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Giving Shelter To Birds Taught Me My Lockdown Lesson 101: Be Empathetic, In Action

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.
ReimagineTogether logoEditor’s Note: This article is a part of #ReimagineTogether, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with UNICEF India, YuWaah and Generation Unlimited, to spark conversations to create a new norm and better world order in the post-pandemic future. How have you and those around you coped with the pandemic? Join the conversation by telling us your COVID story and together, let's reimagine a safer, better and more equal future for all!

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and are not necessarily the views of the partners.

While so much has already been said about the Covid-19 pandemic, I am sure there is nothing so great that I could add to the information in this situation. With a surge in emotions and deplorable conditions around, it has been unnervingly difficult on some days, just to fathom the pain and the hurt of those suffering around. Nevertheless, as we all enter into a phase of unlocking the lockdown, I finally convinced myself to write something.

How My Home Offered A Home To Another

The eggs, aren’t they beautiful!?

I am not a very ardent fan of birds. By birds, I mean, pigeons and crows. I mean, does our city life allows us to see any other variety, really? Also, come on, who really likes pigeons or crows?  They are dirty and annoying and just about, everywhere!

But, with the lockdown, I am sure the birds really got confused, and they started showing up more in the newly quiet and clean cities. In our erstwhile ‘normal’ city- day, it was not a regular sight to see sparrows, mynas and bulbuls in the cities. But a few days into the lockdown, these birds became a regular sight. And soon, within the confines of my home, I found something to dwell on.

I have an empty space in my house—a balcony. Yeah, it’s pretty unheard of in most housing spaces, nowadays. My mother and her love for plants and flowers have turned that empty space into a little plant balcony. One day, on top of the Christmas tree, the one in the balcony, I saw a tiny nest with three eggs. It was a Bulbul’s and the eggs were beautiful.

As we observed them over the next few days, we found that these little birds were relatively quiet, neat and very protective. The minute they sensed a presence inside the balcony or when we opened our curtains a bit more than usual, these birds immediately flew away from the nest.

Typically, a bulbul egg takes two weeks to hatch.

The hatchlings- with no feathers and eyes shut!

In the next two weeks, each day, despite the heat, the wind the mother bird sat and warmed her eggs. When we went close to the nest to see, the mother would start chirping loudly. Not the happy chirp, a chirp which sounded as though she was afraid of the predator.

One fine morning after two weeks, the eggs hatched. The hatchlings had no feathers and their eyes were shut. Over the next few days, the mother and father bulbul would just come to the nest to feed their babies. The hatchlings would hear their parents’ chirp, and they were ready with their beaks open!

Every night, there would be at least one parent bulbul in the nest. That was the protective instinct. What seems like a quick growth, these baby birds had their eyes open and few feathers within two days of hatching.

The life of this bird and the journey of how it settled on that Christmas tree is something very strikingly parallel to what I see happening around.

Realising My Privilege And Some Observations About The Pandemic

If I start with the list of problems, I know it just keeps going on. The crashing global economy, the highest unemployment in India, the plight of the migrant workers, the standstill of the education system, the crashing of the world’s best healthcare systems; the information and reports on these issues are plenty! 

This pandemic brought out the flaws in all the systems in place. It took us a pandemic to realise the plight of the migrant workers, the daily wagers and labourers. Everything suddenly became so real! On some days, the ignorance of not seeing/reading, thereby, not knowing, helps. But, while I have that privilege of setting it all aside when I am tired, most, don’t. For all those workers, walking barefoot over thousands of kms, sleeping on railway tracks, this privilege of setting it all aside doesn’t exist, not even for a moment.

But, why did it take a virus to make us hear the voice of the marginalised? Maybe, just like it took me the forced lockdown to understand or even observe that Bulbul bird. The bulbuls are neat and quiet birds, who have a small nest, and they barely make their presence felt, much like the slums in Mumbai which comprise 60% of Mumbai’s population but occupy only 15% of the space.

