Praise for My Books

"Manreet Sodhi Someshwar is a gifted writer of great promise. I have a gut feeling we have a new star rising in Punjab's literary horizon. She has an excellent command of English and a sly sense of humour."
- Khushwant Singh on The Long Walk Home

"An enjoyable tale of a sassy girl's headlong race up the corporate ladder."
- India Today on Earning the Laundry Stripes

Friday, 18 March 2011

Did You See a Sparrow Today?

All eyes are on Japan. A massive earthquake, gigantic tsunami and the atomic crisis have the world riveted as the island nation attempts to battle the ravages of Mother Nature.

With such momentous happenings commanding our attention perhaps it is difficult to focus on a sparrow. But focus we must. 20 March is World House Sparrow Day. The intention is to throw light on the problems faced by that bird in its daily fight for survival. 

Why is it relevant to us? The house sparrow likes human presence enough to have co-existed with us for ages. It is so integral to our way of life that it ranks in the vocabulary of first words taught to babies. A decline in its numbers is an alarming sign that our own well-being is at stake.

Once the most common bird in the world, the house sparrow is fast dwindling in numbers. The trappings of modern life have tripped our little friend. Spanking supermarkets with neat shelves do not allow for grain spillage that provided feed at the old-fashioned grocers. Highrise residential apartments are devoid of gardens or balconies, with no eaves or ventilators, which provided nesting grounds. One of the joys of growing up was stumbling upon a sparrow’s nest behind a framed picture in the verandah.

The ubiquitous cell phone that rules our lives is another contemporary aid that is killing the birds. Apparently the waves from mobile phone towers destroy their eggs. Add to that the increase in environmental pollution, degradation of soil, use of pesticides, felling of trees and we have left our little friend with very few options. 

Growing up in my small town I woke up to the sound of sparrows daily. Their chirruping was a morning alarm, albeit melodious and long drawn out. When I started to prepare for Board exams I began to wake up pre-dawn to study. At some point the horizon would start to blush and I would feel relief that finally others would wake up and join me. It was then that I first observed a sparrow stir in the tree outside my window. It poked its head out of its wing where it was nestled, looked about, then retreated for a few minutes before it stood up, puffed out and was ready to start the day.

As my study hours lengthened and the bedside alarm became a dreaded companion, I took that as a valuable lesson. To this day when the alarm rings, I follow the sparrow’s example, tuck my head back in and get the grace of a few minutes before I am ready to face the world.

My mother grew up on a farm and her regard of the environment was always agrarian. In a severe winter she would not complain about the gelid air but worry about the cauliflower that would perish. Unseasonal rains would ruin the harvest. A late monsoon meant grain rotting under tarpaulin where it sat in the open, for lack of storage facilities. For more than a decade now I have heard her voice her concern at the disappearing bird sounds in our hometown. She would know. Ever since I have seen her she has put two earthen bowls out on the porch every morning. One filled with water, the other with scraps of old roti or tiny balls of unleavened dough. And every day the birds drop by: sparrows, pigeons, a couple of parrots, a raucous one-legged crow, at times an eagle or two. Of late though the sparrows are fewer – the feed lasts for several days.

In my hometown in Punjab, the breadbasket of India, trees have been felled to increase cultivable land. The hunger for grains has leached soil of nutrients and depleted the water table. Pesticide-induced disorders are rampant among people. Toxic drinking water is a leading cause of death. Environmental peril stares us in the face. The disappearing house sparrow is one herald. 

As the story goes, China's Premier Mao found sparrows noisy and instructed Beijing residents to beat their kitchen utensils continuously to drive the pests away. This so disoriented the sparrows that they fell dead on rooftops. The next year locusts arrived and destroyed the harvest. A reluctant Mao admitted defeat and allowed the sparrows back. A lesson in Karma, speedily delivered!

When tsunami struck Sendai, the town was bereft of young people who had moved to cities for jobs. The elderly left behind had little chance of surviving the fury of water on their own.

