They came flying from far away
Now I’m under their spell…. (Abba)
Though the famed Abba number sings about the Eagle, the words are equally true for the flamingos that flock to the city during Mumbai’s tepid winters.
Flying all the way from the Rann of Kutch, where the cold gets severe, mainly during the nights to avoid predators, often covering 600 kms at a stretch, they swoop to shelter in the city, foraging for food at the Sewri jetty where they feed off algae produced by phosphorous and nitrogen deposits in the mud flats.
Surrounded by thick mangroves on one side, and huge industrial ships spewing out oil, they dig into the waters with beaks that contain a unique filter that takes in nutrients and efficiently separates what they don’t need. The shrimps they eat give them their lovely hues of pink, for when they are born, they are a pristine white.
Early evening, and it was a different Mumbai that I saw. The jetty is an isolated strip of land. The land is muddy and uneven, and the only sounds you hear are the hooting of ships in the distance, and whirring of machinery on those docked around, as men in overalls repair them -sparks flying into the evening air. That and the cry of birds – terns, egrets, seagulls, sandpipers, bringing the hums of faraway lands.
Fisher boys crawl through the mudflats on their bare knees, hunting for crabs and oysters and shrimps, coming up with unusual water creatures which they quickly bottle after taking a shot from their mobile phones. For a find is a find, and they want no one else to take credit or possession of what is theirs.
I have come here to watch what I think will be the last of the flamingos on this land. Their pink outline on the horizon breathtakingly beautiful, as close to 6000 of them peck at their food, and take off in flocks across the wetlands, as graceful as a bevy of pink attired ballerinas.
The proposed Nhava Sheva sealink that will run straight through their migratory habitat will destroy the mudflats where flamingos and many other migratory birds feed. As they leave our shores sometime during April and go back to their home in Kutch, will they turn back and look for the last time? Will they know that they will never be able to find their way back again next year?