Home > Nature > A home for the Water-hen!

A home for the Water-hen!

Sales Coach blog has declared a 5-day week for itself – the blog will present 5 articles each week on Sales and associated topics – and on the weekends we will take up other interesting subjects such as Leadership, Nature, People and so on.

Today I present a subject that is extremely close to my heart.

It’s about a creature that I first saw as a child; heading towards the pond for the bath, at my mom’s parental home, we spied this little black bird (with a white patch in the neck and face region) running through the thicket making a funny clucking noise. It was a leaner and smaller version of a chicken, extremely tender and fragile in appearance. But over the years I was to learn that the appearance belied its true character – a truly hardy character that had learned to co-exist with man and put up with all the turbulences we threw in its life. But will we behave likes good neighbours and let it live on among us …..

Malayalis are accumulating assets like there is no tomorrow. There is talk of recession, economic slowdown and loss of jobs, but acquisition of wealth in all forms goes on even against this seemingly dismal backdrop. Purchase of Gold, cars and apartments all show positive trends; and the biggest of them all, building a home of one’s own, is continuing unabated. People are building bigger homes with premium material purchased from across the globe – the number of retailers of imported / luxury home fixtures and accessories has grown manifold. People have money and are living the good life.

You might ask what can be wrong when everything is so hunky-dory!

On the bank of the dirty stream, running through the only unoccupied plot in the area, lives the water-hen family – in the past the stream used to be fed by rain and the natural springs in this low-lying area and the ancestor of these hardy birds ruled the roost. They could live as they pleased – food was plenty and they had large tracts of land to forage from. The entire area was a swamp with patches of deep water and some slushy reed beds; probably some cultivation or fish farming would have been practiced there but it was largely free of human population. There were Grey and Purple Herons, Cormorants hunting for fish in the deeper ponds and sandpipers and plovers keeping company with the Little Egrets and Pond Herons in the shallows. A Brahmni Kite wheeled about in the sky above and a White Collared Kingfisher sat on the Coconut tree, both waiting for an unwary fish to come close the surface of the pond.

And then everything changed! This swamp which once was a few kilometers outside Cochin City is now bang in the middle – rapid urbanization caused quiet fringes such as these to be converted into plots for construction of apartments and villas for the citizenry. As more and more homes were built and all forms of human activity grew in the area the swamp died – the ponds got filled in, and with the habitat disappearing the birds went away. The larger herons and the migratory species such as the sandpipers and plovers stopped frequenting this disturbed patch. The only ones who did not notice were the water-hens; their needs were few and they did not mind having nasty neighbours … big mistake!

The pictures shows the present state of the plot – the stream flows through the area at the further end, under the trees, where you can see the reeds and tubers growing and behind it you can see signs of human habitation. Behind and to either side of where I stood are homes big and small. The fresh water stream has turned into a gutter thanks to the waste from the houses that flank it now.

I usually go past this plot most days during the brisk 5 km evening walk – by then the egrets and pond herons are done with their fishing for the day. The prinias, drongos and mynas that frequent the patch for the rich crop of insects and worms would be back in their roost on a nearby tree. The only sound that one hears is the desperate clucking of the water-hens as they skulk in the undergrowth along the stream. There is nowhere else to go for them – this is home.

This plot, probably couple of acres in size, is being crowded in from all sides. In the near future the swampy and wet patch would probably be filled in and more homes built for Cochinites. Already a dry section at one end is being used by the local youngsters as a shuttle-badminton court and by others as parking space.

The only ones losing the home would be the water-hens – will anyone notice?

Categories: Nature Tags:
  1. June 24, 2012 at 4:23 am

    Lovely post, might is getting mightier these days..not just water hens, people who love them are also slowly disappearing 😦

    • JayadevM
      June 24, 2012 at 7:45 pm


      It’s a bleak scenario.

  2. June 24, 2012 at 5:17 am

    My first prayer, and challenge, to the Sales Coach is to advise the powers that be to declare a 5-day week for the Indian banking system too. I’d like to fall back heavily on your own exquisite articles to drive home the point that a better rested and refreshed staff is imminently more productive. I know the exercise is going to be similar to banging your head on an unpolished block of granite, but hey, you can move the mountains for sure!

    Sorry to be using your blog as a sounding board! 🙂 As usual, this is an excellent piece and I see the water hen as a symbol of ruthless deforestation and soulless urbanization. Is it a coincidence that today itself I read a report in the Times of India that claims ‘Kerala, Cochi, are the worst in crime index’, ahead of the established badlands of India! Who do you think is the water hen here? It is the man himself!

    • JayadevM
      June 24, 2012 at 8:05 pm


      Quite possible! A lot of Man-against-man stuff is happening too – haves vs havenots and the mighty vs the commoner. It’s heading for the bitter end!

      The end will come sooner for the water-hen – there is no one to represent its case.

      And I can see a huge agenda being promoted in your post. 5-day week. I am all for it. Your right about the time needed to recharge. But is someone listening. The employees have the same odds as the water-hen!

  3. June 24, 2012 at 6:00 am

    Well written Jay! congrats!. I can well narrate a ditto scene in Kakkanad where ten friends of us bought a 2.5 acre land and took 25c each for our respective house. There was this Chitra puzha flowing (and this was not so far back in 1997-98) and cormorants and herons were delicately picking up fishes and toads. We earmarked a strip along the entire stretch in river bank for a promanade with seats to sit and enjoy the scene… alas some like me moved out some built their houses but the devastation came in the name of DLF who just swooped down, filled up the areas and lo’ there are a dozen 18 storied towers have come up…!! Ornithologists can write the epitaph of the place now….! 😦 😦

    • JayadevM
      June 24, 2012 at 8:08 pm


      I have seen the concrete jungle coming up in that area. It’s shocking and like you said .. Bye-bye birds.

      Here in India we don’t see to care about wildlife or about striking a balance – Development currently seems to be against nature; co-existence is not an option.

  4. Raaj
    June 24, 2012 at 6:41 am

    Yes Jayan… a sad story indeed, repeating itself over and over all across Kerala and much of the rest of the country…. but yes, definitely more critical in Kerala than anywhere else.
    Even though those there are many organizations (NGOs) who focus on environmental protection… they are fighting a losing battle… its like trying to stop a 10 ton boulder from rolling down the hillside… you might slow it for a while… but eventually it will head down the hill destroying everything in its path.
    We are all trying to slow down the inevitable…. aren’t we all?
    Sorry to sound so depressing… but really, we Malayalis are the ones who are the least concerned about nature, environment and all that stuff… the rest of the country can at least argue their ignorance and say that they weren’t aware of things…
    We with all our literacy, social awareness and what not… we do not even have that excuse…
    We want protection and conservation and stuff like that… but only if its not in our back yard – where we will do what we very well please….
    So do we care? Of course not!
    Does it matter…. maybe to the water-hen, and a few thousand other species of life…. but then who give a d*** about them?

    • JayadevM
      June 24, 2012 at 8:15 pm

      Raaj / Jamy

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. As did, Uday, Bindu and Umashankar.

      Kerala has no excuses. Its a clear case of selfishness and utter lack of concern for other creatures and the environment.

      The politicians and the policy makers need to change their mind on the subject and implement the existing law rigorously. It’s utopian, isn’t it?

  5. Jamy
    June 24, 2012 at 6:56 am

    Ah the animal/nature lover speaking now and yup, equally relevant topic… sad but true just like Jaar stated.

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