Last Thursday, dark clouds began piling up on the horizon and a cool (almost chilly) wind shooed away clinging heat untypical of the Federal Capital. This was the type of weather that triggers the footloose gene in my family. Being no exception, I donned my tracksuit and joggers to head for the outdoors to ‘enjoy’ the gathering storm, laced now by lightning flashes.

As I opened the main door, a slight movement amongst the potted plants on the right caught my eye. Stooping for a closer look, I saw what appeared to be a coiled piece of grey gardening hose – and right there before my very eyes, this ‘hose’ began to slither and move. Instinct made me draw back, to reveal a fully extended cobra hood rising up from the foliage, to fix me with the glare of a hunter. My experience of living amongst wild life screamed at me to stand still. I realized that by all accounts I was being considered as the intruder and if I did not move nor make a threatening gesture, the reptile would cease to be aggressive and do what it was programmed to do – run from humans. My shouts for the domestic staff to bring me something that I could use to dispose of, what could be, a potential danger for people in our household, invoked a rather lethargic reaction and by the time help did arrive, the three feet long reptile had slid down the huge philodendron plant and disappeared.

I told the domestic staff to be alert and armed with a thick stick, while moving around the compound, stressing the fact that they should pay heed to our very efficient anti snake alarm system – the Mynah birds, who have over the years claimed my house as their own. I have found this wonderful feathered friend to be rated as one of the biggest alarms that nature can provide. Their keen eye sight can detect a threat, particularly snakes, which may still be hidden from human vision. Their loud rasping alarm calls have enabled us to unerringly detect venomous reptiles and dispose them off.

Many years ago, our former cook somehow laid his hands upon a mynah that he trained to talk in Pushto. The bird surprised me on many occasions by calling my name as I entered the house, fooling me on more than one occasion, to respond. I was later told that in order to make these birds pronounce syllables clearly, a portion of their tongue was snipped. I was horrified at the idea and managed to get the creature sent back to the cook’s village.

I remember a Bengali colleague of mine (this was before the time when a wily enemy first estranged our Eastern Wing and then created conditions for it to break away from us), who kept a talking mynah, brought from his native Bengal, in his bachelor quarters, The bird was let out of the cage in the evening and was a source of great entertainment to us with its unabashed usage of profanity (which my friend claimed was the doing of its previous owner). This variety of bird (known as Bengal ki Mynah) was smaller in size, had orange ringed eyes and a similarly colored beak. It loved a daily shower, which was administered using a spray nozzle attached to a gardening hose. There were times, when this daily chore turned into a water fight between humans, with a caged voice screaming ‘unprintable’ phrases at both combatants.

The mynahs in my house began with a pair that made its home under the roof tiles. We soon heard the sounds of young chicks from the spot and one day found a featherless piece of pink flesh and bones lying on the ground. It was quite an operation to get the young one back into the nest with its siblings, since the eave with the nest was fairly high.

We saw the chicks grow into juveniles and then adults. The current descendants of the original pair now number more than a dozen and pay us back by giving us warning of intruding predators. We are very grateful to them and have cemented the relationship by placing a regular supply of food and water on a large flat rock that acts as a bird table. So used have we become to their presence that we have begun treating them as part of the family, a gesture reciprocated by the sight of any number of these birds strutting fearlessly around our feet as we dine or have tea in our verandah.

The writer is a historian.

I have found this wonderful feathered friend to be rated as one of the biggest alarms that nature can provide.