Who gives a Hoot?
Anything that is different or does not fit into our set categories, scares us and immediately we vilify it. Only a confident society celebrates the extraordinary powers of another.
Controversial as can be, people are undecided as to whether the owl is wise or foolish, lucky or unlucky, harbinger of death or that of good fortune.
In my 2 years at Selim Hill, the bird that evaded me was the owl. I heard it every night but could not see it. Obviously, the reason being I follow the cycle of the sun and the owl follows the cycle of the moon. However, Selim Hill is a friend of patience and the Darjeeling Hills reveal themselves to you layer by layer.
One evening, Pradeep (the Bungalow Sardar) and I were discussing the planting of the flower beds. Suddenly something fell with a thud at our feet. On closer inspection, we realized it was an owl. The bird had flown into the glass window which was jutting out into its flight path. Being short sighted and partially blind during the day, it misjudged the glass for clear space, slammed into the window and fell down stunned.
While on the one hand we were discussing whether it was hurt and what we could do about it, on the other hand, I was fascinated with the way it was turning its head this way and that. It actually can turn its head 270 degrees! Painted in different shades of brown with lines running in contours over its face and body, it looks like an old woman wizened with age. Its beauty lies in its ugliness.
Quiet as the mouse it hunts, the owl stared back at us. All the while, the clever thing was planning its escape. Before we knew it, it took off vertically and flew away without a sound. I must say, it led me into thinking why would anyone use the collective noun ‘parliament’ for owls? For one, it does not believe in groups and herds, it is a solitary ranger. For another it does not have time to waste just sitting around making unnecessary noise. It is an activist that does its work swiftly and strategically. After all it is associated with Goddess Athena and can ‘see’ when others cannot.
Very soon I saw an owl for the second time. The sun had made an appearance after two continuous days of rain. Everything and everyone was out to celebrate the glorious sunlight. There I saw it sitting peacefully on a tree stump sunning itself and drying its wet feathers. It brought to mind some lines from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar -
'Yesterday the Bird of Night did sit,
Even at Noone day, upon the Market place,
Howting and shreeking'
The only difference was that there was no ‘Howting or Shreeking’. I wondered how this bird which hunts rodents and keeps their menace under control be a bad omen. Sometimes we humans make ‘Much ado about Nothing’.
Then of course, we have the owl associated with Goddess Lakshmi. Is it because most of the wealth earned is black like the night? Shocking as it may be, even in owls, the white owl is considered lucky – so only the fair faced woman is a symbol of fortune!
Both Picasso and Harry Potter shared their love for Owls and had them as pets. Truly, love or hate the owl is a matter of perspective.
While I sipped my cup of Dorje Moon Night Tea, I was forced to admit that only time would tell whether we were wise or foolish for taking up the challenge of Selim Hill.
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