On the newly-paved way from Singair to Manikganj, there is a big banyan tree, sprawling with its outstretched branches and green, round leaves. Just by it sits a Hindu altar, dappled in the shade of the banyan tree. There is a deity inside and a few flowers scattered on the vermilion smeared earthen floor.
Two brown fish owls used to roost there for ages. You could stop and look up the tree and there they were for sure. Huge birds, birds of such dimension are hardly seen these days. They would crane their heads on their thickset bodies and look at you with big round eyes.
In the beginning days, they were uneasy with unwarranted visitors. Slowly they got accustomed to us.
On this morning this January, we stopped by the tree and walked down to say hello to the birds. Instead, there were two boys – one of grade seven and the other grade four. They had cigarettes in hand, which they quickly hid at our sight.
We were talking with the kids; why they were here, why they smoked, where they lived. Their schools are under lockdown closure and they have nothing much to do other than loitering around.
I took a step beyond the tree and stopped. There was something feathery on the ground. My heart almost leaped out of my mouth at its sight.
I bent down to take a closer look and then realised what it was. One of the brown fish owls, dead as anything. Its wings folded on its breast as if it was praying. Its huge round yellow translucent eyes open and looking up at the sky.
For some moments I felt unanchored. There was nothing to puzzle over it – the beautiful bird had been ruthlessly killed.
I looked up at the boys and asked who killed it.
"We killed it," the older one said with a certain hint of pride. "It was sitting there." He pointed to a branch.
"Because it gouges out human eyes," the boy said. "It needs to be killed. My villagers have told me."
A sudden kind of void entered my heart. I could not summon any words to talk to these kids. This magnificent bird was here and now it was gone.
I came back with a sense of personal loss, trying to console myself that this is not an isolated incident.
The list of grievances would stretch out. Wildlife today is the least attended subject in Bangladesh.
Only a few months ago, you could walk through Purbachal and meet all kinds of wildlife there. I have seen a huge monitor lizard crossing the road. Bitterns and snipes would walk by the water bodies. There is a small patch of Sal trees from where brown fish owls would emerge from the shadows in the approaching night.
I have seen a jungle cat and jackals.
Purbachal is fast developing and they will soon be gone. Those who have no wings to fly away will be ruthlessly beaten to death.
And death in the hands of men is the last kernel of truth for them.
Last year, by my measure, was the worst for our wildlife. Everyday news came in about fishing cats being trapped and killed. That magnificent feline that helps our farmers more by eating rats and mice than by killing a few chickens and ducks, and which is listed as endangered, are treated as nothing more than vermin.
Lawmakers are found on Facebook feasting on migratory birds. Our forests are definitely on a declining march with only a showcase of trees left to camouflage the massacre that is being carried out at their hearts.
Modhupur, where once tigers and rhinos reigned, has been reduced to a pineapple and banana plantation.
Wildlife is the last thing on our minds and any development project overlooks then with impunity.
And yet, a few of our friends are still fighting an already lost battle. Every day newer species are spotted. But faster than the discoveries their habitats are being dismantled.
What we need is at least a national pledge to save at least one species a year. A single species saved is a way forward to save this whole earth.