I was asked a few days what my favourite song was, and as anyone who is even slightly passionate about music will know that that is a question that never has an answer. There are always a few songs that manage to never disappoint you, but there is never that one song that you know will definitely never give up on you. But I found my favourite song a while back, and this is how I was lucky enough to have the ears to hear it.
This was a few odd months ago, when I was aimless enough to walk around my college campus late at night. I like to generally look out my windows during dusk, when the birds in the trees are starting to settle and they invite silence as quick as darkness is invited. One of the most amazing sights I have seen is during late evening, when the birds perch on the highest branches they can find, and shoot out simultaneously and fly across the small patch I could allow my eyes to see, covering everything blue with an ever moving conglomeration of dark and light. I made sure I had ten minutes every day to witness this. Later at night, most of the trees are silent, and one can only hear the random burst of white noise when some scared little bird finds that it is not alone. It was a similar night; it was not expected that I be followed by a sound that was going to haunt me for weeks after.
I tethered myself to stray thoughts and noticed that there was one particular sound that faintly tugged at my ear drums. It sounded like a whistle; it was definitely some kind of music. But it seemed like it was coming from above me, from the dark leaves that gave away nothing but the sky beyond it. I assumed it was some other human whistling, and that was when I heard it again. And again. That night, I heard that tune numerous times and various distances, and I have to say I have rarely been confused as much. It was most definitely a whistle; no animal was capable of producing that sound, and that musical note. But I knew for a fact that it could not have been a whistle, with its changing positions and unexpected randomness, it had to be something more primal. It had to be some invisible bird that will stop singing after a while; making me blind to it forever.
I heard the sound numerous times in the coming two weeks, because I kept listening for it. Sometimes, now that I think of it, it might even just have been my ears trying to fool me into believing I had heard it again. It was, without a single ounce of doubt in my mind, the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. But I never saw the bird; it hid with its shyness on the tops of trees, shrieking and inviting me to look for it. But I was only a short girl who could barely life her eyes to look at the sky, looking for a bird that was deliberately hiding was just not something I could get myself to do. But nature is only so unkind; I got a chance to find the bird in the coming week.
It was cold, dry morning, and I was just as far into the day as I had been into the night before. It was very early, the sun had only been up for a few hours and I could still hear all the birds chirping. It has hard to distinguish between all the sounds, but I knew my ears would not lie to me if they did hear the sound I was trying to listen for. I had enough free time (it was a Sunday), and I was finally rewarded. I heard the whistle, it came from a tree much too far from me and I wasn’t sure if it was heard correct, in spite of my confidence. There it was again. This time I was sure it came from the tree right in front of me. I entered the patch of grass that I had never entered before and looked around, trying to find source of the sound. Another whistle. This time it was so much closer, I could’ve sworn it was coming from inside me. And as soon as I looked above me, I saw a little bird fly right into the branches, floating downwards until its feet found a wooden fence underneath them. It was for a few seconds that I saw it, and it shot up again into its foliage. The fence was a few yards away from me, and my deceitful eyes did not help me see the bird clearly. It was like the bird had learnt the last few weeks learning to mock me, and had swiftly shown me itself to tell me there was no way I would ever know if I heard correct. In those few moments, I knew it was black or very dark blue, and had a white throat. Or white wings. I wasn’t sure if this was the bird that I had heard and hunted for the past few torturous weeks, but I had one opening and I wasn’t going to let it pass me by.
I wondered if my searching skills will help me find the bird that I had seen. So I used the internet and looked for a “black bird white wings”, and “black bird white throat Gujarat” and every other combination I could think of. I put in my geographic location as well, but I could barely come close to what I wanted. I even looked for “black birds singing”, and found precisely nothing. So I knew I had to work harder than that. And that is when I came across this.
This was a list of all the birds in my geographic location. I had one and only one lead; and the thought that I might be wrong about it (it may not be the singing bird at all) was something that I couldn’t allow myself to think. So I scrolled the list; slowly and steadily, trying to jolt my memory to find one bird that matched my description. I found atleast four.
Fortunately, a little bit of thinking from my side saved me the trouble of having to realize which bird it could be. I do not live near the ocean, so all the sea birds were out of consideration, even if they were black and white. I first thought it was a white-breasted woodswallow, but I knew for a fact that swallows aren’t known for that musical singing. It could also have been a white-browed fantail, and I stacked it as one of the possibilities as I knew nothing about fantails. Going through the list, I was struck by a horror I didn’t imagine would affect me so much.
Some of the birds had no images put up for them. I just knew that the bird I was looking for was one of those. But I steered clear of that disappointment by thinking that I will handle it when time comes. By this time, unless the reader hasn’t already noticed, finding this bird had become a necessity. This was going to be the only victory I was to see in the past (and eventually the coming) months and I needed it like I needed a lungful of breath. I could not let the bird go. It had become an obsession, and I am not proud of it, but I had to find the bird that had managed to keep me cooped up under its wings for months.
And that is when I saw it.
The black bird. Patches of white on its wings. It was a Magpie robin. I knew robins are known to have beautiful voices and I was sure it was the bird I was looking for all along. So I searched the bird on YouTube, and found a half-good audio of the bird’s singing. I was holding my breath as the video started to play.
But… This wasn’t what I had heard. The sound was unmistakable, it was perfect. It was the same, shrill whistle I had been hearing since the past month, but it wasn’t the same tune. The sound I had heard was melodious, it was straight out of a cheery musical instrument. It wasn’t raw and primal… But I knew I had found the bird. Now, granted it is shameful to admit when something so ordinary could have really made an impact on me, but I remember the bubble that risen from the base of my stomach slowly rising up in my throat as it stuck there as a lump in my throat. I had finally found my bird.
But I wondered now whether the bird I had heard had been one bird all alone. The melody was unmistakable. If I didn’t find that same tune anywhere on YouTube, maybe this bird had learnt it by itself. Maybe it had been the same bird sharing that one tune with me all along. I still have no idea whether that thought brought me solace or depression, because I knew that if it was the only one bird, it wouldn’t be long before I stopped listening to it altogether. I figured if a song is good enough, it is all right if you can never listen to it ever again.
It has been almost 3 months since I found the bird. And I still hear it sometimes. The rains have made it sing even more loudly, and I hear it everywhere I go. I wonder if there was any way for me to explain to the reader what I am listening to, but there isn’t. Maybe I am being fooled by my own self; maybe there is no bird, only a remnant of a sound that possessed me, not willing to let me go. Or maybe the square kilometer in which I live has some magic at work. That the birds around me have conspired to make me hear the same song again and again until two years from now, I leave to not return. Maybe then I will never hear my favourite song again.