Visitors to my humble abode are often fascinated by my library, a room that my better half calls ‘Kabaar Khana’ because of the disorder that reigns therein. This fascination stems because of my passion for collecting everything (yes everything) written by my favorite authors. My special room is therefore inhabited by Rudyard Kipling, P G Wodehouse, James Herriot and Gerald Durrel – to name a few. Mr. Durrel’s most well-known work (the contents of which have been imbibed by me several times) is titled ‘My Family and Other Animals’ and it is this that has inspired today’s piece.

Those who read my Sunday endeavor on a regular basis, must now be familiar with two facts, one that I live amongst the beautiful hills that overshadow Islamabad and second that I have an undiminished passion or compassion for creatures both domesticated and wild. I have inherited this gift from my late father, who was regularly requested to visit Lahore Zoo to deal with one animal crisis or another and was the central theme of one of my very early columns titled ‘The Beast Master’.

Being one with animals and birds has its advantages, but has also exposed me to a great amount of cruelty inflicted upon four footed and feathered creatures without the realisation that they have a soul and possess feelings of happiness, tragedy and pain just as we humans do. I am lucky that my children, in particular my son and daughter in law have the same attitude towards animals as I do. It should not therefore come as a surprise to readers if you see a senior citizen, or a young couple stop their car in rushing traffic to pick up a stray or an injured cat oblivious of curious stares and personal hazard.

I was once an avid ‘shikari’ and accompanied my uncle on regular duck shoots getting an additional snipe or two in the bag. It was during one such excursion that, while holding a wounded ‘teal’ under the ‘knife’, I happened to look into its eyes. It is impossible for me to describe what I saw in those two liquid pools, as the bird was slaughtered. I sat out during the rest of the shoot haunted by the experience. I never shot an animal or a bird after that and became a ‘conservationist’. I now tell my ‘shikari’ friends to look deep and hard into the eyes of their victims before they apply the sharpened blade to their necks. I never realised the significance of my words, until I found that some of my avid bird shooter pals had set aside their guns forever.

‘Tigger’ was picked up from under the wheels of a speeding car by a fire breathing young woman, who happens to be married to my son. The kitten was a few weeks old, underfed, bedraggled, scared and carried a bite injury. Taken straight to a vet, he was retained at the clinic because of his condition. I met him again after two weeks and found myself looking at a sleek feline, which had started to put on meat and muscle. He lay cuddled in the arms of his mistress emitting a purr that warmed my heart. Today ‘Tigger’ is a full grown cat, who rules his family with an attitude brimming with love and contentment. He also has the satisfaction of company – three more rescued kittens (who are now full grown cats), all living together as a happy family.

I came home from my office a little early to be confronted by an excited cook carrying a green feathered bundle in his hands. He had found this young parrot lying helpless on the grassy verge of the road running past my house. Both its legs had been deliberately broken and an attempt had been made to do injury to the wings. I took the bird that weakly nipped at my thumb in a show of defiance and could not for a moment understand what sort of person could inflict such pain on a beautiful small feathered creature. Within minutes, I was in my vet’s clinic watching the bird being splinted and treated. I left him under veterinary care for three weeks, but visited him daily. Each visit brought me more happiness for on the third day, the bird allowed me to scratch its head without nipping me. On the contrary it closed its eyes and uttered low chuckles of ecstasy. ‘Mithoo’ (for that was what he was called) came home much like a VIP. His legs and injuries had healed and he had put on weight under a glossy green plumage. I vetoed the suggestion that he should live in a cage and we developed a bond that amazed visitors. On hearing my voice or seeing me he would fly down from his perch on the curtain rail and sit on my shoulder nibbling lovingly at my ear. One spring day as I sat in the verandah I heard a number of wild parrots pass over head, uttering loud cries. Seconds later, I saw ‘Mithoo’ with his beak glued to the window pane responding to the flock, which to my surprise returned and landed on a tree next to the house. With tears in my eyes, but a song in my heart, I went in and returned to the verandah with an excited parrot that had given me so much love and pleasure. My family stood wet eyed as I released my friend, watched him circle the house in farewell and then disappear with his kin down the valley.

 

The writer is a historian.