Among my quirky collections is a set of feathers that I have been collecting since my childhood. Are feathers not attractive? Feathers have fascinated humans and, therefore, adorned the crowns of kings and queens since ages, especially in the tribal kingdoms. In Nagaland we have the Hornbill Cultural Festival. Why, even Bhagwan Krishna wears a peacock feather in his headgear. So no wonder I too (perhaps being named after Lord Krishna) was attracted to the feathers.
As primary school kids in the 1960s we used to preserve peacock feathers between the textbook pages believing that it would multiply further; we were so innocent (or ignorant?) to believe that a feather will give birth to many more, or at least one! It was our most precious and dear possession. Well, whatever it is, the Gen Z is surely missing out on such simple and silly joys. As I went on summer vacation to our native villages in the then Thanjavur District, I used to pick feathers from fields and gardens. The eagle and kite feathers were thus collected and are almost 60 years old. How strong they are! It is said that forest health is measured by the number of vultures and eagles living there, because they consume the carcass of animals and help clean the forest. The Brahminy kite is considered auspicious. When sighted, people worship it.
I have been collecting and preserving the feathers since my childhood; recently after retirement, as I had nothing worthwhile to do, I started sorting out my various collections such as philatelic, numismatic, antiques & curios, photos, letters, etc. It was then that I decided to arrange and exhibit my quirky feather collection also. This sorting out task helped me escape from household chores.
The feathers of Emu bring back memories of an investment fraud that once spread out in Tamil Nadu. Emu is native to Australia and the tallest bird there; it is the second tallest bird in the world after ostrich and the fourth/fifth heaviest bird. An Emu egg weighs anywhere between 450 grams to 650 grams. Just imagine how many omelettes one can enjoy with just one emu egg! So the gullible or greedy investors were lured to invest in emu farming. In one such case, 78 investors lost 1.67 crore rupees in the emu Ponzi scheme in 2011, similar to Teak Farming ponzi fraud. I sighted a few emus in Jamunamarathur in Jawadhu Hills where we had gone for an official publicity campaign. Through the fence of their enclosure I gingerly picked up a few emu feathers that are ever so soft and gentle.
The peacock feathers that occupy the centre stage (after all it is our National Bird), as well as the tiny ones, were gathered from the Central Institute for Research on Goats (CIRG), in Makhdoom, Uttar Pradesh in 1980. My friend N. Sundaram was the Admn. Officer in that remote Institute. It was a vast, arid campus where peacocks were roaming freely and yowling often. But peacocks could be a nuisance in farming areas, lament farmers. Moe than feeding the paddy grains, the peacocks waste the grains by pecking; by climbing on tiled roofs they pull down the tiles. It is difficult to replace the old type native tiles, people complain. But one has to put up with the national bird! Peacock sheds its old feathers during a particular season; this process is called molting. When I see the feathers of the turkey, I feel sorry for it. Why should the poor turkey be insulted for its dance which is said to imitate the peacock’s flamboyant dance? Each bird has its own dance. Why blame the turkey alone? Here is another similarity – the crow and the cuckoo. I leave it to you to find out which feather is a crow’s and which one is a koel’s.
Somehow I find the Mynah more attractive than the parrot. The yellow band near Mynah's eyes looks attractively like eyeliner. Its call is also quite cute compared to the harsh call of the parrot. I have watched with amazement the masterly catch of fish by kingfishers. The country rooster has very colourful and long feathers. As we were visiting the Kangla Fort in Imphal, Manipur, a woodpecker’s feather came floating down to me. Sadly, it reminds me of the present situation in the riot-torn Manipur whereas it was a pageantry of cultural events during our visit at the time of Yaoshang (Holi)!
But the question before me was how to presentably arrange the feathers. Sticking them with fevicol like adhesives would rob the feathers of their natural feel; they would look stiff and dry. So I settled for a sitting mat (‘thadukku’ in Tamil) made of grass. But it proved to be a tough task inserting each and every feather into the warp & weft of the woven mat with a sharp tool. "Patience, patience…”, I repeatedly told myself and the perseverance finally paid off. It may look a bit clumsy because I was greedy to preserve all my feather collection for posterity! It is unsafe only to keep all eggs in one basket, not all feathers in one frame, I decided. Later it also struck me that I could have also kept the few quills of porcupine that I have and the two squirrel tails, sawfish’s saws, a parrot skull, and a skeleton of a bird. It is said that only birds of the same feather flock together; but what I have achieved is ‘feathers of different birds flocking together’! There are quite a few unidentified feathers as well, but I am not Dr. Salim Ali, right? While the feathers were picked free of cost from here & there, it cost me quite a hefty amount to frame them. What a quirky collection! The photo framer might have wondered and charged a fat amount. Now that I have caged all my feather collection, the temptation to pick up feathers in parks or to steal from birds’ cages in zoos will be nil, or at least minimal, I do hope!
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