This weekend my granddaughter cornered me into listening to her latest craze - nursery rhymes. Much later, as the family sat taking dinner, my wife asked me if I had received some good news that I was keeping to myself. It then came to me, rather embarrassingly that I had been unconsciously humming the catchy nursery rhyme about ‘the animals that came two by two’ for the past few hours.

There was a time in my life, a long time ago, when animals did come in pairs to our house in Lahore. The first to arrive were two magnificently plumed white leg horns with an attitude. These were a precursor for an army of poultry fowls of every ilk that invaded our premises. It was, however, the first two birds that assumed undisputed leadership of the gang and played havoc with the established order.

This pair of ‘saboteurs’ got into the habit of pulling accessible laundry off the clothes line and then venting their anger on it. We initially did not believe these reports till an hour long vigil enabled us to catch the culprits red-handed. Another of their favourite pastime was to chase our ducks around the house till the unfortunate victims admitted defeat.

We got involved with ducks when someone gave us two dubious looking eggs that we put under one of our hens. After the prescribed period of incubation, we were confronted with the cutest pair of baby birds or more appropriately ducklings that we had ever set eyes on. We would put a shallow terracotta dish, popularly known as a koonda, on the dining table and watch the two swim around as if they were born in water. As these ducks grew, we found them demonstrating an appetite for our shins. The pair of them would conceal themselves behind some object, as we came out to play and suddenly launch themselves with necks outstretched. We, therefore, considered their harassment by the ‘hen family’ as fair retribution.

Our house had a tradition of keeping dogs as pets. It was, however, one particular pair of canines that is still remembered in stories whenever we siblings get together. These ‘jokers’ belonged to the small white and long-haired ‘Russian’ breed and came to our house on a temporary caretaker basis. As it turned out, they quickly reversed roles and we became their wards and they our caretakers. We did not notice this till it became evident that these canines had become an effective deterrent to anyone, who tried to shake hands with us. It was after a particularly nasty incident that we decided to get rid of the ‘devilish duo’ and palmed them off to a friend, who gladly accepted their shortcomings. The story does not end here; for a few years later, when my father went to visit these people, he found himself unable to greet them as the two fiercely growling bundles of fur prevented him from doing so.

At one point in time, an outhouse in the rear of our home became the residence of a pair of loony pigeons. It all started when my father came home one day bearing a card board box with holes in it. As we all watched expectantly, he opened one flap of the box and gingerly produced a reddish brown bird, which grabbed the opportunity for escape and wriggled out of his hand to land on the curtain rod and calmly do what all pigeons do when agitated or relieved. As our attention was taken up by the escapee, its partner also emerged from the box and joined its mate on top of the curtain. While we tried to dislodge the two culprits with mosquito net poles, my mother who otherwise held the unbeaten record of staying unruffled under stress, blew her reputation wide apart, in our family circles, for all times to come.

The strangest addition of our ‘two by two’ menagerie was a pair of baby leopards that my father brought home for handing over to the Lahore Zoo the next day. This was the first time that we discovered that big cats were cats nonetheless and, therefore, mewed like their smaller ‘aunts’. That night was unforgettable as we and the two spotted beasts gambolled round the house overturning vases and creating a general disorder.

I now have grandchildren of my own and am happy to see that the ‘two by two’ genes are safe in them. Mercifully, for their parents, they live in premises where animals are not allowed, but my house is gradually becoming an ‘ark’ and a repository of small and smaller creatures, that are increasing in numbers ‘two by two’.

n    The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.