Monday, June 9, 2008

The Week the City Went to the Birds

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

1 comment:

abhay said...

Dear Sonia,
We have been reading your blogs regularly.This time after reading your article ANCIENT LIGHT,we are visiting the same route and itenary with same travel agent DOLORES in October.We hope that country is safe and the tour oprator Mr.Timur will also helpful.Please leave few lines of yours,which will give confedence to my family members.My son Kathan Kothari just graduated from NID.You are always welcome to Ahmedabad
098250 62409