Visitors to my study are fascinated by a shelf that is full of books by Gerald Durrell and James Herriot. The former has the gift of blending animals into people so wittingly that it becomes difficult to lay down a Durrell book once you have picked it up. The late James Herriot on the other hand, transports readers into the hills and dales of Yorkshire, where he spent a lifetime administering to animals as the local veterinarian. His work makes you laugh and cry at the same time and can be recommended as one of the best ways to pass a dull winter evening.
These books are a manifestation of my love for wild creatures, which runs in my family since generations. Life in my home is, therefore, never dull with a menagerie of creatures that live on the premises and spice added to it by my better half, who goes around shaking her head in good natured tolerance or, perhaps, resignation, as if saying “beyond redemption”.
My condition is abetted by my vet - a unique person, who calms the most viscous of his patients by talking to them in a voice that is gentle and full of compassion. It is, therefore, fair that I dedicate this week’s column to the young man and the denizens of the animal world.
Choo Choo was rescued by me from a wild cat, while walking amongst the sand dunes on the outskirts of Bahawalpur. I picked up the tiny brown bundle of feathers and cupped it in my hands for warmth. I walked to where I had parked my car and drove straight home to begin, what was to become the beginning of my romance with Brown Partridges. Choo Choo rapidly grew into a healthy male bird, who adopted me as his own. Our mornings would begin with him sitting on my shoulder, tentatively pecking away at the shaving lather on my jowls. He would sit in the window basking in the sun and galvanise into action on seeing me arrive from work. With a clucking sound, he would fly down the staircase to land on my outstretched arm and then scramble up to sit contentedly on a shoulder while I had my lunch, feeding him with occasional titbits. Come bed time, he would fluff himself, tuck his head under one wing and go to sleep right in the middle of my chest. It was a common cold and the callousness of a vet in the Bahawalpur Zoo that snatched him from me forever.
Mithoo was a wild parrot that was brought to me with a broken leg by my cook. I put a splint on the damaged limb and tended to him till he was able to perch on one of his favourite spots - the top of my head. We made it a practice of warning visitors to our home, that they should not be alarmed at the sight of a squawking green form flying from somewhere inside the house to sit on my shoulder and nibbling at my ear. Mithoo’s story ended happily, justifying the adage “tota chashm”, when one spring day he suddenly became restless and flapped out of the open window to join a flock of his own, as they flew over the house.
Kharo, I believe is Pushto for Mynah and so it was that an emaciated bird with a bright orange-yellow beak came into my life. It was my cook again, who found the creature lying crumpled up and half dead beside the road. In acknowledgment of this act of compassion, I asked him to choose a name for it, which was promptly done. The bird quickly recovered and surprised us all by its uncanny powers of mimicry. It would cock its head to one side and issue forth a clearly enunciated “Jenny”, which would cause my golden retriever to obediently rush to the spot only to confront a series of roguish chuckles from the caged bird. I soon found that my terrace was gradually becoming a meeting spot for Kharo and her friends. A cacophony of calls would assail the peace of the house with four or five of her kind narrating their adventures with our Mynah responding in the same vein. A family conference soon decided that it was time we set Kharo free, so that she could socialise elsewhere.
I now lead a retired life in a rural setting, where my feathered friends join me for a daily feast of bread crumbs and my trees have become their favourite breeding grounds. In return, they regale me with the most beautiful symphony one can ever hear bird song.
I am grateful and contented that my love for animals has been passed down to my grandchildren, whose communication with creatures is uncanny. I can now lie back in my deckchair on a sunny wintry day watching happily, as my feathered friends are ministered to by my two apprentices.
The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.