- Ishita Das
The Liana Forest Farm
I reached Liana forest farm only subliminally aware of where I was headed, mainly drawn to two friends I had known for over a year and a half but hadn’t met. These two were instrumental in my return to India, and that part wasn’t going quite as planned. Chetana and John were farm sitting, and let me just say it is exactly what it sounds like. And it is the sounds of the place and its quiet gifts I want to pay homage to.
Chetana describes bird calls as donkey braying (red-naped ibis), last few drops of pee (was it a myna or bulbul, the point is, these are personalized), as she and I both agree that some of the common mnemonics don’t always carry the same phonetic representation for everyone! I heard the clic clic of the common kingfisher and saw this manifestation of chrysocolla malachite and burning golden amber in feathers, for the first time. There were two of them, at times, once in the cattail grasses shoring the lively lake behind the property and once right behind the patio/dining space on a branch hanging over the dried overflow pit. Another lifer was the ruddy breasted crake by the edge of a shallow pond.
The five lovely dogs worked on a composition of their own for a girl raised by wolves in the evening, after giving me a loving reception in the afternoon. It rained every evening I was there, sometimes in the night too, causing quite a dip in the temperature and a rise in the number of flying termites. I was in the dorm style cabin alone and I remember a beetle or a bug banging against the bathroom door several times, and drummings and scrapings of ants moving their nests through the window right above my bed. I moved my pillow to the other end so as not to disturb them with my snores (or get bit). One fine evening the three of us sat in the patio and it started pouring, John explained how a fly got stuck, swinging to pendular death, on spider silk left behind by one trying to reach the roof bars from heaven knows where. Usually these threads are not sticky, but because of some capillary action between the thread inadvertently meeting the flying termite’s oily wings or body, the termite remains stuck. Without becoming wrapped dinner.
Then came Magi, the magpie robin, who had successfully picked off a big huntsman spider from the very same beam the previous day, turned around to show off before eating it. Magi wasn’t done showing off. Different acts on different days, in the rain he started to serenade in every tune pulling them right out of the rain. Crooning to the audience of a disinterested fellow magpie robin male and one interested but not invested, female. I think Magi sang for us, leaving the dripping branches of the bamboo right beside the patio, headed state for another beam, looking at us over the shoulder. Barely opened bills, but stretching and pulsating the throat... Magi sang his heart out. And for the first time, after weeks of turmoil, with a constant battle and buzz occupying most of my executive brain faculties and fuguing the limbic ones, my inner voice got through to me. It was going to be okay, I was at a beautiful farm with a starry couple, who were oh, so patient with me.
The farm has some exotic animals that were adopted by Gerry because the owners could not take proper care of them. It is not just shocking but preposterous that UNTRAINED people think they can take of wild animals brought from other countries and climes. One such eeejit (pardon my Irish) was the reason I saw a magical creature, surely left over after the elven era on earth: a bush baby. They have triangular pointed ears, eat worms and fruit, and woo with giant loris eyes. Their bouncing caliber is of a wicked mega bounce XTR ball on steroids. Faster than flash he could scale all four sides of the large cage with a special tree hollow home he lived in. But only at night.
The magic just hangs in there at night, waiting for us with new tricks, except since it is nature, the tricks are not an illusion. On another night walk, just after staring at a spider that is so still and so skinny that it is called a twig spider (Ariamnes), and seeing an ant mimicking spider (golden backed) we felt a pair of eyes staring at us from the other side of the path to Chetana and I... John was farther up on the path and shed some light on the eyes of a beautiful juvenile Indian Scops owl, on a low branch about 8-10 ft away. Obviously, Chetana and I were frozen in time and space. He/she did his figure of almost-eight head moves, checking us out. Then came his wondrous sister/brother, same age, with a huge katydid in the bill. To my utter amazement my legs didn’t melt like the rest of my body as I saw the insect being turned into food-gift for the first one! Gobbled quickly. Followed by some more hip-hop bounces looking for more food on the ground.
Then two sets of eyes on us as we quietly left them in the dark, giving each other “Can you believe what we just saw owl-eyes!” Starry -starry night...
Talking of stars, I shared oxygen with Romulus Whitaker (the man, the legend) and Janaki Lenin (writings aside, her recipes for salads are to die for and I forgot to ask where she shops for her clothes!).
I stayed a day longer than I had planned to and left with rain songs and owl cuddle warmth in my heart.