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The Birds of Long Haul Flights

The Birds of Long Haul Flights

Caution: This article is 2300 words in length, and it’s written in rhetoric tone.

I am fond of the high flying things making journeys of long distances. Travelling long distances is an ancient human fascination. There is a popular phrase in Hindi which translates as ‘The horse of a marathon race’, in which the word ‘marathon’ makes it popular. The movie Swami Vivekanand, in which the veteran actor Mithun Chakravarti has done the best acting of his life was originally named ‘The Marathon of Swami Vivekanand’. In the birds too, there are two kinds. One, which live locally in comfort of their holes, and the others who make long journeys to unknown destinations. In the humans this dilemma splits a person apart; to live in the comfort of the nests, or to spread the wings and fly high to the unknown destinations?

I remember in my childhood seeing large flocks of the birds known in Gujarat and Sindh as Kunj (ibis from the central Asia, pronounced Koonj) landing in early mornings on the farms of Saurashtra (a region in India). I remember their calls creating a loud but pleasant clamour. After the sunrise the farmers would shout or make noise to get them out of their farms. It was a rather pleasant scene to see all of them taking off together and getting in an array of V shape. That too is a great fun to see them flying in that formation. There is also a Kutchhi folk song in which the heroine sings addressing the farmer who is driving these birds out of his farm with his slingshot. It translates “Don’t kill that kunj beloved brother, it will travel beyond the oceans. Let them, as we will never be able to.”

The birds of long haul flights fly high. Canada geese fly at the altitude of 28,000 to 30,000 feet. Siberian cranes cross the Himalayas at the Everest to reach to the sub Himalayan plains. Before crossing they temporarily halt on the Tibetan side of the Himalayas and wait for favourable wind. As they start feeling the breeze, they spread the wings and start the tough climb. The Himalayan eagles are waiting for this very moment. Many of them become prey of these eagles. They keep flying with a hope that the tailwind will continue to support them. Sometimes the wind drops suddenly just before they are about to cross the tallest line of the peaks. In that case flapping of the wings in such thin air doesn’t help much. Their large size also works against them. They have to return to their base. The winter is following them from Siberia and it would soon catch them up. Before that if the northern winds support them, great. Otherwise they are at the mercy of the destiny.

The long journey is full of challenges at every flap of their wings. As they fly further and further away from their homes, the sense of comfort and security also keeps fading away from them. Their life is not confined. Their journeys are not local – from their holes to the feeding ground, and back. They fly thousands of kilometers to reach their destination.

These birds of long haul flights have learnt the aerodynamics and group-dynamics from their early age. They have learnt at the beginning of their life by doing what they can achieve success for all.

A major reason of the success of their long flights year on year is their recruitment process. They don’t invite just anybody to join their group. You can’t be their member by filling up a form and paying fees. They only let them join them, who are like them. Who know about the destination, who know about the long distance to the destination. About the risks on the way to the destination. Who know how much time and efforts it will take to reach to the destination, and have that energy and strength to endure the hard work. They know what extent of efforts need to be given to get to the destination. They know the obstacles like the Himalayan range, and the headwinds, and the risks like the bullets from the hunters’ guns. They also know that when they would desperately need support from the tailwind, it may not be there. Only they join the mission, who is prepared to go through all these, otherwise there is nothing wrong in the life of comfort and safety. They may all look alike from the outside, but in reality, they are more alike from the ‘inside’ than they’re from the outside. This inner resemblance plays a decisive role in their year on year consistent success then the external resemblance.

Their destination is well set before they start flying. Their strategy and the route are defined. Their tactics and techniques are tried and tested. They hope for the best, but are also prepared for the worst which will come on their way to the destination. They stick to their strategy steadfastly, and nobody can alter it at will. Their tactics are devised using the science of aerodynamics; not made of unethical and immoral dealings fooling others and also themselves.

They arrange themselves in a pointed V shape formation that the headwind resistance can be optimally reduced. They also have a leader, even then each member of the group can see on the path of their flight. No one’s sight is obstructed by anybody’s wings. Each member can see where the entire group is going, as much as the leader can.

And the leader too doesn’t look any different from the rest of the group members. He has made that long journey the highest times, and he is physically and mentally able to lead and guide the group is his eligibility above all other criteria. The group members identify themselves with him. Mahatma Gandhi, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Bernard Montgomery were such leaders, while so far no president of India has been able to project an impression of the supreme commander of the forces on any military personnel.

These birds have transparency in their mission. While flying what the leader is able to see, the rest of the flock members can also see. He doesn’t fly in his own direction pushing the followers in a different direction. His motive is not concealed from others. They don’t leave their group to join others. Sometimes while the company leaders are preparing to sell the company, liquidate, or close down completely, the employees remain in dark. Such things don’t happen in the birds of long haul flights. The leader’s movement are transparently known to the rest of the flock members. The leaders lead the group where he too wants to go. The destination of the leaders and the group members is always the same.

