The title of this week’s piece has nothing to do with the well-known verse sung around Christmas Time. It does however, bring back fond memories of a unique Brown Partridge called ‘Choo Choo.’

It was on a blustery winter evening many many years ago, that a tiny bundle of brown feathers rolled into my feet from the shrubbery lining the lonely desert road in Bahawalpur. I stopped in mid stride and saw what appeared to be a small chick trying to regain its feet. The next instant I picked up the little creature and held him in my cupped hands for warmth, knowing little what else to do. A content chirping was enough to help me make up my mind and add another stray creature to my oddly composed family that would have inspired even the celebrated Mr. Gerald Durrell.

My children (who now have their own respective broods of little ones), welcomed the new arrival with a cotton lined cardboard box and some finely ground barley, but the ‘birdling’ preferred my lap to any other accommodation, prompting my wife to pass some interesting comments on my surrogate parenthood.

Choo Choo rapidly grew into a bird that was surprisingly intelligent as partridges go. Every morning, he would sit on my shoulder watching me apply my shaving cream and no sooner would I reach for the razor, that he would begin his piercing calls accompanied by tentative pecks at the foam. He hopped from one shoulder to another as I dressed to earn my daily bread and would continue occupying his perch while I had breakfast. Sensing that I was about to leave, he would call excitedly and then fly through the open bedroom door and under the sofa.

What amazed me was the fact that this unique creature appeared to sense my arrival from work and no sooner did I enter the gate that he would begin emitting his welcome call. As I entered the house, he would fly down and resume his ‘throne’ on my right shoulder, where he would stay, preening himself (much to my wife’s chagrin), while I ate my lunch. He would follow me around the house like a dog and much to the detriment of my sleep, began sleeping on my chest. Determined efforts by my wife to push him off his ‘bed’ only motivated him to make angry noises and return to the ‘nest’.

Choo Choo’s attachment with the family forced us to take him on our annual summer trip to the hills. The first time this happened, he accompanied us to Abbottabad. He slept throughout the long drive, only to wake up now and then to eat and ‘decorate’ the spot between the rear seat and the window with his droppings. By the time we reached our destination, my better half was in a black mood that I dared not aggravate.

It was during this trip that our little bundle of fun got a taste of the real world. We were having tea in the verandah, while Choo Choo was busy scratching the ground in search of a tasty snack, when we saw him stiffen with fright and run for cover. The next moment, a shadow fell across us and we realized that the predatory ‘shrike’ had missed its mark. It was then that we decided that while we would take the bird wherever we went, he would have to remain indoors.

It was in the fourth year of having come to us that our brown partridge uncharacteristically stopped feeding. A closer inspection revealed that he was suffering from a cold and his nasal passages had become blocked. We tried all local remedies and then reluctantly took him to the vet in Bahawalpur Zoo for treatment. The plump individual, who claimed to be the veterinary surgeon, took one look at him, filled a syringe with some medicine and ‘fired’ it down Choo Choo’s throat, commenting that one had to be careful that the liquid didn’t go down the air pipe as it could choke and kill the bird. But this is exactly what happened and I came home that night carrying with me a dear, dead bird, which had brought the family so much happiness.

 The writer is a historian.