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Flights Of Reality

N. Kalyani

By M. Krishnan. Edited by Santhi and Ashish Chandola
Aleph Book Company, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 328, Rs. 595.00


Of Birds and Birdsong serves the purpose of a reference book, text book and field guide without being one. It is lay person-friendly. And it is useful for the nature specialist. It brings together the writings of M. Krishnan (1912-1996), which are engaging and fascinating, to say the least. This collection of Krishnan’s notes and writings written mainly in the 1940s and 50s, exclusively on birds, describes the birds with such lucidity and attention to detail that one will, of course, have the joy of reading the book, but will also subsequently and desirably try to seek out the species in their habitats and watch the birds in their neighbourhood and the wilderness.   M. Krishnan’s ability to bestow thrill and frill to what is staid and commonplace is commendable and the descriptions make of bird watching and observing nature fascinating activities.   Although the 328-page book is divided into eight sections, it is only perhaps for neatness of the Contents page, for each piece is a masterpiece and, as the editors note, a stand alone piece, and for Krishnan anything and everything about a bird comes within the remit of a bird note. Those were the Days, Splendour in the Wild, Fond Recollections, Bird Life in a City, Jungle and Backyard, Birds from the Countryside, The Ear that Hears and Bird Flight are the sections that accommodate more than eighty pieces with the writer describing the birds with much flamboyance.   In the Fond Recollections section there is a piece on sunbirds. And how delightfully Krishnan describes the species! Noting that the purple honey-sucker or sunbird is the ‘more aristocratic branch’ of the sunbird clan, he describes the bird as being ‘clad through-out in a scintillating blue and purple livery. A tuft of flame-coloured feathers at the angle of either wing adds further to his claims to superiority. He looks glossy and jet black from a distance, but wait till he comes nearer or a shaft of sunlight catches him, and you will see him in all his sapphire and amethyst glory.’ And after this description of the cock, comes this: ‘The ladies dress in sober khaki with pale yellow aprons.’ How fashionable the bird and what a fashion connoisseur the bird note writer!   We see the crow, the myna, and the pigeon around us. Sighting or watching these birds seems commonplace to us, yet these birds provide material for ...

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