Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Aakkaatti : The Red-Wattled Lapwing

The experience of waking up in the middle of the night to the strange call of an unknown bird is chimerical. More so if one is fast asleep under the open sky, drenched by the carressing rays of the Moon. An eerie followed by a nameless longing, almost bordering on melancholy, will fill one's heart.

It happened long ago. During one of the summer vacations in my school days. I patted my grandfather who was fast asleep on the other coir cot beside and asked him what it was. He said it is the 'Aakkaatti bird' and went back to sleep. The incessant chirping of the crickets continued. And i remained wide awake. After a short while, it again echoed from the dark blue sky : the yonder cry of the Aakkaatti. I searched for the bird in the sky. I could see only the twinkling stars and the silent Moon looking at me. There was no bird anywhere.

The cry of the Aakkaatti became a metaphor of my lonely nights as my life turned more nocturnal. Everytime i visited my maternal grandfather's village, the nights will be filled with mythological stories narrated under the falling stars and the displacing constellations, the gazing Moon and the chirping crickets. The croaking frogs replaced the crickets during rainy season. Everything else remained the same. And the cry of the Aakkaatti will wake me up in the middle of my dreams again to be found nowhere.

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!


  1. When I read this I am instantly reminded of Guru nanak waking up in the middle of the night, composing poems, singing them and remaining generally awake through out the night. When asked by his parents to sleep and not to destroy his health he responds that even the PAPIHA is doing kuhu-kuhu and remebering his Master at this hour of night, so how can I go to sleep.

    So this wonderful bird Aakkaatti not just surveys the night sky but must be giving a call to all those who are interested in listening its correct import to remember their Master and spend the night in singing HIS glory.

  2. read earth and pouring rainMarch 11, 2010 at 3:38 PM

    Last para is amazing, dear. why can't you start or end any post with this kind of beautiful myth/anecdote/tiny stories. Bird is the idiom of freedom, elegance, beauty. I don't remember any Bird is not looking beautiful, not enjoying its life. It takes its home on its hunch back where ever it goes. it flies away from our 'homes' and takes its position on the meandering branch of the nameless tree, looking at you and me poignantly. The perfectly orchestrated movements of birds flying to the HEAVEN from this parched earth or sliding down from the sky to its halting of the denuded trees, are elevating experience. been to Vedandhaangal recently where one bird was gliding into the water so smoothly at steadied pace. that moment of timelessness cleaned the 5 months of my summer in Tamilnadu.

  3. Its really amazing to read about your random musings. Everyone were engrossed, especially the one about this wonderful Aakkaatti bird! Its a bizarre one and very fasinating. Birds are one of the most beautiful creations of god's gift. Sometimes i used to feel why didn't god create me as a bird..

    As I was keenly reading about the Aakkaatti bird.I felt i was blissful, as i got the answer for the turmoile that I've been through all these days. I usually sleep late night when am in hostel. It was at the time i heard peculiar sound of a bird. Though i tried to have a look at the bird each time i heard the sound, i couldn't make it up as it would fly far.. I kept thinking why it sounded so and what was it searching far??? But later went through your musing about this bird, I was so surprised to know that this was the bird that i was searching far..

    Though I've read your musing about the Aakkaatti bird,I still feel like reading it again and again! So, I expect and iam eagerly waiting for such unique and interesting stuff from you..

  4. Very good experience shared.

    Kids living in flats in city can not come across / explore such wonderful experience unless they go to village (grandparents house if existing).

    During my childhood, I used go with my friend to a pond(used only for drinking water)during summer holidays (after all the exams are over).

    There, we used to sit on the trees for hours together. No one used to be around except somebody who comes off and on for taking drinking water. Those lonely silent moments sitting with a close friend in summer holidays (exploring the quite atmosphere) were great!


  5. It reminds me of my juvenile years where i find solace to my struggling souls from the chirpings of birds... In GOBI i used to visit a park in the evenings only to listen varied sounds of gave me some unusual feelings to listen in the evenings than in early mornings which i dont know how to that time also i didnt have any affliction towards specific sounds of birds like what u have mentioned...
    After my fifth standard my senses become totally numb by varied social pressurs and i hardly remember the last time that i heard the sounds of birds like what i heard during my younger years....

  6. The characteristic sound of the bird Aakkaatti as you said is 'Did-he-do-it' & 'Pity-to-do-it'. This bird can be likened to kakbhusundi Ji [who narrates Ramacharitmanas to Garuda Ji]. So Kakbhusundi Ji hears some chanting in the distance and thinks that somebody is chanting the name of Lord Rama. But having doubts, he approaches near with the sound 'Did-he-do-it'. On approaching near, when he sees that the fellow is not chanting RAMA but KAMA, he is disappointed and chirps 'Pity-to-di-it'.

  7. Thank u for the nice description of the bird red wattled lapwing.I am happy to inform u that the name of my blog is 'ittittippullu' which means Aakkatti bird.