Counting Hadadas in East Africa

For as long as mankind could dream, birds and flying have held a fascination for us. But the kind of flying we do in airplanes that start with a roar like a hadada, is far from the soaring of the soul that the birds seem to enjoy.  Fascinating creatures, birds. Every time I set out on a walk, my ears pick up trilling and cooing and cawing of the birds. One evening, I gazed upon two pretty swallow-like birds with maroon plumage on their chests. Such beautiful little things, and yet when they trilled, I could not believe the volume that emanated from them. I also realized, to my dismay, that I could not identify them. When I do identify birds, I seem to get them wrong quite cheerfully and confidently. Like the last time I called a Canadian Goose a Duck. Both species took umbrage, not to mention fellow human beings.

I needed to rectify these aspects, I thought to myself severely.  That is why you would have seen me with my beak buried in a book called ‘A Guide to the Birds of East Africa’ by Nicholas Drayson. I see your puzzled expr. Why East Africa? Why not America. Well, for one, the book cover looked better, and for another, I thought why not East Africa? I might visit Kenya one day, and that time, I shall be prepared to dazzle and stun all with my ornithological knowledge.


As it turns out, the book turned out to have quite a few bird names, but little to identify species. It was, however, a thoroughly delightful tale about an upper class club boasting members of the rich Indian community in Kenya, called the Asadi Club. In the book, Mr Malik takes the bird-watching tour every Tuesday morning with Ms Rose Mbikwa, after his doctor ordered him a hobby if he wished to spare his old heart an attack. That is how efficient, quiet and sincere Mr Malik learns to enjoy bird watching, and his guide to bird-watching Ms Rose Mbikwa.

I feel I must tell you the short tale of counting hadadas to entice you to read further or not, depending on your sense of humor. Some people like that kind of thing, some others screw up their noses, look dignified and turn away with a disdainful look on their face.  Neither can thrive while the other survives.

In the book, the members of the Asadi club are reading the newspaper which carries a research article that states on average man farts 101 times a day. This fact is hugely debated by members of the club. Member #1 cannot understand how that is possible purely from a mathematical point of view, since that amounts to 4.208 farts an hour, and he is pretty sure he has not let off 4.208 farts just in the past hour alone.

Valid point.

Member #2 feels that an average takes the high frequency hours with the low frequency hours and the past hour cannot be a reliable indicator.

Also valid point.

Enter Mr Singh, a retired magistrate, and the betting vein is tapped. Mr Singh gets the bets going, and sets terms and conditions to decide the condition. Since one cannot count the flatulence levels or fart frequency during sleep, all parties agree that a count during a 12 hour period should suffice. If a member is able to notch up 51 in 12 hours, Member #2 wins, if not, Member #1 wins. As they look around for a reliable person for the actual counting, poor sincere Mr Malik is roped in. Everybody agrees that if it has to be an unbiased outcome, it has to be vetted by someone with the efficiency and sincerity of Mr Malik’s calibre.

So it was that Mr Malik’s help in the house, a lad from a nearby village, is assigned the task of noting down the farts. To spare the boy the details, Mr Malik, an ardent birdwatcher tells the boy that he will tell him every time he sees a hadada, an ibis like bird that makes a loud noise haa-daa-daa hence the name, that is native to the African savannah. The boy dutifully notes it down, though seriously wondering how on earth Mr Malik saw several dozen hadadas, when he himself saw at most 4 or 5.


It is a tale with many diversions and one thing leads to another and before he knows it, Mr Malik is up against Harry Khan, in a bird watching competition to see who can ask Ms Rose Mbikwa’s hand for a ball, and the hadada-counting boy from the village lends Mr Malik a hand (As it turns out, the boy has superior ornithological knowledge by virtue of growing up around plenty of birds).

A delightful read, if you don’t wish to exercise the bean much, and one in which you get to know the names of many birds even if you cannot identify them. As you amble along with these characters, you get to take a peek into Kenyan culture and life.

Also, Counting Hadadas is a useful euphemism to employ in public. You are welcome.

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