The call of the koel (cuckoo bird)

The call of the koel (cuckoo bird)

Have you heard the koel calling? What does it make you feel? I remember as a child returning to India for the summers. That’s when the koel is heard the most- a beautiful high pitched call.

I would sit around in my grandma’s home listening to her call and calling back to her. It was one of those lazy, fun, harmless childhood past-times. While the adults busied themselves talking to each other, I would be busy talking to the cuckoo bird. He always answered back, louder. Then I would call louder and then he until he’d grow tired and stop leaving me waiting for the next round.

The Koel’s call now, after all these years, is still sweet but it does not sound fun anymore. I do not find it annoying as yet as some people may but there’s an uneasiness that’s hard to shrug off.


It must have been 4 a.m. or half past three

When I heard her call

Once, twice, thrice and stop

Still dark outside

I cannot sleep, neither can she

I hear her voice, again

Once, twice, thrice; an urgency hard to shake

Reaches a crescendo

And then it stops. A silence.

I strain my ears; will she call again?

The whirring of the fan

Tirelessly revolving; the sound of the air against the blades

The calls begin once more

Once, twice, thrice; a desperation

Louder, faster, louder

Gaining momentum, an impatience, a restlessness

Is it a call for the rains?

The earth an inferno, no longer bearable

Or a lonely heart’s cry for a soulmate?

She starts again and stops. Silence.

Once, twice, thrice, she calls again

And continues untiring, relentlessly

And when she stops

I hear another

is it an answer, a response, a confirmation?

Are they sharing their sorrow?

Or is it a desultory conversation

Or are they praying in unison?

What is it that bothers them so

The infidel, selfish cuckoo birds.

I will never know what it pines for

For the rest are still asleep

And it is only I who hear

Sense her longing and feel her anguish

Is it really her then or is it me?

Note: It is the male cuckoo bird who calls koo-o-o koo-o-o. But in the poem I have taken creative liberties to refer to the bird as a ‘she.’ For those of you who haven’t heard the Koel’s call, I have attached a video of it below.

Sound of the koel

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P.C. and V.C. From the net

5 responses to “The call of the koel (cuckoo bird)”

    • Thank you so much Robbie. Am so happy you found it informative and delightful. Just before the monsoons, you can hear this bird calling all day.


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