Farm Song: Peacocks and Cicadas

Sunset at Infinite Souls Pic: Chris Burchell
Just after the last full moon, we sat out beneath the big banyan, exhausted and happy, the trees mad with prescient rain-scent, night-excitement and insect-song. Check the crickets, I said and Chris said No, they're cicadas. The crickets just chirp but the cicada make the full on tree hum. And since there are no coincidences, this morning: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/06/songs-of-the-cicada.html

As it happens on lazy Sundays, one thing led to another and I found, lo and behold, an FB group working on photographing and identifying Indian cicadidae. Beautiful, noisy little musicians of the insect world, J.G.Myers wrote of them in his book Insect Singers: "It will not therefore surprise one to find the greatest musical artists of the insect world among its deepest drinkers."

Further, his second chapter is on the appearance of cicadas in Art, Mythology and Literature. Aristophanes, who will appear again shortly, mentions them in The Birds:
"But in flowery meads I dwell
Lingering oft in leafy dell
When the inspired cicadas gladness
Swelling into sunny madness
Filleth all the fervid noon
With its shrill and ceaseless tune."


No affection lost there. Perhaps they kept him up, on hot summer nights, with their endless search for sex and drink, those damned cicadas.

One time during the rains some years ago, after many a Dionysian revel, Chalam was snoring about as loud as the thunder and we spent the night poking him with bamboo and chucking pillows at him, to no avail. The next morning he woke up and has complained since about the frogs in the pond and the racket they made. "Brekekekex ko-ax ko-ax brekekekex...."they went on all night long, never making it to Hades, never bringing back Euripides, just going at it, hammer and tongs, in the pond.

"Brekekekex ko-ax ko-ax....
When the revel-tipsy throng, all crapulous and gay,
To our precinct reeled along on the holy Pitcher day, 
Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax."

Aristophanes again, observer and purveyor of all things natural and unnatural. Aeons ago, in The Valley School, my students performed The Frogs chorus one moonlit night around a different banyan tree.

Pic: Chris Burchell
We have another celebrity noise-maker at the farm, Pavo Christatus or the Indian Peafowl. Mornings are wild with their calls, but run as I might, I never get more than a sight of a blowzy beige and brown peahen, occasionally low-flying from one tree to another. Never have I seen that man bird, not a tail feather nor blue strut in sight. This causes me no end of wonder and pissed off-edness. When Arunchala and yes, lots of Auroville is crazy with peacock, how come I don't see them at the farm? When peacocks just laze around the roofs of the ashram at Thiruvanamalai, how come none deign to visit my cottage? When I have seen, with my own very eyes, those vain critters preen in front of a one way mirror studio door in Auroville, why the hell won't they show here? And yet I hear their keening cry so often...

Maybe I should do as Hanumanthappa says and scatter ragi in the lower fields and then rise at 4am to watch them feed. "Mai-yooo" their call goes, onomatopoeic. Mayur.

When Zui was a month old, we were in the Auroville old Visitor's Centre cafe listening to Debiprasad Ghosh play his magical sarod to bring in the new year. Later, drinking ginger-lemon inside we experienced a strange sound phenomenon. Tables scattered all over the cafe beneath the vaulted roofs of the Visitor's Centre, and we could hear, utterly clearly and intimately, conversations several tables away from us.  Our own possibly wandered away to entertain another table. All these many years later, sitting on the verandah at the farm, we hear Zui and Siddharth having a conversation on the hill. 45 minutes away from us through bramble and briar and then up the metamorphic buttresses and outcrops of neighbouring Savandurga.

Another unusual sound was once heard in the very wee hours. Chalam and Johnson, having said bhum Shankar most fervently, were off on a walkabout. The next day they reported a tale of fear and mystery; of foxes and wild dogs circling the farm and passing calls between them like football players. A high pitched, thin sound that volleyed from side to side, now here, then gone, then re-appearing on the diagonal side. We wondered if it was the owls on the tamarind tree, or perhaps Puck looking for some Love-in-Idleness, but they were certain this wasn't an avian sound.

Besides these and the cacophany from the parrots on the young banyans, all we have is the morning bird song. And Nagamma talking to Sankaramma from 3 inches away. Not much else. No traffic or cell phones. The butterflies don't make much noise.

Pic: Chris Burchell
There are other seasonal man-made sounds: the nightly singing when a stray farmer sleeps in his field to keep the wild boar away from his crop, Rame Gowda's radio that he occasionally leaves on to keep away a wandering elephant, the sss-sss-thump-thump of disco bhaktigeete via loud speakers of the temple in Sevanagar and the dull blasts of greed and dynamite that tell me with misplaced authority that these beautiful hills and their resident cicadas and peacocks are on borrowed time.

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