Every bird in the flocks of the birds of long haul flights has received the training of leadership. The true leader does not make followers, he makes leaders. He puts himself first in the line of fire. The leader is the easiest target for the poacher’s bullet. If the enemy bullet finds him, his place is filled up instantaneously. The mission doesn’t stop. Everybody knows about the destination. The mission doesn’t get disturbed with anybody’s departure. The new leader continues the mission all the way to the destination. In a long distance train the drivers change every few hours, but the train remains on the track and doesn’t change the path. It reaches the destination. The new drivers don’t change the path at their will.

Even the member at the last rung knows how far they have to reach. In the far reaching missions each member knows for what they are working. Before the Apollo mission somebody asked a genitor at NASA what he was doing, the genitor’s response was “I am helping the humankind put the foot on the moon.”

While in the flight the birds who can’t keep up with the speed move aside and let others come forward. Unlike the typical Indian politicians whose one foot is hanging in the grave, still they don’t vacate their position to let others come forward. The rest of the group members are so smart and swift that they don’t allow others to obstruct their way. The slow flying bird has to let them overtake him. During the flight everybody gets frequent chances to practice leadership as well. The leader often comes to number two and lets the number two take the lead of the mission. That member then leaves the leading position and goes at the end to let others move a rank forward.

In the far reaching missions the communication between each member is transparent. They recognise the signals from others. They don’t waste their energy in unnecessary clamouring. The leader gives a call, then the immediately following two responds to that call, then the next two. Like that all the way to the last members register their presence. Then the leader gives another call. This communication cycle continues throughout the journey.

Once the journey begins, they don’t sway from their defined path. The path is defined taking optimum advantage of the natural factors such as seasonal winds and jet-stream. A novice may think that flying in a straight line could be a shorter route, but they don’t take shortcuts. They keep their faith in their year on year successful strategy. They don’t fall for a temptation of a shortcut to fly in straight direction to the destination. The birds like arctic tern don’t even halt at all once they start their journey near the Arctic Circle, and stop all the way at their destination – Antarctica. Same applies to their return journey.

And if the birds have to rest, they don’t let their journey get interrupted for a small amount of grains scattered on the ground. They need a large farm to land so that the whole flock can feed. The birds of the long haul flights do not get tempted by a fistful grains. They only want to feed in the warmth of their destination. Nobody can corrupt them to abandon their mission after the beginning.

Even after arriving at their destinations they don’t rest. They have to welcome their offsprings at their destination. They have to build their nests for them. There too they don’t find the life without danger. The poachers are there too. They have to be alert every moment at their destination as well. Everyone has to continue working there too. Everyone knows what they have to do after reaching at the destination. The leader too works as hard as the junior most member of the group.

Fights do exist at their destination as well. Males fight with each other for females. Females fight to seize readily made nest from other females, some females fight to take the place of the mother of an orphaned chick. But their quarrels are local and personal. It does not affect their mission. They never incubate a revenge towards others which can jeopardize the mission.

And when the homeland calls back, they start the new mission of returning home with the new generation. Some of them have got tired from the journey to arrive at this destination. Some of them like at the destination so much, that they make it their new home. But the birds of long haul flights keep flying and embark on their next journey. Those who settle at the temporary destination end up killing their adventurer spirit as well.

Where do we want to reach? Who will join us in the journey to the destination? Do we know how far it is? Do we know how will we get there? Have we figured out the best path making optimum use of the favourable phenomenons? Do we know about the possible obstacles on the way? Have we worked out the strategies to overcome them? Have we taken an audit of our strengths and weaknesses?

What kind of the birds are we? Of that kind, which live between their holes and the feeding ground, or of that kind which fly high for long distances to achieve high and noble goals? Like those, who land on the ground following their temptation of a fistful grains, or like those who push their personal comfort and rest away, till the destination is reached! Like those who sabotage the mission by abandoning it accepting personal benefits, or dedicated to the mission!

It is not a kunj if it doesn’t know the destination. It is not a kunj if it doesn’t know the route to the destination. Which likes a comfortable life in its nest in a hole is not a kunj. It is not a kunj which doesn’t gather adequate energy and strength to reach to the destination. It is not a kunj which loses patience on the mission to the goal. It is not a kunj which would like to land on the ground for personal benefits not thinking of the comrades. It is not a kunj which is not prepared to put itself in the line of fire. It is not a kunj which holds on to the leadership not letting others progress.

If we find any of these in our character, we have to be extra alert. We have to get over those traits. We have to make sure that the kunj of our ambition and aspiration remains alive to attain the high and noble goals. Don’t let it get killed by short term gains and instant gratification. If we feel like seeking comfort, we should remember the words of the Kutchhi folk song…

“Don’t kill that kunj beloved brother, it will travel beyond the oceans…”

Wishing all of you a great flight.

|| उत्तिष्ठत जाग्रत प्राप्य वरान्निबोधत ||

(Arise, awake, learn, and achieve the great)

–   कठोपनिषद्

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