It was three thirty in the night, and I was watching a movie. With a serial killer on the loose and Nicholas Cage in the lead role the movie had my full attention. It was around 4 o’ clock that I heard the familiar chirping outside my room.
Directly in front of the balcony of my hostel room, there was a big wall covering almost all of the three stories of the huge boy’s hostel. There, of course, was a ‘respite space’ in between the string of balconies of the various rooms lined up like a hotel and the massive retaining wall. You must’ve heard about the infamous landslides that kill the drivers or cause a roadblock on the curvy mountain roads. Due to them, walls like these are quite common in the hills. There is always a danger of stones or a part of the hill breaking off and falling on the building beside it. Retaining walls or similar structures are used to give solidarity to the inevitable hillside –small or big- alongside a building.
In the space between the wall and the balconies, there was a narrow walk of about 10 or 15 feet width. It went parallel to the hostel rooms and was a perfect place for the night owls to gather and play cricket. The place was always bustling with sound, sweat, and emotions getting the better of the would-be engineers.
4 o’clock in the night, however, was late even for those owls. For me, not so much. I’ve always enjoyed the quiet that spreads its wings around 3 am in the night. With earphones in ears and the lights out for the benefit of my two roommates, I enjoyed any and every kind of movie, to let go of all the tension and frustration that the place called Hamirpur had sent my way from the day I set foot there. Far away from the tensions and shortcomings and failures, I sought refuge in my movies –the fictional world I live in as one of my friends recently pointed out- searching that perfect world that I long for in the false but dreamy world, instead of the real but cruel one.
Almost every day around the time I slept I could hear the chirping of birds outside my balcony. They had made a home in the narrow holes of the resolute wall in front of my room. You’d almost not notice them even in the day, with the shade of the wall shielding our side of the hostel from the sun in the day, and the desolate feeling in the night. It was the only time one could register their presence in the hustle and bustle of a boy’s hostel. You could hear them chirping away and talking to each other in their secret bird-talk.
After I had passed out from the college, I came to know that four in the morning is the time most of the birds wake up in the mountains. Perhaps in the plains too. However, at that time, I thought of them as the faithful but hidden accomplices of my night escapades. The ‘Silent and Watchful protectors’ of my solitude. I was no Batman, and they were no Robin. But sure as there are stars in the night sky, they appeared to chirp at exactly the same time every day.
They seemed to be reminding me that the peaceful time I so enjoy was coming to an end and it was time to go to bed. Classes in the third year of college used to be quite late in the day, but not so late that you could get away with sleeping at 6 am in the morning. So my staunch companions dutifully kept a watch on me every night, on a tiny watch stacked away in their makeshift nest, chirping loudly whenever I tried to get away with more than what I could afford. I smiled every time I heard them, knowing someone was vying for my attention amidst my solitude; caring for me so far from home.
I have long since left my hostel. And college for that matter. Sometimes when I return to my hometown and lay down on my cozy bed right beside a big glass window, I think of those birds. I can still sometimes hear them outside my bedside window chirping merrily at the odd hour of the night. Or shall I say morning for them? It feels like they have traveled all the way from my college in Hamirpur to my home in Solan to meet me after every two or three months when I come back from the plains. I hear them merrily talking among themselves assuring each other that their companion in solitude is safe, and has returned unharmed from the scorching plains to the place where he belongs. The valley between the two mountains where his watchful protectors still chirp every morning. This time in longing rather than sweet compassion.