Without really realising the effect of a name, his parents named him after a bird. His name is Tota Miya. Forty years down the line, it seems like the name couldn’t have been more apt. “Tota” means parrot in Bangla. Tota Miya is a man who has been single handedly taking care of over a thousand shalik birds, all because he has a deep sense of love and adoration for them.
Bits of black and white everywhere
A resident of Jhikargacha, one of the borderline upazilas of Jessore, he owns a tea stall at Baisha inside the upazila. To reach there, one has to go beyond massive mustard fields, making their way through a dirt road. To the left, there are large brick fields, and to the right, a tiny hut. It is in this tiny hut that Tota Miya has his tea stall, and where he spends time gossiping with customers and feeding his pet birds from time to time.
When you look beyond the dirt road, there are massive fields that extend beyond the horizon. Busy farmers can be seen working on the fields, but they aren’t alone. They are accompanied by several tiny, black and white feathered shaliks.
Not only are the fields strewn with shaliks, but the road, the branches of trees that line the street and the surrounding shops all have bits of black and white that glisten in the sun. The little shaliks sit around, some resting, some singing and some waiting for the call of their beloved friend Tota Miya.
The shaliks can sense the hour of feeding, and the moment it approaches, their numbers multiply. They are fed four times a day by their forty year old friend. Tota Miya only sets up his stall after feeding them in the morning. Beyond bearing the cost of his simple, rural life, he also shoulders all the costs incurred to feed his bird friends. Everyday, he needs 2kgs of rice to feed them. That’s approximately 730kgs of rice a year.
“Aai..aai.. aai,” he calls them, tossing the rice across the fields and road. Instantly, ¬ flocks of shaliks begin to gather around. Interestingly, they only respond to Tota Miya’s call.
A home away from home
Except him, no one else can feed them. Tota Miya says, “No matter when I call, they answer by flying to me. It pleases me very much and feeds my love and warmth for them.” As his loyal friend, their fondness for him even makes them step into his shop from time to time, but only when there’s no one else nearby. “As they are dwellers of the forest, they fear humans. They only come inside when no one is around.”
Quite recently, a doyel built its home inside the tea stall as well. However, the interesting thing is, it enters the shop regardless of the presence of people.
During Tota Miya’s childhood, he had a pet ghugu bird. Everyday, when he’d close shop, he’d spread the leftover fried food to feed the surrounding birds. Soon after, the number of birds that began to rely on him grew and that’s how his bonding with the shaliks began. Initially, there weren’t more than five birds. Today, there are over a thousand that come to his stall.
Tota Miya dreams of one day returning the love he feels for these birds. Planting a banyan tree behind his stall, he hopes it can turn into a shelter for the shaliks. “When the tree will grow, I want to hang small baskets on each branch so that these birds know they can finally call some place home.”
Everyday, visitors across the country visit Baisha to witness the sweet, innocent relationship between Tota Miya and his thousand shaliks.