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Birds Of Different Feathers

Birds  Of Different  Feathers
It was summer and the mango tree was heavy with plump, ripe mangoes. The parrots were happy. They cackled noisily as they pecked the delicious fruit. Mrs. Popatlal and Mrs. Totaben were chatting over a particularly sweet one when Mithu, Mrs. Totaben's son said, "Mummy, we have a new neighbour."

Birds  Of Different  Feathers

 
It was summer and the mango tree was heavy with plump, ripe mangoes.  The parrots were happy.  They cackled noisily  as   they   pecked   the   delicious   fruit.   Mrs.   Popatlal   and Mrs.  Totaben  were  chatting  over  a  particularly  sweet  one when  Mithu,  Mrs.  Totaben's  son  said,  "Mummy,  we  have a  new  neighbour."
"This   place   is   indeed   getting   too   crowded,"   grumbled Mrs.   Totaben.   "Very   soon   there   will   be   more   parrots than  mangoes."
"The  new  neighbour  is  not  a  parrot,"  said  Mithu.
"Must  be  a  crow then,"  retorted  his  mother.  "What is  the difference?  They  eat  mangoes  too."
"It is not  a crow either,"  said  Mithu.  "It is  a funny,  brown bird.   It   stays   there,"   he   said   pointing  to   a  small  hollow close  to  the  trunk.
"Inside  the  tree?  What kind  of a bird  stays  inside  a tree?" asked  Mrs.  Totaben.
"You  must  be  mistaken,  Mithu,"  said  Mrs.  Popatlal.
Mithu  was  not  mistaken.  That  night,  when  all  the  birds were  fast  asleep,  they were  shaken  out  of their feathers  by a  deep,  low  call.
"TOO.. .WHIT.. .TOO... WHOO!"

"That  must  be  the  new  bird,"  said  Mithu  to  his  mother.
"No,   Mithu,   a  wild   animal,   probably,"   said   his  father, Totabhai.   "I   will   see  who   it  is."   He   ruffled   his   feathers self-importantly.   He   happened   to   be   the   Chief   Parrot.
Totabhai   stalked   onto   the   branch   and   peered   into   the darkness.  He  could  see  nothing.  Then,  he  nearly jumped off the  branch  in  fright.
"TOO...WHIT...TOO...WHOO!"  came  the  call  again.
"WH...who  is that?"  he  quavered.
"I   am   Shri   Ullunath,   the   owl,   pleased   to   make   your acquaintance,"  said  a  deep  voice  politely.
"Well,  I  am  certainly  not  pleased  to  meet  you,"  retorted Totabhai   still  trying  to  focus  in  the   dark.   "What  kind  of a  bird  are  you?  Making  such  a  racket  at  night.  Waking  all of us  up."

By   now,    many   other   parrots   and   a   few   crows   had gathered.   "Yes,   yes,"   they   agreed,   "this   will   not   do.   We cannot  allow you  to  stay  here.  This  is  our  tree."
"I   am   afraid  that  is  not  true,"   replied   the   owl   quietly.
"Trees  belong  to  all  birds.  To  all  living  things,  in  fact.  This tree  is  as  much  mine  as yours."
The  parrots  were  taken  aback.   They  had  expected  the newcomer  to  cow  down  but  he  was  standing  up  to  them.
"Well,  you   shall  not  hoot  then,"   said  Totabhai,   trying  to regain  some  of his  dignity.

"I  am  sorry for having disturbed  all of you," said Ullunath.
"I  will  try  not  to  do  so  in  future."  Saying  this,  he  flew  off into  the  night.  The  birds  settled  back  to  sleep.
Next  morning,  Mithu  went  up  to  the  hollow.  There  was no   sound  from  within.   He  peered  in.   Ullunath  was   fast asleep,  his  head  tucked  into  his  feathers  snugly.   He  did not  emerge  the  whole  day.
"You  mean  he  sleeps  all  day?"  asked  Mrs.  Popatlal.
"What  did  you  expect?"  sniffed  Totaben  scornfully.  "All that hooting at night must have  made him  tired."
"Teacher Parakeet  said  owls  are very wise  birds,"  chipped in  Mithu.

"Huh!"  said  his  mother,   "how  can  someone  who  sleeps all  day  and  hoots  all  night  be  wise?"
That  night,  Ullunath  did  not  hoot.  But  the  birds  did  not sleep  anyway  because  they  wanted  to  catch  a  glimpse  of him.  They were  not  disappointed  when  Ullunath  emerged.
All that was visible in the  darkness was his  squat form with a  triangular  head  and  square  shoulders.

It was  only three nights  later that they got  a good  glimpse of him.  There  was  full  moon  and  the  grove  was  bathed  in moonlight.  Mithu had been waiting for this  chance.  Peeping out   of  the   nest,   he   saw   Ullunath   perched   on   a   nearby branch.  He had a speckled,  tawny brown body with  a lighter brown  chest.  But,  his most arresting feature was  his  eyes.
Huge.  Round.  Amber.  Deep.  He looked very knowledgeable.
Mithu  woke  Kala  up  and  they  both  stared  at  the  owl.
Meanwhile,   Mithu's   mother   finding   him   missing   from the  nest  got  up  in  alarm.   She  twittered  angrily  when  she spotted  him  and  Kala,  but  Mithu  silenced  her  and  pointed at  Ullunath.  Mrs.  Totaben  stared  at  the  owl  for  a  minute, then  hurried  back  to  shake  her  husband  awake. 
"Looks  like  that blighter won't let us  have  any  sleep,  one way  or  the  other,"  grumbled  Totabhai,  ambling  over  to  see the  owl.

