It was in the year 1997. The world was a bit laid-back then, the struggles and the turmoil(s). The cats were yet to rule the world. The western world was busy, while the Indian political environment was unfolding. Sachin was not a god and the Sharjah inning was yet to happen. Hockey was still a paramount issue of discussion, and lawn tennis had not seen the light of the day. Saurav Ganguly was yet to go shirtless at Lords. The media wasn’t in the frenzy, while the major source of information were still the newspapers. The MDH masala man was still ancient, and Salman Khan was yet to discover footpaths. It was a reclusive India
All in all, this is reminiscence from an era gone by. An era, unimaginable for the generation of smartphones. The children were born naive. Naive, but in private. And I was one of those. A 6 year old who thought every movie was nothing but a sketch. A child who still holds dear of his mother.
I was naive. An introvert born amongst extroverts. Stubborn and ignorant, always lost in my thoughts. Whereas my sisters, respectively being 9 and 4 years older, were compassionate and sharp. Compassionate enough to give shelter to animals or birds in our house’ irrespective of their consent (emphasis applied). Talking about the house, oh a temple it was, a place which I still worship in my dreams. A small apartment surrounded by trees, where rainbows were a common sight. The community was a spectator to birds of different kinds. Sparrows, pigeons, cuckoo, woodpeckers, eagles, vultures, parrots to name a few. After all, bird sighting wasn’t mainstream. Vultures weren’t on the verge of extinction, and sparrows, pigeons were still a part of human habitat.
As it proceeds, one fine day, the second sister, an enthusiast by nature, saw an injured sparrow downstairs. Injured it definitely was, for it couldn’t fly and was seeking shelter in a corner. Smaller then my fist, all scared, it was shaking endlessly. One could hear it’s heard thumping about. While the dogs, eagles and vultures lurked nearby.
Looking at the bird’s miserable condition she took pity on it, and picked it up.
“Oh! You poor little thing, don’t worry I am here to save your day” she exclaimed. Gladly there weren’t enough active NGO’s back then, for they might have objected to the carrying of the bird without its consent.
Picking it in her arms, she brought it to the eldest, who was carrying me on her shoulders. We looked at it with our intrigued twinkling eyes. It was a brown, feathery sparrow. A beauty it was, dark round. I am sure it was soft as a squish.
It hid further in my sister’s arms, scared of the looming humans near it. But I wasn’t allowed to touch or pet it, for I was a naive, stupid and ignorant boy of the 90’s. While my sisters stroked it with love, trying to comfort it, I stood thereby watching its every step.
I was permitted to watch it, and adhere to the commands. “Oi you naive boy, get some water for it” barked the eldest. So I went, adhering to the command in search of a bottle cap while the sisters prepared a majestic cotton bed and blanket for it. I admit, if I have ever been jealous of something, it surely was from the luxury the bird was enjoying in our company. For it was a sight to behold, a soft bed wrapped with cotton cloth and stuffed with fine cotton found, kept inside a small carton box. Two bottle caps were kept nearby, one containing water and other- pulse and seeds.
The bird squeaked in delight, or in fear, for we were not yet versed with the act of birds. Probably in the foresight of what was to come. For it was a fine day, and I was a naive and ignorant child.
We fed it water and food grains, while the sisters discussed whether to keep it there or not. It was decided that it will be left in the wild once it had regained its will to fly and was healed inside out. But a major hurdle remained. The hurdle to convince the mother, for she was against the idea of keeping pets or animals in captivity. She preferred animals and birds, wild and free.
Legends have it that the mother wasn’t always like that. She once had a pair of parrots in her house. It wasn’t until a parrot died that she realised the truth of the wild and freed the other bird. But, it’s a story from an era gone by, times I was not even a sperm in competition. A legend from the times long forgotten.
