything flying, the bird assumed panoramic shapes with varied faces in my heart. As i drifted away from my small town and the periodic visits to the village, it travelled along with me to distant cities. Milan Kundera says that life is a constant struggle between memory and forgetting. The memories of the sounds and the smells are as deeply etched as that of the images and the emotions. Even if Time - the Mahaakaal - has taken away my grandfather from me, the smell of the Earth can make me sense his body odour and his physical presence, everytime it rains. I can even hug him then. The sound of the Aakkaatti brings back to life so many starry nights which are deeply entrenched somewhere in the cosmos. The only solace of inhabiting the cityscape is that it does not rain on the Earth and there is no Aakkaatti around. So that we can continue with our masked lives without getting much perturbed.
It was in 1998 when that incident occured. Dhruv and me were suantering through the jungles of JNU when he suddenly stopped me. He pointed out at quite a large bird, with long slender yellowish legs, brownish wings and blackish head with a white patch running from the neck to the underbelly till the tail. I saw the shining red wattle around the eyes extending towards the beak. The bird was standing on one leg on the surface of the land and was looking at me. Dhruv, my birdwatcher friend from Assam, said it is called the Red-Wattled Lapwing famous for its calls in the nights. When he mentioned about the calls it makes in the nights, my heart skipped a beat. I looked at the bird again and told Dhruv that there is a bird called Aakkaatti in my village which also makes crying calls in the nights. Though the bird which we saw was beautiful, i could not compare it anywhere near to the Aakkaatti which lives in my mind's nest. I told him that this bird which we were seeing cannot belong to the same species as that of my Aakkaatti. As my Aakkaatti wont be standing on the ground for it always inhabits the skies.
After returning to the hostel, Dhruv checked up from the voluminous Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan by Salim Ali and S.Dillon Ripley and confirmed that it is called as Aakkaatti in Tamil. The characteristic sound is rendered as "Did-he-do-it" or "Pity-to-do-it"! Only after hearing an interesting mythology associated with this bird, i could get completely convinced that both my Aakkaatti and the Red-Wattled lapwing are one and the same.
And the mythology is : this wonderful bird surveys the night sky to make sure that every living creature is fast asleep and then it gets back to its home, to sleep on its back with its legs up in the sky, holding the heavens!