Kala  too  woke  his  parents  up  and  soon  many  birds  had gathered to  see  Ullunath.  Hearing their muffled twittering, Ullunath turned to look at them.  "Oh,  hello!"  said he.  "Glad to meet all  of you.  Unfortunately,  all of you are asleep when I  come  out  of my  hollow.

"You   bet!"   said   Totabhai   rudely,   "we   are   not   crazy   to stay  awake  all  night."
"Ah!  but  I  have  to,"  replied  Ullunath.  "That  is  the  only time  I  can  hunt  for  food."
"What  do  you  mean?"  asked  Parakeet,  puzzled.
"Well,  I  prey  on  rats  who  scurry  about  at  night,"  replied Ullunath.
"Ugh!"  said  Mithu.

"Why  don't you  eat  mangoes  instead  of rats  like  the  rest of us?"  asked  Kala.
"I  prefer  rats,"  answered  Ullunath.
"Prefer  rats  to  mangoes?  Now,   I  am  convinced  you  are crazy,"  declared  Totabhai. 

"That  is  all  right,"  replied  Ullunath  benignly.  "Were  you to  live  in  a  tree  full  of  owls  like  me,  they  would  find  you pretty  odd  too."

"We  are not  odd,"  bristled  Parakeet.  "We  are far  superior birds.  Look  at  your  dull  feathers  and  compare  them  with our  lovely,  bright  ones."

"My  friend,"   explained  the  owl  patiently,   "the  feathers that you  are  so  proud  of are  so  coloured to  help you merge with  the  green  leaves  of branches you  live  on.  I  nest, in  the hollow  of the  tree  trunk.  God  coloured  us  according  to  our respective  habitats   so   that  we  may  be  camouflaged  and not  easily  spotted  by  our  enemies."

It  all  made  a  lot  of  sense  to  Mithu,   but  the  rest  of  the clan  seemed  unimpressed.

"Now,"  continued  Ullunath,  "since  all  of you  are  already awake,   please   allow   me   to   hoot   a   while!"   Saying   this, he   let    out   his    low   whistling    call    of   "TOO...WHIT... TOO...WHOO!"  and  flew  off.

The  next  day,   something  happened  that  had  everybody so  worried  that  they  forgot  all  about  their  new  neighbour.

Polly   Parrot  was  the  first  to   raise   the   alarm.   Many  ripe mangoes had fallen to the ground the previous evening.  The birds were looking forward to  eat them the next day.  When Polly went to  nibble  one for breakfast,  she found  that each and   every   mango   had   been   gnawed   through.   "Oh!   My goodness!   The   Rat   Brigade   has   been   here   again,"   she screeched.  Hearing her,  all the birds started looking around. They  surveyed the  dozens  of mango  seeds  scattered  on  the ground.   Tiya,   the   oldest   of  all   parrots,   shook   his   head in  dismay.

The  birds  were  inconsolable,  to  lose  so  much  of the  ripe fruit to  the rats!  The worst was that the remaining mangoes would   only  ripen  after  a  few  days.   What  would  they  eat until  then?  And  what  if  those,  too,  fell  to  the  ground  and the  rats  finished  them  before  the  birds  could?  Everyone was  worried.

It was  Kala who  came up  with  a solution.  "The  other  day, Ullunath  said  he  preys  on  rats.  Why  not  ask him  to  tackle the  rats?"

"Terrific  idea!"   said  Mithu.   "Let  us  find  my  father  and tell him."
Totabhai  pooh-poohed  the  idea.  "What  can  that  oddball do  for  us?"
But Tiya  and  Parakeet  felt  otherwise.  "The  plan  is  worth a try.  We  could  drop  a few ripe  mangoes to the  ground  and then  let  Ullunath  attack  the  rats  when  they  come."
It   was   decided   that   the   three   elder   parents   would approach  the  owl  at  once  for  his  help. 
"Do   you   really   think   he   will   help   us?"   said   Parakeet, uncertainly.  "After all,  we have hardly been friendly to him." "No  harm  in  trying,"  said  Tiya.
As expected,  Ullunath was asleep.  When the three parrots clicked   their   beaks   in   unison   outside   his   hollow,   heemerged.  His feathers were ruffled and he looked annoyed.

"What  is  it?"  he  asked  gruffly.
"We  need  your  help,"  said  Totabhai  meekly.
"What!  You need  my help?"  asked  Ullunath  sarcastically.
Totabhai  squirmed.  "Yes,  please,"  he  replied  humbly.
The  parrots  then  proceeded  to  explain  their  plan  to  the owl.  He  heard  them  out  patiently.  Finally,  he  said.  "I  may help  you,  but  on  one  condition."
"What  is  it?"  they  asked  apprehensively.
"I  should be  allowed to  hoot every night," replied the wise Ullunath.

The  birds  heaved  a  sigh  of relief.  A  little  disturbed  sleep was  a  small  price  to  pay  for  getting  rid  of the  rats.
Over  the   next  few  days,   as   the  mangoes   ripened,   the birds  dropped  them  to  the  ground.  At  night,  they  waited in  suspense.  After  what  seemed  like  ages,  they  heard  the rustle  of  the  rats.
Ullunath was ready.  He  soared,  plunged and  came back, looking  content.

"There,  I  think  he  has  eaten  one  rat,"  whispered  Mithu.
Again  and  again  Ullunath  swooped  and  struck till  the  rats went  scurrying  off.
The  next  night  the  rats  did  not  come.  The  parrots  were overjoyed.
That   night,    when    Ullunath   hooted,    "TOO...WHOO "TOO...WHIT...!"  the  parrots  did  not  mind  at  all. They  chorused  happily,  "We  love  you,  Ullunath!"

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