Digital Dimdima
Nature Notes
The whistling schoolboy
-By Rani Iyer

Some days, I walked with the kids returning home from school. As they ran, skipped, zipped, or dragged themselves home, I walked a steady pace keeping an eye on the forest path to avoid surprises. Usually, I heard a whistle; the loud, bold, schoolboy whistle always caught me by surprise.
Was it some of the boys? Was it someone hiding in the forest? Was it a communication between poachers? I had many hypotheses.
To begin narrowing down the possibilities, I held a whistling contest for the school kids. The winner would get a kit-kat chocolate bar and all other participants would get a chocolate. The contest was uneven, most boys whistled but not girls. The winner was unhappy. He wanted a chocolate plus the kit-kat bar. Girls hated to lose. I gave away all the chocolates.

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Not even the winner could whistle the tune.
A couple of days later, I spotted some lady tealeaf pickers resting in the shade. I asked them if they could whistle a tune. As soon as I whistled a poor imitation of it, they laughed. "Certainly we have heard it before. We always thought it was one of the guys," they said.
So I waited until I spotted a couple of teenagers. And I asked them if they could whistle a tune. "Sure," they replied, "but the trouble should be compensated." We settled on tea. Their best efforts did not match the tune I heard.
I tapped the local grapevine. Were there poachers around? Sure. Victor was out to get some palm for a pandal, Abdul needed some goat meat, Hakim was leading a party across the hills, and Saravana was tracking an elephant. They were all locals. They all operated alone.
Were there any toddy brewers? Certainly, the women swore. Their major suspects were Kuniram and Unni. Both of them owned arrack shops and often had price wars. Some men told me that they both had a common supplier. If there were no new toddy makers, then who was the whistler?
One evening I heard the whistle again. This time I heard a response. Another whistle followed by a response. It sounded very human. Yet I could see no one.
Disappointed I sat on the rock and watched the sun set. Dragonflies and bees skimmed over water. A cormorant watched me suspiciously. Before the sun dipped, I saw two unremarkable dark birds walk towards me. They waited at a respectable distance and let out a pure whistle. I shivered with joy. The concert of the Malabar whistling thrush, etched in my mind forever. Today I only need to close my eyes and sit still, to recall that concert.

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