It was a late wintry night when I found myself on the Islamabad Highway driving under foggy conditions. Caution prompted me to slow down and put on my headlights and ‘hazards’, which fell on a large form lying in the middle of the road. I pulled up to one side and saw a horse, struggling futilely to regain its feet and trying to drag its shattered hind legs and pelvis in a desperate effort to get off the road. I stood there knowing that nothing could be done to save the poor creature, which had apparently been hit by a vehicle, except to put it down. Suddenly, the ghostly form of another horse materialised out of the mist and approached the victim. I stared dumbfounded and deeply humbled, as the new arrival began neighing and nudging its comrade as if encouraging it to get up and move. I could do nothing, but get into my car and drive as fast as I could to my vet (the unique young man in my last week’s column). An hour later, when we returned to the scene, I saw that the road had been cleared. I spent a sleepless night, tossing in my bed, unable to forget the scene, where an animal had displayed such compassion for its fellow creature. It was during my posting to Balochistan - a long time ago, that I was awakened by ‘all hell breaking loose’ in the verandah of the dak bungalow, where I was staying. I rushed out and almost fell headlong as something small and bristly scurried into my feet, chased by a pair of growling and barking mongrels. In the beam of my torch, I saw a small brown-black form trying to wriggle into a ball behind a flower pot. I picked up the little creature with a cute pointed snout and a pair of tiny button-like eyes and saw that it had a nasty wound in its side. It was thus that ‘Dopey’, named after the sleepy dwarf in the fairy tale, entered my life and my menagerie of wild creatures.‘Dopey’ - the hedgehog - soon recovered, thanks to a daily application of turmeric powder mixed in mustard oil on his nasty wound and a tasty diet of fresh cabbage and lettuce leaves. `It soon became apparent that he, for that was what his gender was, began to regard me as his property. He would emit raspy bird-like sounds in an agitated manner, demanding a tit-bit and then insist on crawling into my warm bed at night, to my great discomfort because of his ‘pin cushion’ exterior. It was with great reluctance, therefore, that on hearing of a family of hedgehogs that lived in a burrow some distance from the compound, I took ‘Dopey’ out and released him so he could be with his own kind. As I began walking back to the dak bungalow, I looked back and saw the little creature scrambling after me as fast as his tiny legs could carry him. I almost failed in my resolve to part from him, as he reached me and then sat contentedly next to my foot with his sides heaving. It was on my third attempt that ‘Dopey’, realising that humans were perhaps devoid of reciprocating untainted love, just sat there and then with an agonised sound, which only hedgehogs can make, disappeared into a nearby burrow-like hole. My latest affair has been with a pair of roguish mynas, half a dozen crested yellow fluted bulbuls, a large graceful bird that my encyclopaedia says could be a crow pheasant and an army of tits and wagtails. This affair began when I decided to convert a large flat topped natural rock in my front lawn into a bird feeding table. The first to appear are the two mynas. These birds are the stars of a daily pantomime that is put up every morning for the benefit of my much amused family. Excellent mimics and roguish, they sit on my stone wall waiting for me to appear with their feast. As soon as this happens, they make their entrance to sit almost within touching distance, as I scatter food on the rock. Then, emitting an unbelievable repertoire of mimicked sounds ranging from a motorcycle to a barking dog, the pair then walks around the stage bobbing their heads up and down, as if acknowledging the clapping that comes from the verandah. The crow pheasant lives in the nearby trees and emits his peculiar gurgling call whenever I get late with its morning breakfast. Large in size and long-tailed, this bird along with the mynas is top dog amongst the feathered creatures that populate my premises. Unlike their comrades in the plains, my bulbuls are white-cheeked and fully crested with bright yellow flutes under their tails. One pair has made the potted ‘ficus’ tree in our verandah its home and have become so domesticated that they continue sitting on their eggs, even as we emerge from our front door right next to their nest. My only conflict with them emerges at the time when they make a mess of the apples in my garden. The tits and wagtails are small birds at the bottom of the pecking order and wait patiently till the others have fed. Every morning, the wagtails perch outside my bedroom window and regale me with their warbling, melody-filled wakeup call, as if compensating me for the food I give them. The more I look at my animal friends, the more aware I become of the bankruptcy that ails my kind, our selfish desires and facades. If we could only look around us and learn from the myriad of God’s creatures that surround us, our planet would be a much better place to live in.The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.
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The writer is a historian