A narrow strip of mud escaped the cemented driveway, but it is home to an astonishing number of trees and plants. Some are crotons, but some are fruit bearing trees! A large fig tree grew all by itself, sideways, so its broad trunk is flattened against the walls and its roots have pushed up the drive into a tiny cement mound. I have been told that its fruit is edible in a kind of stew we call kootu, but I have never dared to try cooking it. Further down is a guava tree which is generally denuded of fruit by crows, squirrels and street urchins. Still further down in a lovely tree with soft, big tear-shaped, light green leaves which can be cooked into any number of messes and is good for catarrh and ulcers. The fig tree is home to a number of birds. Early in the morning, generally before dawn, as I sleepily wait for the microwave to defrost the milk, it begins to rustle and I know dawn is breaking. It starts with the muezzin’s call, from the local mosque, which at this time, spring, is still before dawn. Then slowly, beginning with a sleepy crow from the cockerel on top of the pile of stones near the local slum, the momentum builds until a full-bodied cock-a-doodle cuts the silence. The tree begins to hum then. The crows are always first: raucous, loud and quite joyous. Then begins a series of cheeps as the squirrels advertise their awakening. The dawn light brings the pigeons from their perch, with much guttural cooing and flapping of wings. Then there is a bird which has a loud, hooting call. I’ve never been able to catch it. Sparrows had disappeared for some years, but this tree brought them back to my garden. Come summer, the brown and yellow mynahs and fat brown seven sisters come for the fruit. If one watches for them, one might see a tiny green bee-eater and the ubiquitous red-vented bulbul. Careful listening for a loud tapping will lead to the brown and orange, cockaded wood-pecker. Sometimes, a flash of brilliant blue, heralds the kingfisher. The crows have a running battle with a cuckoo couple every summer. The black male alternately sings and scolds, while the grey striped female does screeching battle with the crows for their nest. I think the cuckoos usually win. The tree is also home to a fairy or so the locals believe. Certainly, it is home to several cats, which wait on the wall bordering our garden, near the tree, sphinxlike, unless chased off by the dogs, for the unwary squirrel, or for stray mice, which also make their home in a hollow near the roots. One year, my little girl saw a grass snake. As a child, my garden had a mongoose, but now we have only caterpillars and millipedes, frogs and snails which wander in to our house quite happily, watched stilly by the lizards on the wall and the chameleon in the garden. Night brings the fruit bats, flying erratically round the tree. The cicadas chirr softly, while a sleepy crow caws goodnight and the cows and buffaloes head home, in the street outside, lowing softly.
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