Hornbills, Brandy And  A Pensive Monkey

Hornbills, Brandy And A Pensive Monkey

We reached Kohima. The sun rises early (!) in Kohima. I had read about Nagaland, now we were there. It was cold, very cold. Our driver showed us around the city. It was then that I had my regular visitor.

“Why do they call them ‘Naga’? I mean the people of Nagaland.” I asked Lulu, as he settled on the carrier of our car where we had loaded our bags.

“They were probably called so because they wore rings on pierced noses – naka means nose!” I looked up Wikipedia to confirm what Lulu said.

“Hmmm…. I thought it must have something to do with the Hornbills – But I was wrong. Nagas are fascinated by Hornbills.”

[Note the Hornbills on the beam]

“Yup! They wear its feathers and use a headgear resembling the horn like beak of the bird. Oh, what a bird! I saw one at Lote Parsuram in Konkan.”

“They were there in abundance, but you drove them away, killed them! Do you know the story of “William” the hornbill who swallowed a cigar?”

“Hornbill swallowing cigar? Hah, ha!”

“And then drank Brandy?”

“Surely you are joking, Lulu”

“Oh! Let me read out this passage from the Bombay Natural History’s book”

“Sure, go ahead, interesting……”

Lulu then read out from a book….

“The Hornbill’s original home was Karwar and he was presented to the [Bombay Natural History] Society in August 1894 by Mr. H. Ingle. In his early youth ‘William” was a famous cricketer and could be relied on to equal a Presidency cricketer in his capabilities as a field. Of late years owing to old age or perhaps approaching blindness, he seemed however unable to catch anything and the old system of feeding had to be changed and, instead of the fruit on which he lived being thrown to him, the dish had to be held up to him from which he would select those fruits which seemed to his sensitive beak to be sufficiently succulent. In the day time when he could be observed, “William” hardly ever condescended to take food placed on the floor of the cage.

On only one occasion did this Hornbill ever depart from his lifelong abstinence from drink of any kind, and on the occasion in question it was force majeure. He had playfully extracted a lighted cigar out of a friend’s mouth and swallowed it. Mercifully the cigar was promptly extinguished in the process as in order to make the bird disgorge, brandy was poured down its throat! All the liquid nourishment these birds require is obtained from the fruit they eat.

“William” was supposed to have been about six months old when he came to Bombay – so was about 26 years old at the time of his death.” [Bombay Natural History Society’s Museum, 5th May 1920, p 174]

“That’s interesting. I went to Heritage village near Kohima. I saw many hornbills on a tree.”

“They are all artificial birds, they are meant to give photo op for the tourists.” Lulu said in a condescending tone.

“At the Heritage Village, I saw Naga huts. Traditional. They do wooden carving, it is really work of art.”

“Yes. And did you see the monkey sitting on top of the elephant?”

“Yes, he appears to be in pensive mood.”

“Ha ha ha! Well, may be thinking of cigars and brandy; monkeys are also known to try cigars and brandy.” Lulu had a smirk on his face. “Not only Homo sapiens” he completed the not-so-veiled assault.

“Oh, shut up. If my wife hears this she will have a fit of laughter looking at me suggestively.”

“And then I will tell her that Nagaland is a ‘dry’ state.” Lulu laughed and looked at me.

Vivek S Patwardhan