Early nineties, when we first migrated to this city, K and I would mooch around Connaught Place just for the pleasure of it. One afternoon, returning to Palika to collect the car, we found a gang of boys tormenting a large kite with a broken wing that hissed and flapped and tried desperately to break out of the jeering circle. Outrageous! We dispersed the vermin with razor-sharp curses. The bird saw its chance and dragged itself under the safety of a parked car.
Now what? K recalled hearing about a bird hospital in Old Delhi. Very well, but how to get it out from under the car to the hospital without getting one’s eyes scratched out? K non-committal. My turn. I talk to the bird softly for long minutes, then slowly put my hand out towards it. It looks at me quizzically for a moment and then to our utter astonishment, spreads its wings and lays its head on the ground in a gesture of total submission.
By the time I park outside Red Fort and race up to first floor of the Bird Hospital, K. is arguing vehemently with the doctor in-charge. “They won’t take the cheel.”
“Because it’s a F-ing Jain Bird Hospital.” I don’t understand. “Maidum,” the vet explains patiently, “we are Jains. We can’t take non-veg birds.”
Back home, I dress Mr.Cheel’s wounds and offer him a meal of raw mince on the terrace table, which he devours. Afterwards, without a by your leave, he spreads his wings, and to our horror, launches off. He only makes it to the banister, teetering at the edge of the terrace. “No, don’t do it,” I shriek. Too late. He flings himself into space. I lunge and grab, and catch the tip of his good wing. Let go, or this will break too. He spins and careens two floors down like a Huey shot down by the Viet Cong. Thud. Luckily the landlord grows thick Mexican grass.
Day 2 & 3: I seem to recall that if you don’t add gristle and feathers to the mince menu, raptors tend to get constipated. No such luck here, and I must scrub the thick, white guano off my beautiful floors. But he is as docile as a little puppy and allows me to stroke the top of his head. Already I am thinking of the magnificent figure I will cut, sitting proudly astride my horse, bird on wrist.
Day 4 & 5: K is nervous. Mr. Cheel is stronger and has shredded the yellow bedcover that serves as his nest, into fettucine-thin strips.
Day 6: K opens the box gingerly. “Oh my God.” Mr. Cheel stands at the threshold, beak twisted into an angry snarl, wings above head like a Kite from Hell. “Don’t be silly,” I say as I pick him up and start to dress his wound. Hissss! And K. falls back five feet as if zapped by a live wire. I laugh, “K, you’re such a bloody cowa…aaaarrrgh!” I pull my finger away and it’s dripping blood. “That’s it you scrofulous, namak haram, I’ve had it with you!” I yell, while K gently prises the kitchen knife out of my hand.
Day 7: His wing will never heal, the zoo director tells us, but he will be safe and well fed. Bye, Mr. Cheel. I walk away, my spirits as limp as his broken wing.
© Sonia Jabbar