The other day while having tea on the terrace of a friends house, my attention was caught by a movement under the overhanging tiles on the roof in front of me. As I watched, a small feathered figure with a round head and eyes that appeared to have grown large in amazement appeared out of the dark interior. I spilled some of my tea, as I watched the bird blink comically with his head turning from side to side and sit looking down upon us with what can only be described as an amused 'philosophic expression. What my hosts did not know was the fact that I had already developed a long relationship with, what in my family is known as a kuchkuchawwa - the small species of owl known to ornithologists as Athene Brama or Spotted Owlet. My love affair with this bird began when I was just five years old, during an altercation with a cousin when the phrase ullo ka patha slipped out, followed by an extended session rinsing my mouth under the uncharacteristically angry supervision of my mother. My next encounter with this charismatic bird was rather traumatic. Our old home in Lahore was accessed by a long drive overshadowed somewhere in the middle distance by an ancient gnarled peeloo tree and the story that it was haunted. Schools were closed for the summer vacation and my family was preparing to make their annual summer migration to Murree, leaving us children with much time on our hands. These were the days when 'hide and seek was a popular evening pastime with our range of 'operations, extending from the distant gate to the front lawn. This meant passing under the peeloo countless number of times - a practice common with us, as we gave no credence to the story attached to it. Dusk was approaching, as our small group reinforced by the cooks offspring stood under the tree going through the serious ritual of puggan pugai or ascertaining who would hide and who would seek, when suddenly the silence was shattered by what sounded like chirurrr - chirurrr - chirurrr - cheevak - cheevak - cheevak, followed by chuckles and a rustling in the foliage above us. There remained nothing for us, except to leg it away as fast as we could from the accursed spot, to the security and comfort of the house. It took my mother minutes to extract bit by bit, the reason as to why I was sitting huddled by her side and following her wherever she went. To my utter horror, I found myself being led back by my parents equipped with a large flash light, to the spot where the banshee had attempted to attack me. As I watched with rising panic, my father played the beam on the tree above and there right before my eyes sat the source of my fear - a family of kuchkuchawwas, who flew away with loud chirrs, cheevaks and chuckles. Long after this incident, I grew out of the golden age of innocent childhood and adopted a career, which took me to the four corners of the country. It was on one of these tours that I was spending a few days at a dak bungalow near what was then Lyallpur, when I heard the familiar sound of yesteryears once again. This time, however, the sound carried a panicky ring to it. I walked across to a distant corner of the lawn to find a tiny bundle of brownish feathers helplessly on the grass with its two parents emitting frantic calls from the branches above. I stooped and picked up the little creature, which first tried to nibble at my palm and then decided that just staring at me with wide round eyes was sufficient intimidation. Five minutes later, the little owlet had calmed down and was content to sit on my finger nibbling at a portion of mincemeat that I had asked the caretaker to immediately bring. With the snack gone and his appetite partially sated, I now undertook the dangerous task of locating the chicks home with two angry parents ready to attack me at any moment. It took almost an hour and an injured hand, to reunite the youngster with his family - a feat accomplished amidst a cacophony of the same sounds that had scared me out of my wits more than three decades before. My love affair with the Athena Brama continues, as I pen this column, but it is plagued by concerns that people at large consider these birds and their kin to be symbols of desolation and bad luck. Little do we realise that these hunters of the night are actually mans best friend, for they feed on undesirable rodents and even dangerous reptiles. They make the best of pets because of their high level of intelligence and loyalty and the most privileged among them sits on Minervas right hand, as a symbol of wisdom in Roman Mythology. The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.