MANY YEARS ago when I was a young man, I happened to spend a
summer with my friends, the Wints, in Oxford. Guy Wint was on the staff of Theobserver
and was away in London most of the day. His wife, Freda, had convertedto Buddhism and was also out most of the time meeting fellow Buddhists. Theirson, Ben, was at a boarding school. For company, I had the Wints' three-year-old daughter, Allegra. In the mornings I worked in my room. When Allegrareturned from her nursery school, I gave her a sandwich and a glass of milkbefore we went out for a walk. Since she knew the neighbourhood, she led theway along paths running through woods of oak, beech and rhododendron to theUniversity cricket grounds. I would watch the game for a while – the nawab ofPataudi often played there–buy her an ice-cream and then follow her backhomewards.
Allegra, or Leggie as we called her, was a great chatterbox as well as an
avid collector of wild flowers. Our return journey always took much longer asI had to pick whatever flower she wanted. She would point in some directionand order: ‘I want those snow-drops behind that bush.’ Or shout, ‘Goody ! Iwant them bluebells ! I want lots of them for Mummy !’ Then there wereperiwinkles and lilies-of-the-valley, and many others. By the time we had ourhands full of flowers, Leggie was too tired to leg it home. I had to go down onmy knees for her to climb up on my shoulders. She had her legs round my neckand her chin resting on my head. A game she enjoyed was to stick flowers inmy turban and beard. By the time we got home, I looked like a wild man of thewoods. It was from little Allegra Wint that I learnt the names of many Englishwild flowers.
On weekends when the Wint family was at home we spent most of the day
sunning ourselves in the garden. Since the Wints had a few cherry and appletrees, there were lots of birds in their garden. The dawn chorus was opened bythrushes and blackbirds. They sang through the day till late into the twilight.
Both birds sounded exactly alike to me. Freda would quote Robert Browning toexplain the difference:
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The wise thrushes of Oxford had not read Browning and rarely repeated
their notes. Or perhaps the blackbirds deliberately went over theirs again toconfuse people like me. Then there were chaffinches, buntings, white throats,and many other varieties of birds whose songs became familiar to me. Thatsummer, I heard nightingales on the Italian lakes and in the forest ofFontainebleau. (Contrary to the popular notion, nightingales sing at all hours ofthe day and night).
Back home in Delhi I felt as if I was on alien territory as far as the fauna
and the flora were concerned. Before I had gone abroad, I had taken no interestin nature. When I returned I felt acutely conscious of this lacuna in my infor-mation as I could not identify more than a couple of dozen birds or trees.
Getting to know about them was tedious but immensely rewarding. I acquiredbooks on trees, birds and insects and spent my spare time identifying those I didnot know. I sought the company of bird-watchers and horticulturists. Graduallymy fund of information increased and I dared to give talks on Delhi's naturalphenomena on All India Radio and Doordarshan.
For the last many years I have maintained a record of the natural phenom-
ena I encounter every day. However, my nature watching is done in a veryrestricted landscape, most of it in my private back garden. It is a small rectan-gular plot of green enclosed on two adjacent sides by a barbed wire fence
covered over by bougainvillaea creepers of different hues. The other two sidesare formed by my neighbour's and my own apartments. He has fenced himselfoff by a wall of hibiscus; I have four ten-year-old avocado trees (perhaps theonly ones in Delhi) which between them yield no more than a dozen pears everymonsoon season; and a tall eucalyptus smothered by a purple bougainvillaea.
There is a small patch of grass with some limes, oranges, grapefruits and apomegranate. I do not grow many flowers; a bush of gardenia, a couple ofjasmines and a queen of the night (raat ki rani
). Since my wife has strictlyutilitarian views on gardening, most of what we have is reserved for growingvegetables. At the further end of this little garden. I have placed a bird-bathwhich is shared by sparrows, crows, mynahs, kites, pigeons, babblers and adozen stray cats which have made my home theirs. Facing my apartment on thefront side is a squarish lawn shared by other residents of Sujan Singh Park. Ithas several large trees of the ficus family, a young choryzzia and an old mul-berry. I have a view of this lawn from my sitting-room window framed by amadhumalati
creeper and a hedge of hibiscus. What perhaps acounts for theprofusion of bird life in our locality are several nurseries in the vicinity, thefoliage of many old papari (Pongamia glabra) trees and bushes of cannabissativa (bhang) which grow wild. I have not kept a count of the variety of birdsthat frequent my garden but there is never a time when there are none. Also,there are lots of butterflies, beetles, wasps, ants, bees and bugs of differentkinds.
There was a time when I spent Sunday mornings in winter in the country-
side armed with a pair of binoculars and Salim Ali's or Whistler's books onIndian birds. My favourite haunts were the banks of the Jamuna behind Tilpatvillage ; Surajkund, the dam which supplies water to its pool; and the ruins ofTughlaqabad Fort with its troops of rhesus monkeys. I still manage to visit theseplaces at least once a year to renew acquaintance with water fowl, skylarks,weaver birds and a variety of wild plants like akk, dehla, vasicka, mesquite,Mexican poppy and lantana which grow in profusion all round Delhi.
- Khushwant Singh
a large bush which has large brightflowers and which keeps itsleaves in winter
one who practisess science ofgrowing fruit, flowers andvegetables
a tropical plant with large brightflowers
a green or purple tropical fruit witha large stone and smooth oily flesh
where plants and trees are grown tobe sold or planted in other places
land outside the cities and townsused for farming or left unused
a small bird (lark) that sings whileflying upwards
tropical bird that makes its nest bytightly weaving together leaves,gross, twigs, etc.
A. What are the different meanings of the following words.
nursery, glass, cricket, watch, collector, interest, couple, record, encounter,country, bank
B. Use the following expressions in your own words.
C. Pronounce the following words given in pair and write their meanings
also, You can consult a dictionary.
D. Pronounce the following.
Wints, Oxford, The observer, Ben, Allegra, Rhododendron, Leggie,Fontainebleau, Salim Ali, Whistler, Tughlaquabad
Answer each of the following questions in about 25 words.
What did the author do at the cricket ground ?
How did the author increase his information about birds and trees ?
Where did the author learn the names of English wild flowers from ?
How did the author spend his weekends with the little child ?
How was the author motivated to know more about trees and birds ?
B. Answer each of the following questions in about 50 words.
What were the qualities of Allegra or Leggie ?
Describe the private back garden of the author.
Justify the author's visit to countryside on Sundays.
Study the following sentences.
Their son, Ben, was at a boarding school.
In the mornings I worked in my room.
The other two sides are formed by my neighbour's and my ownapartments.
The underlined words are prepositions. A prepositon is a word that
relates nouns, pronouns and noun clauses (small sentences inside a
bigger one, working as nouns) in space, time, order and direction.
Now, pick out prepositons from the following sentences.
I spend Sunday mornings in my garden.
Suraj kund supplies water to its pools.
I could'nt identify more than a couple of dozen birds.
For the last many years I have maintained a record of the natural phe-nomena.
He always writes letters to his friends in ink.
A. Present an oral report of the natural phenomena around you. You can base
your report on the details given in the lesson.
B. Below are given some natural phenomena, visualise them and express your
A. Prepare a short introductory radio talk on 'bird watching'.
B. Make entries in your diary of the flora and fauna of your area.
A. Just ponder over the inter-relations and interdependence among man, ani-
Prepare a list of flowering plants and birds found in your surroundings alsonote down their distinctive features.
Name of flowering
Name of birds
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