10-year old Sahar loves Batman. But he hates bats! And ever since the current Covid crisis broke, he is terrified of them.
Sahar often played cricket with his father under the shade of the huge banyan tree behind his house. But now, he has been forbidden to go anywhere near it. For it houses dozens of fruit bats.
‘Don’t play under that tree!’ Sahar’s grandmother warns him. ‘The bats will give you the virus!’
‘These creatures dirty the ground with their goo!’ complains the sweeper, turning up his nose. ‘The whole place stinks!’
‘I’ve heard bats drink human blood!’ his sister chimes in.
‘They say bats bring bad luck,’ quips his mother.
‘I’m going to have this tree cut down tomorrow!’ fumes his father. ‘It is a risk to our lives!’
Listening to them all, Sahar watches the bats dangling up-side-down on the branches high above his window. How was Batman so cool when the creatures he was inspired from, were so loathsome and disgusting, he thinks to himself.
A metallic call tears him away from the bats, turning his attention to the little coppersmith barbet drilling away at its nest on a hollow dead branch. What happens to the barbet if the tree is hacked down? The thought troubles him. His eyes wander around the spreading branches of the massive Banyan. It is home to squirrels and bulbuls and mynas and dozens of other creatures. Besides, it is his favourite play area.
At night, Sahar goes to bed despondently, staring at the poster of Batman on the wall. From Batmobile to Batarang – the superhero had the coolest gadgets any boy could want. But the bats screeching outside his window were anything but cool. Blind, useless and a complete menace! Pulling the blanket over his head, Sahar is lulled into sleep and drifts off into a batty dream.
A black creature comes flying through the window, crashing into Sahar. It is followed by a dozen more. They come at him incessantly like an army, swooshing past his ears, flying around his face, getting into his bedcover.
‘Go! Go Away!’ Sahar sits up with a start, yelling, his eyes pressed tightly shut.
But more bats swarm into the room, covering every inch of space.
‘Help!’ Sahar cries, pulling his knees closer and hiding his face in his hands. ‘Please…help!’
There is a sudden flash of light and the screeching of bats is replaced by the screeching of tyres. Sahar opens one eye ever so slightly.
‘Hey Champ!’ he hears a familiar voice. Sahar can’t believe his eyes. Its Batman! Sitting on the edge of his bed!
‘What’s a fearless boy like you doing getting scared of little bats?’
‘I…uh…no…’ Sahar mumbles, trying to put up a brave front. ‘No…I’m not scared!’
‘Bats! Are you scared of my little friends here?’ laughs Batman, plucking one of the flying bats and placing it on his arm. ‘Do you realise they are no bigger than your palm?’
Sahar looks at the bat curiously, still trying to shield himself from the dozens buzzing around his face. ‘I…yes…I am terrified of bats!’ he admits, drawn in by the bat’s large endearing eyes. ‘Not just me. Everyone is scared of them,’ he says. ‘Don’t you know bats caused the coronavirus?’
Batman roars with laughter. ‘So you think the bats will give you the virus?’
Sahar nodded. ‘I…I don’t want them to cut the tree though,’ he laments. ‘Batman! Can you help me?’ his eyes light up. ‘I’m sure you can come up with a way to save the tree and get rid of the pesky bats?’ Sahar asks expectantly.
‘Buddy…your friends and family are overreacting,’ says Batman. ‘Bats don’t give you coronavirus. Just one out of the 1400 species of bats carries a virus that is similar to the coronavirus. That bat is not the one that sleeps on your banyan tree. In any case, that virus doesn’t seem to infect humans . Bats are, in fact, our friends.’
‘Friends?’ Sahar asked, wide-eyed. ‘Bats? My friends?’ he repeated, nearly laughing. ‘No way! Why should I care about these creatures?’
‘Alright…what do you think would happen if the world had no bats?’ asks Batman.
‘Uh…there’d be no Batman?’ Sahar grins sheepishly.
