Birds and spirited village women invite Jennifer Nandi’s careless attention as she enjoys Odisha’s pastoral countryside
A Paddyfield Pipit, among the commoner countryside birds, still begs a second look
We have a tight calendar and with an air of sweet conspiracy we connive to make it even tighter. Our intrigue pays off. Instead of permitting the morning to blur into the afternoon’s dazzle, we rise at an unwelcoming hour to drive before the day breaks warm with birdsong to that very place we had made a pact to re-visit.
Our timing is perfect; for as we approach those coffee bean plantations alongside the forests, we are assailed by loud calls. Stepping out of the car quickly, we pursue the owners of those intriguing calls. After an hour’s search, having scrambled through scrub, negotiated through barbed wire our attention not wavering for more than is strictly necessary, we sense that suddenly the air has surrendered all motion. But not those bushes!
Instead of permitting the morning to blur into the afternoon’s dazzle, we rise at an unwelcoming hour to drive before the day breaks warm with birdsong
The Indian Scimitar Babbler, that very elusive bird, shows itself as it pauses from inspecting the moss-covered branch of a tree. It flies off to join others members who are rummaging in the undergrowth for insects. They communicate in mellow bubbling sounds. The male’s musical flute-like calls are immediately answered by the subdued reply of the female. We are rewarded with good views.
Pleasant-faced villagers in Jeypore
We turn around to drive in the direction of agricultural villages and stop at open fields at the edge of the forest. Twittering sounds are coming from the semi-arid scrub that borders the uneven baked mud. But these countryside species receive our careless attention – the Crested Larks in well-defined dress, the energetic engagements of Ashy-crowned Sparrow-lark pairs, the Plain Prinia pouring out its rapid wheezy trill of a song, and the weak flutter of the Paddyfield Pipit showing off its pure white outer tail feathers!
Across the flat expanse we see our guide Tapan waving in the hope that we might stick to his carefully drafted schedule! We are happy having concocted much magic out of our simple morning and demonstrate our enthusiasm to visit the villages he is eager to show us. We stop at the village shop to buy sweets and books to distribute among the children. The agricultural village looks comparatively prosperous with different gourds growing around its outskirts. The elders welcome us and show off their homes. A very dramatic old lady with a bright orange-red cloth wound around her holds a long conversation with Tapan and nods in our direction. She is pleased to see us.
This elderly lady attired in flaming orange is full of the fire of life
Later, when we visit a potters’ village, we are advised to buy heaps of pens besides the cookies for there are a great number of children in the village. They pose with us and obediently sit on a circular platform probably built by a local MLA to be used as an electioneering platform rather than of some real use for the villagers.
Serried ranks of pots flank a single potter working the wheel. He is a young man who must practise the art that his diligent father taught him. Looking at the way he moulds the clay delicately with such proficiency we reckon he probably imbibed the art from his mother’s milk. So adept is he – neither pausing nor faltering – that he smiles at us while holding a conversation with Tapan.
Perhaps the discipline imposed by poverty heightens the villagers’ appreciation of life. Indifference to the natural world is for those who spend their waking lives planning their travel to the next
As I walk through the rest of the village with some of the young men leading the way, I remark at their friendliness. The day’s arduous toil hasn’t diminished their good humour. Maybe the discipline of poverty heightens their appreciation of life and its inhabitants. Maybe, when one is less concerned about personal extinction, one focuses on the world around. Indifference to the natural world is surely for those who have little regard for this world and spend all their waking life planning and scheming about their travel to the next!
Back in the car, a pensive, reflective mood absorbs us both. Tapan gently suggests that we have some refreshments. We had forgotten all about lunch – so engrossed were we in the goodwill and kindliness that we experience in village after village. This feeling would accompany us throughout our Odisha experience. It is possible to see infinity in the ordinary, in the common.