An essential balance is eroded when cities become the center of human existence. The decline in bird song vividly illustrates that. We need to focus our attention back on earth and nature.

The sparrow is so ubiquitous that we don’t notice that it is around less and less. However, it is fighting for its survival and we must pause to consider that we are in the same queue.

So, next time you meet someone, follow the greeting with this question: Did you see a sparrow today?



  1. thanks for the awareness on sparrows

  2. A very insightful post.. Yeah I have notice this change in my hometown Lucknow too. I'm blessed to be brought-up in a house close to nature. Earlier on the Neem tree in our verandah we used to see many birds but for many years now there number have reduced to mere extinction.

  3. Manreet a very good reminder.I live in a smaller town but here too, sparrows are a rare sight,even crows visit ocassionally.These birds were so plentiful when we were kids.
    What it means eventually is that we live in such obscenely treeless,oxygenless, concretized havens -jahan gauriyya bhi aashiyan banane se katraati hai.

  4. Came here through Varsha. Also wrote a Sparrow Day post and what you say is really true. And very sad. There are initiatives that provide sparrow nests to help increase this population.

  5. This blog post got me thinking on when I had seen a sparrow. I haven't got an answer yet :-(

    Miss the times when listening to their chirping used to drive away my lazy afternoons.

  6. i saw one today here in dubai.. but come to think of it their no. has definitely decreased by large. sad that inspite of the natural abundance of greenary this bird is facing tough time in our home country..

  7. Thanks Rachit. A neem tree bereft of birds is a sad state of affairs. Perhaps you can put up a nesting place close to the neem and lure them back?

    Good luck!

  8. Thanks Varsha. Gauriyya is looking to us for help, and we better not let her down...

  9. Sangi, read your post and enjoyed it! Here's to the zoom lens!

  10. Vyankatesh, your comment took me back to my lazy noon days of summer when a book and 'chiri' (Punjabi for sparrow) were all I needed to have the most blessed time. Sigh!

  11. Mindspace, you got lucky! Here in Hong Kong, we do see a few sparrows early morning when my daughter and I walk to her school bus. Our little friend(s) are perched on a bougainvillea tree all fluffed up in the spring cool - what a delight to see them because I wonder where they disappear the rest of the day.

  12. Dear Manreet, it was a true re-winding to all those who were lucky enough to breathe in the goodness and freshness of a village. Sparrows being out of sight is, for me, a serious forecast in the question itself. People ask "where have all the sparrows gone?" as they are very sure that the sparrows are all not dead. Its a very clear situation of them finding a safer place, elsewhere in the world. I would like to connect this with the non-sightings of stray birds as well as animals, after the Tsunami-hit. If you observe, its clear that they have got the clue much before, and have just went to safer havens. So, is the absence of sparrows in an area, a hint that the human race should ponder seriously?

  13. Very well written and extremely relevant! For a long time, we have debated if the cellphone transmitter towers have caused a dramatic reduction in the population of sparrows around the world.

    But, doing unbiased science is difficult, with millions in revenue involved, who is going to take sides with a tweety bird and not be called a completely lunatic?

  14. What a sad and poignant story of the impact we humans have on the the earth and everyone and all the creature that live on it. Thank you for sharing this.

  15. I didn't realize the House Sparrow was threatened in parts of the world. Here in the USA it's not endangered although I have noticed a decline in the number that frequent my feeders over the past few years. People take them for granted because they are everywhere but I have always felt they were under appreciated.

  16. Very inspiring to read of the little one. Awareness is the key. Hope we can rectify our behaviour in order to save the sparrow and, in the process, our selves.

    Will surely remember the date. 20th is my mother's birthday too.
    Good luck to us all.

  17. Thanks Desi Babu. You're right: big bucks versus little birds... And then we call them bird brain.

  18. Bookluvrmindy, thanks for stopping by!

  19. I am with you Leslie, I have always thought sparrows are such lovely birds - non-intrusive and friendly! Thanks!

  20. What goes round comes around, right Niku?! Hum bhi kataar mein hain... Cheers to your mum's b'day!