When I retired from a successful career more than two decades ago to enter into another one, I realized rather belatedly that there were two critical duties as a parent and head of the family that I had not been able to accomplish. I also acknowledged with dismay that my principles, which had provided me with an honorable and dignified existence, had left me with no assets except the ones that were hereditary. I mentioned my concern to a colleague, whose words lent me strength and reinforced my faith in the divine ‘Provider’. “Do not fret my friend, there are two tasks in life, which as and when one decides to undertake, without enough means to do so, is invariable provided from sources, which only ‘He’ arranges. One is the marriage of offspring and the other is the provision of a roof upon the family’s head”. I therefore plunged headlong into the tasks and was blessed with the means to accomplish all with grace and satisfaction, never for a moment forgetting to thank the Almighty for his beneficences.

The home that I built for myself and my family generated much criticism for it was located on the outskirts of the Federal Capital surrounded by hills and nullahs covered with impenetrable flora, including dense stands of pines. It was somewhere past midnight, during the half way phase, when the grey structure was up sans doors and windows, that I received a frantic telephone from my caretaker, who said that the entire work force on the premises had been besieged inside a room by a pair of leopards. I was fortunate to be entertaining a celebrated house guest, who was both a ‘shikari’ and television personality – my great friend, the late Obedullah Beg (whom we lovingly referred to as OB). We clambered into my four wheeler and within the hour found ourselves surrounded by an excited group of labor, led by the caretaker, who showed me the spot where the beast had been spotted. To our delight, we found not one, but two sets of pug marks in an area that had been prepared for planting grass and therefore extensively watered. It appeared that the big cats came down the hills from Murree, rested a while on the cool damp spot before proceeding down the valley to hunt for goats or dogs.

In due time, the house was completed and we moved in to discover that other likeminded people had decided to make our neighborhood their home. Pretty soon we had a thriving community around us of families, who loved to hear partridges calling or an occasional ring-necked pheasant alighting on their lawn at dusk. Our greatest delight, however, was watching the wild hares and foxes (not jackals), who sometimes got trapped into our headlights and continued to run ahead of the vehicle before veering off into the shrubs beside the road.

For my family and me, this was the first time that we heard the call of the fox, which shed his coat in summers emerging as an underfed, lean, long eared creature; but as winter approached, it regrew its thick fur transforming itself into a magnificent beast with a thick bushy tail. For successive nights, we were quite intrigued by a strange sound that came from the nearby hills. It began with a flat husky scream ending in a yip. The tone and pitch of this call had a wide range, representing a need to mate, alarm or simply a communication with family. We finally traced the sound to a family of this elusive creature, living in a cave like warren, and watched its litter grow up into spitting images of their parents.

I have often heard peacocks calling as the sun sets behind the hills plunging the valleys into sudden darkness. Once, what appeared to be a peahen flew and landed on my lawn to feed on the bread that we usually spread on a large flat rock. I sat up waiting for the bird to reappear for many days, but was disappointed. Local enquiries revealed their presence and perhaps even proliferation from some, which may have escaped from captivity. Nonetheless, early morning and dusk, the hills and valleys in and around the Margallas resound with nature’s orchestra – Partridges, Tree Pies, Yellow Fluted Himalayan Bulbuls, Wagtails and sometimes Peacocks. They may not be in harmony to create a melody, but they are a sign that all is well in their habitat (so far).

 

The writer is a historian.