Love, death and other stories: Great Indian Hornbills

This weekend may haunt me forever. I saw The Great Indian Hornbill feed his brooding mate for the second time in my life. It was my third encounter with these magnificent birds in the Western Ghats. I also watched a person die, a few meters away from me, in a horrific road accident.

I am unsure what affected me more – the death of a stranger or the return of a friend.

Great Indian Hornbills, Valparai

Early last December, I had spotted this hornbill couple courting each other (above picture). A month later, I saw them again. This time around, he seemed more comfortable around me – although I suspect that it is just my wacky interpretation of normal bird behaviour. I was just happy that they hadn’t shifted houses.

The weekend was in fact off to a rousing start. On Saturday morning, two Great Indian Hornbills flew above me in the foothills of Valparai. I pointed at them, like a confused child, and mumbled – unable to control my emotions. I couldn’t bring myself to focus and take a decent photograph. I wasn’t dejected though; only confident that they would visit me again.

Great Indian Hornbill, Valparai

In the evening, I went to the spot where I had last seen the couple. Much to my chagrin, there was a crowd waiting for them. I waited for over an hour before they started to disperse. Only a few lingered around. By then, I had met an eager conservationist who was enthralling me with his birding stories. The others were swapping jungle book fantasies.

Suddenly, a helicopter-like sound filled the air. I could hear the familiar flaps of giant wings. I grabbed a clump of my own hair and said aloud, “shit, hornbill”. We watched, with our jaws split wide, as a Great Indian Hornbill descended, like a creature birthed by imagination alone, on the nesting tree. He looked like a flaming Chinese lantern against the dull evening sun.

The next morning, I was there at 5:30 AM. I waited inside the car, tapping my fingers to the sound of insects dying on electric fences meant for elephants and gaurs. Finally when the light of day spilled through – so did my beautiful friend. I could see then the upper part of his beak was broken. Still, he looked like he could swallow the sun.

I photographed him as much as I wanted to, and left with a lot of love in me.

Later that day, I was inside a taxi, on my way to the bus station. I felt content about the trip, even happy about the days to come. In February, the hornbill chicks would be out, learning to fly, feed and fleece our hearts dry of love, laughter and languid days.

While on the bypass road in Udumalpet, we noticed a motorbike, with a family of three, speed past us on the left side. A minute later, we saw them – about 100 meters away – violently crash into an elderly couple, on a moped, taking a turn towards their direction.

The husband and daughter were flung with force into a nearby ditch. The wife had hit her head on the road as she flipped over twice after the collision. A few of us ran in to check on her, and found her motionless in the middle of the road. She had a broken neck, and was bleeding profusely from her head. We didn’t lift her off the ground immediately because we were afraid of making things worse for her. The husband was on his knees, holding his chest in pain; he looked in our direction and begged us to help. Their daughter was still trying to regain her balance; her face and arm were all torn up.

A large crowd gathered in a matter of seconds. We called the nearest hospital to send over their ambulance, and to check on what we could do. They just asked us for the location, and advised us to keep her as still as possible.

I was late for my bus and so I decided to leave. As we drove away, I noticed the elderly couple involved in the accident. They had sustained only minor injuries. They had their eyes to the ground, as blood trickled down their hair.

Great Indian Hornbill, Valparai

It is one of the visuals from this weekend that I can’t seem to get out of my head. Death, in general, has been on my mind since then; the tragedy, not the eventuality, of it. But I feel like a self-obsessed and insensitive fool even thinking about it.

As time goes by, I am sure that I will remember this weekend for the third encounter I had with the Great Indian Hornbills, and not the tragic passing away of a stranger.

I just don’t know how I am supposed to feel about that right now.

Great Indian Hornbill, Valparai

Where do poems go
when words so miserably fail?
Maybe they should follow
the Great Indian Hornbills
as they pierce through
the light of day.

(Photographs: Valparai)

23 thoughts on “Love, death and other stories: Great Indian Hornbills

Add yours

  1. Stunning pictures and writing, as always. Agree that death in itself is no reason to despair, but the eventual form may be a source of tremendous distress for those involved. I wish peace to everyone here, victim and spectators alike.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So tough..yet sadly, so common on our highways…. maybe when we see the birds, we wish pain would flap its wings and take off to a place beyond the clouds. Maybe that’s what happens. Wish you all good things in the new year Christy. A soaring 2016.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Beautiful thought, TP ❤ I think birds do make me feel better, be it an accident or any other sort of suffering – outside or from within.

      I wish you an incredible year filled with love too, my poetess pal.. And the finest, the maddest and most gentle confetti to decorate your summer with (big smile)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautiful post C, and what gorgeous birds these are! We have a lot to learn from birds, and perhaps patience and love from The Great Hornbills. I think poems go to sweet sleep when words are missing or few. Lovely poem.
    Sorry to hear about the accident.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you C for encouraging me always, and for inspiring. It’s almost a year since you began blogging here, and I remember the beginnings, the conversations about your blog then and about the times when you’d just started birding. Now, look at the kind of repository of beautiful birds and lovely words verseherder has become. So proud of you. What is most touching is that your love for birds, and eagerness for sharing them with us is still the same as on day one. All good things to you, my favourite birder x ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  4. “…the death of a stranger or the return of a friend.”
    No words to explain it well for me. But your post talks in all the levels of this touching story… This is life, with born, with death… I haven’t seen a bird like this one before dear Christy. It is something like coming up from the animated cartoon… But yes the correct expression is animated cartoon comes up from the reality of the nature world. As least the inspiration. Thank you, Happy New Year, Love, nia

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Much like the Ibises, the Hornbills remind me of the Instant Alien bird character from Looney Tunes! So definitely you aren’t alone in expressing your thoughts about them that way.

      Much love and light to you for the year ahead, dear friend ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  5. What magnificent birds – and how lucky you were to be able to view them. Yet, such a terrible accident to be a witness to… so sorry that you had to experience that. Perhaps the birds were a gift – a reminder to embrace life’s little gifts while we’re able.

    Liked by 1 person

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