In our bid to develop the cities, the inequality grew. The slums started looking much smaller than the high-rise buildings. I mean, those shanty, dirty spaces just irked us because of the smell, not because of their plight. These people from the slums worked behind the scenes for so many of us, helping us ‘develop’ our cities, the places we so proudly call ‘Home’.

Yet, we never stopped for a second, to help these people. To better their conditions. Rather, we ignored them until it a pandemic made it too real in front of us.

Yet, the resilience of these people is something we can learn from. Like the parent bulbuls who stayed and protected their babies despite the wind, the heat and on a few days, the rain, these people are trying their best to get back to their place of security, taking their children with them. Even if it means, walking hundreds of kms and stopping on the way just to give birth to a baby!

I gave home to a few birds during the pandemic
How these birds hatched from eggs throughout the two weeks, and look, how beautiful, they are!

And, I Decided To Put My Empathy In Action

Though I was privileged to provide a home to those bulbuls in my home, I wish I could use that same privilege to help these people in distress. With all the news reports and videos showing the despair of the migrant workers, doing rounds;  the stark inequality gap has become so much more clearer.  Often, I find myself getting so frustrated with my privilege, yet not being able to do anything for the people in distress. Even the lack of empathy among so many citizens, in this time, bothers me!

Yet, there are a few, who, despite the limitations and restrictions, are doing good work. These are stories that resonate and give hope in the goodness that lies within all of us; people selflessly working and mobilising funds, distributing ration, people working tirelessly in the very compromised health-care sector, the police-force working in the most contaminated places. 

All this challenged me to think, how effectively I could use my privilege to help those in distress. So, here are a few things that helped me in starting small by helping those around in these trying times. I constantly remind myself that I cannot possibly do it all in one day, and I cannot help everyone! So, I choose to help ONE. And I hope this encourages you to help another and the cycle continues. Here are a few things that I feel are feasible to do.

  1. Buy and distribute a few packets of buttermilk to the security guards in your locality. Ordinarily, a small packet costs Rs. 12. These guards work even in the heat, just to ensure we follow the rules and ensure no outsider enters the compound. This is just a small gesture.
  2. Pay your domestic help. Even if you pay a few 100 rupees extra, they will be really grateful and they need your help now more than ever.
  3. If your domestic help stays within your locality, provide them with dry ration and a few groceries you can. Remember, you just have to help 1 person.
  4. Distribute bananas to the Safai karmacharis. These people are working to keep our city cleaner in the times of Covid. Bananas act as the immediate energy booster.
  5. Support local businesses. By this, I mean purchase as much as you can from your local retail provider. They need that extra business in these times
  6. Give your old books to the children of the working staff in your locality. While many of us are privileged with an online learning facility, these children do not have access to that. These books can go a long way for them.
  7. If you plan to cook something tasty, you can cook a little extra that day and distribute it to the working staff. Sharing a home-cooked meal at such a time will definitely keep their spirits up.
  8. Talk to your contemporaries about the crisis that is around. Educate those who are willingly turning their eyes from the crisis—rope in more people who can help another one.
  9. #GiveUpToGive. Give up a meal and use that saved up money for a meal to pay or provide resources for the service workers around.
  10. Donate to NGOs and donation drives. (check credibility and work done, before donating)

I Urge You, Be Empathetic

These times are challenging. For most of us, there is a lot of unlearning we have to do. The very structures we thought would work, suddenly don’t seem like they ever worked! We do not know what lies ahead or how we can brace ourselves for the challenges ahead. Every systemic, established structure seems like it will break soon.

This crisis is definitely more challenging for the ones who are not privileged. It is in such times that we, the ones with privilege, become the light in the dark tunnel. In such times, I urge you to be empathetic, in Action!

This post is a part of COVID Diaries, a special series under the #ReimagineTogether campaign. Tell us how this lockdown and pandemic has affected you! Join the conversation by adding a post here. here.
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