It went by as per the sisters predictions. Our mother was bewildered, but had to give in before the sisters adamancy, not before gifting us with some tight slaps. You see, mothers worldwide have a different way of expressing their love. Whereby Indian mothers let their actions speak for themselves. The motherly love here is determined by the number of slaps you receive in the entirety of your childhood.
So, in came the bird, kept in the corner of the drawing room, under a table enjoying the human luxuries of life, all without a cage. My sisters would pet it, feed it and play with it. At times the eldest would test its flying, only to catch it before it would fall. After all, she had the safest hands in our house, safe enough to comfort the bird. Yet there I was, naïve as a rat and ignorant as a fly.
My eldest sister would let me pat it at times, stroke it in her presence but not let me play with it. Imagine the plight of a 6 year old, a soft squishy beautiful bird, but not allowed to play with it. I wanted to teach it how to fly, feed it and heal it too.
Days passed by, I would feed it under my sister’s supervision and observe it, while the bird would sing at times. Probably when it was happy, or a forlorn figure. A squeak when we weren’t around, at times at night, at times at noon, and at times during evening when the birds outside were calling for its joining. The presence of the birds around probably gave it hope, hope to join them and fly into the abyss. For it would burst into sudden songs or squeaks of voices as if communicating to us.
But we were teaching it how to fly, or I thought I was. For I saw my eldest sister check its flight, and catch it before gravity could do its work. For she knew how to handle it. But I wanted to do it too… Alas, I was but a naive kid from the 90’s.
I was home alone and it was a hot day. The temperature soared 40 degrees (Celsius) and above. My family had forgotten me at home and went off for work. I remember it as yesterday. The morning was calm, the day sunny, the birds out of their nest in search of food.
… And I heard the sparrow singing. I thought it was bored.
There I went to the drawing room to give company to the bird. After all, a friend in need is a friend indeed, or I thought, a friend helping a friend, to pat and play with it. I picked it up.
It was smaller than my unusually small fists, soft, squeaky and responding. I patted its head and fed water to it. I guess it drank too much, for it extracted half of it out and I cleaned it’s cloth for it.
I took the bird to my room, for the sun shone the brightest there and the cushion would be comfortable for it. I thought, the marble floor must be hurting its claws. Here it was, a little bird in my hands, me taking care of it, patting it and trying to communicate to it. I even got the teddy bear there. Somehow the bird started trembling, as I kept it on the teddy’s head. I thought the bird would enjoy its throne, the view from the tall head of the teddy.
Oh, I was naive and ignorant.
I remember it crystal clear, it was a sunny day, the sun shone brightly into the room, rays brilliantly shining upon us. The bird shook vigorously, and it’s throat vibrating. It was a calm day after all.
And it slipped…
Slipped from my hand and jumped. From the top of the teddy onto the bed. Alas I was ignorant. My hands were small, slow and the bird couldn’t fly.
I looked at the bird. Spoke to it. Shouted. Made squeaky voices, patted its head and stroked it. But it wouldn’t respond.
I blew air over it, waved my hands over it, but it was gone. Didn’t move, not an inch.
The vibrations were gone, no more shaking, no more squeaking, no more feeding, no more patting. For the bird would fly no more, yet fly forever in spirits.
I picked the body up, carried it back, still stroking and patting it. Trying to talk it out and wake it up from slumber. But it didn’t budge. And I kept it back on its cushion, its bed. For it was a small bird, a child amongst the sparrows.
It was a sunny day, I was naive.
The sisters came and found the bird not moving. Nobody knew what, and how, but the little naive boy of the 1990’s. That day a tear fell from the cheek, on the marble floor, shattering into thousand droplets. It was a pain bore by one. I wasn’t naive anymore.
It has been 17 years since then. I recently told my sister about it, for none of them knew. She responded “don’t mind it, for you were just a kid”. But can somebody convey this to the bird. Tell it that I was just a kid. Tell, that it would never fly again. Never.
Ah, I was just teaching the bird how to fly. Wasn’t I?
Remember, if you cage it, it’s not a bird anymore.