The tradition of shikar has been in my family since the days of my ancestors. There was, therefore, considerable sarcasm directed at me when my relatives discovered that I was not a hunter, but a conservator of wildlife. Matters were aggravated when I announced my decision to launch an animal shelter project for injured and maltreated animals - but then that is another story for another column. This story is about a duck hunting trip I took with two of my close relatives somewhere in the late 50s. From the preparations that went on late into the night for our one day trip, one would have thought that we were perhaps leaving on a commando mission deep into enemy territory. Our early morning departure was really early. When our Morris rolled out of the house, the stars were shining and it was bitterly cold. Half way to the Ravi Bridge, we discovered that we had left the box of 'short grape on the verandah steps. Back to the house we rushed, our good humour just a bit frayed. The box of cartridges safely stashed, we raced through the streets of Lahore and across the Ravi River, showing little envy for the good citizens, who were snuggled up in their warm beds. Turning left from Shahdara we drove on towards Sheikhupura with the sky just beginning to lighten in the east, when suddenly the car began skewing from side to side. Muttering to ourselves we pulled up to the side of the road and found ourselves staring at a flat tire. When we reached Sheikhupura, it was daylight and the town was waking up. We managed to locate the house of our guide in a narrow street near the fort using local help or what some military kin of mine call a 'Chaudry Compass. We found the old gentleman in bed and had a whale of a time in rousting him out of his dreams. The man must have been to a late night party for on fidgeting himself into a comfortable position in the rear seat of the car, he went back to sleep. Finally awake and in full use of his faculties, our guide turned out to be an amateur medicine man. By the time we reached Chuhr Kahna my uncles had been diagnosed with multiple maladies and suggested immediate remedies with miraculous healing powers. We stopped on the bridge that spanning the broad canal ran past the town, so that our shikari could get his bearings. At long last, he led us to a wide expanse of water formed by seepage in the canal, some three to four kilometres along the service road. One look at the spot and the trip appeared to be worth all the trouble. A thin film of mist covered the water with the tops of bull rushes known locally as 'dib de sittay swaying in the chill breeze. One could also distinguish patches of what appeared to be water hyacinth contrasting with the sword-like growth of the rushes. The whole magical scene had a sound track too - prevailing above all else were the calls of coots or moor hens, an occasional duck call and soft plops made by some creature of the watery world. Those were the days when there were no threats to ones safety, so I was left in the car with the sandwiches and the tea, while the three duck shooters waded into the water and soon disappeared amongst the jungle of water plants. I waited with bated breath dreading the sight of them returning with limp and bloody feathered carcasses and praying for the unfortunate birds. Half an hour later, I thought I saw some movement in the water and then the magnificent sight of a flock of large grey coloured geese taking to the air. A series of gun shots followed the departing birds, but none was hit. I watched them become mere dots in the sky and contentedly munched on a hunter beef sandwich. Another hour passed with no activity. Suddenly there was a terrific commotion in the water amidst shouts and a few gun shots. The rushes parted to reveal three dishevelled figures rushing towards the car followed by a dark ominous looking hulk. The guide had led my dear ones right into a wild boar den. The drive back to Sheikhupura was ominously silent as the 'medicine man was dropped at the mouth of his street and paid off for his 'services. It was during the journey back to Lahore that I picked up and added a long list of Lahori expletives to my ever growing vocabulary from the otherwise very dignified gentlemen in the front seats. n The writer is a freelance columnist.