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I have many audio memories from childhood. The 90’s Bollywood songs that mother played on the tape recorder, the morning beep of the milkman, the calling of the waste collector (‘kabaadi wala’) on weekends, the steep shrill of the balloon seller; each and every such instance is embedded as part of my childhood. I have meticulously attached memories and episodes to such sounds, and often play them on repeat mode when those sounds resurface. One such sound, is the melody of the cuckoo bird.

Found predominantly in the summer months, the cuckoo for me symbolised the advent of summer vacations. We had a giant camphor tree in the backyard of my home, and the cuckoo would always sing its song in the after hours of lunch. When the sun would be losing its heat with its golden rays slanting across our hallway, a light breeze would be putting us all to sleep accompanied by the cuckoo’s song. I always associated peace and content from that sound. Sometimes, the bird’s song was part of my grandmother’s cooking. She would be making exquisite meals like kebabs and biryani, working like a genie, her labour dripping down her forehead, and the cuckoo would delightfully ply on one of the camphor branches to start soothing her. Perhaps, it made my grandmother feel rewarded for her work, or just was her companion. I’d never know. The cuckoo was also my maternal grandma’s companion when she would visit us. Nani, would narrate stories to us from her childhood, as the cuckoo revived her memories. She would give us facts about a cuckoo’s life, and we would listen rapt in attention. One of the most common one was her imitation of the bird’s song. “Coo-oo, coo-oo,” she would sing and her wrinkled laugh would melt my heart.

What has made me write this today, is that the cuckoo is my companion again in my new home, Singapore. It wakes me up and walks me along in the evening when I get back from classes. One thing however is that I have never sighted the cuckoo. I do not remember having seen it sing. Maybe that’s the purpose of our relationship, it is there to calm my mind and remind me of times gone by. And the bird has a listener, a loyal one. Both my grandmothers are not alive, but the cuckoo has stirred them immortal in my mind. Above all, the song has not changed, still evocative of narrations that I would want to remember, always.

Mariyam Raza Haider

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A journalist by training, Mariyam Haider is a writer and performance poet in Singapore.
She is the researcher of the book The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age written by James Crabtree.
Her writing has appeared in Hindustan Times, Livemint, Feminism In India, New Asian Writing and Kitaab.

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