Auroville is mostly known until now for the tremendous work that has been done here to reclaim the vast desert of sand and laterite that was all that was left of that land when the first settlers arrived on the barren plateau in the early seventies.
Well, I was among them.
Not that I had ever dreamed of becoming a pioneer of that kind – on the contrary, all this hard work was a far cry from what I had thought at first would be my initial contribution to the collective life being started here. But digging holes and carrying buckets of water and running, stick in hand, after emaciated goats and cows, were the needs of the hour at that time, so it is what I did like everybody else, lost with a unique companion in some arid vasts we had courageously planted with seedlings. Once a week, a bullock-cart would bring two barrels of water that would have to do for everything: to drink, cook, wash ourselves, wash our dishes and clothes, and water the seedlings during the full week. After a few weeks like that, I had become an expert in the art of washing my teeth with only one cup and having a full shower with only a half bucket of that so precious water…
Perhaps two years later, I had the opportunity to take the bus that was bringing from the Ashram in Pondicherry the visitors interested in seeing the first settlements of Auroville. We had very few and very bad roads linking those settlements separated by long distances; on our cycles, going from one place to another represented a long and difficult journey. I realised one day that the bus would be a very pleasant alternative way to discover the other already starting Auroville places I had only heard of.
At some point the bus arrived in a place that was nestled nicely along the big road to what was still then ‘Madras’.
That place wasn’t just starting: its cement buildings that had served as customs offices or something like that, were in the shade of large trees that had stood there obviously since long. When we all got down from the bus, the tourists and I, I stopped in my tracks: I had suddenly heard a sound, a marvelous sound I had almost forgotten existed: birds singing in the trees.
Elsewhere in Auroville, there were no trees. No old trees left, and no new trees yet either.
No trees meant no birds, and so, no birdsong.
My heart sank. I realized for the first time that it had been two long, hard years since I had heard a bird sing.
In Auroville we have all kinds of people, also some biologists. One of them, Boris, is from Russia. For years his simple and deliciously imaginative way of writing some small pieces about Nature owed him a regular place in our internal weekly newsletter, the ‘News & Notes’. Here is one such short piece, written in March 2004, that I am posting here because it is precisely speaking, in Boris’ inimitable way, of that Kaliveli Tank:
News & Notes 6 March 2004
The World of the Winged – by Boris
“A bird has been described as a feathered biped. This description is apt and can apply to no other animal.” (Salim Ali).
‘When the Almighty created the birds, He jumped in joy: “It is very well done!” Maybe at the same time the Lord decided to create the Kaliveli tank too. So many birds gather in this place during the winter season! In February the larks sing in the sky beautifully, like music of the spheres. Their songs are gentle and sweet, they fly like beautiful singing flowers. Everyone who sees and hears these marvellous musicians wants to jump in joy as the Great Creator did at one time.
Eric and Iyanar (from Pitchandikulam) together with me (from Aspiration) visited Kaliveli tank in the morning of February 17th. It is a paradise for bird watching. There were numerous pelicans, egrets, storks, lapwings, herons etc. etc. One by one the predatory pied harriers slowly flew in search of available prey. The females are brown in colour, but the males are very bright – ashy grey body with black tipped wings.
Kaliveli tank is close to Auroville. Now it has a lot of water but in summer the tank becomes totally dry. The Uppukally Creek and Yedanthittu Estuary which tie it with the Bay of Bengal, have a special regime: water at full moon time moves to Kaliveli and in the period of the new moon they have an opposite current. There aren’t so many mosquitoes and frogs in the creek and estuary: its water is salty – of course the saltiness is less in comparison with the ocean.’
Whenever from my house on the seashore I see a few white egrets – my favorite ones…- or a whole magnificent flock of them, flying silently away towards their far migrating other home somewhere else on the planet, I smile at them with gratitude for being so graceful, filling my eyes and heart with the beauty I need absolutely in my life, and I think of this dear Kaliveli tank where they probably stayed while living here, and took off from when beginning this long journey in the sky …
Now if you feel inspired and want to study some more the subject of Birds, but not in a too heavily serious manner, I would recommend you read ‘Evolution of Bird, the Fun Way’ .
It is an early post of mine, of 22 May 2011, which includes a hilarious whole passage from a book by American humorist Dave Barry, where he tells in his usual crazy fashion how birds came to evolve into being… He ends with a few additional paragraphs, a description of Bird Watching, that puts this activity into such a funny light it will be impossible for you after that to go on considering it seriously any more!… You have been warned!