‘Of course!’ Batman winks. “And what a huge loss that would be! But besides that, do you know those big bats are like gardeners or farmers? They help flowers turn into fruits,’ explains Batman. ‘And then bats eat those fruits and transport the seeds so that they can grow into trees. Without bats, we would not have so many trees…and humans may never have found bananas!’
‘Unbelievable isn’t it?’ Batman smiles. ‘And see those tiny bats flying around the streetlight? You know what they are up to? They’re eating insects like malaria-causing mosquitoes and moths and hoppers so that we can eat rice, corn and other grains.’
Sahar sits up straight, looking at the creatures with new eyes. ‘So…’ he asks hesitantly. ‘They won’t give me the corona virus? And they are not going to drink my blood?’
‘No!’ laughs Batman, patting Sahar’s back. ‘Bats are more scared of you than you are of them! They are shy and gentle animals that help us without seeking any credit. Who told you they drink your blood? The bats in your neighbourhood only eat fruits and insects.’
‘Care for a spin in the Batmobile with little Bakul?’ Batman winks, inviting Sahar for a ride.
‘Really?’ Sahar jumps out of his bed excitedly, clutching Batman’s arm, warming up to his batty friend. Together they go floating through the window along with his newly discovered friends in pitch darkness.
‘Wait…I can’t see!’ Sahar hollers. ‘Let me get a torch!’
‘You don’t need one!’ exclaims Batman. ‘Fly like the bats! Hear your way out. Can you hear your echoes? Watch out! That’s a tree in front of you, turn left. Follow Bakul! Look how she’s screaming loudly to find her way. She’s catching mosquitoes, twisting and turning in split seconds with her baby on her chest! Isn’t she a genius?’
Sahar goes flying through the night with Batman and Bakul, joining hundreds of screeching bats making their way miraculously through trees and buildings in complete darkness. Landing back on his bed with a thud, Sahar rubs his eyes as he awakes. It had been the ride of his life!
The next morning, two burly men approach the banyan tree menacingly with sharpened axes.
Sahar is standing below it, dressed in his batman costume, his cape fluttering behind him.
‘Move away child!’ they instruct him.
‘No!’ thunders Sahar, looking up at the bat colony. ‘You cannot cut this tree!’ He blocks their path. ‘I won’t let you!’
‘Beta….the bats are dangerous!’ his grandmother cries.
‘Don’t be foolish!’ howls his father. ‘They are going to give us all the virus!’
‘Do you want us all dead?’ a neighbour glowers at him from his window.
‘Leave the bats alone!’ Sahar protests. ‘They won’t give us the virus! They are our friends!’
‘Eh? What?’ his mother looks at him quizzically, her hands on her hips. ‘Have you lost your mind?’
‘Maa…they save us from mosquitoes,’ Sahar explains. ‘They help produce our food…we have chocolates because of them!’ rattles off Sahar. ‘We have….’
‘Oh stop blabbering!’ his sister rolls her eyes.
‘Not blabbering at all!’ says Sahar firmly, looking up at the colony of friends and reminiscing about his nocturnal adventure with Bakul. Suddenly, they didn’t appear loathsome or disgusting to him anymore. ‘Bats don’t give us the virus guys. Bats give us our food!’
The Batman who appears in this story is not the Batman of the movies. And yet, he is very much a Batman. Rohit Chakravarty is an expert on bats who agreed very kindly to do this story to inform children about bats, given the recent misinformation and fear about these benign creatures.
Rohit works at Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Germany and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . For more information, do watch this short video about bats that Rohit and his filmmaker friend, Shaz Syed have created at https://vimeo.com/416618851. If you’d like to help in batting for the bats – do share this story and video with your friends.
SO….DID YOU JUST SAY BATS GIVE US MORE CHOCOLATES?
Small bats eat insects, some of which damage the leaves and fruits of cocoa plants. A study in Indonesia estimated that due to this natural pest control, bats helped cocoa farmers save 780-832 million US dollars! This means that, thanks to bats, farmers make more money and we get more chocolate!