The sun does not set on my memories.
I must have been a child when I discovered that nature’s beauty was a great refuge. It began with chasing the house owner’s hen and her chicks in the court yard.
I would imagine myself so small, just like the delicately sized and shaped chicks.
Then I would imagine that it was me under the wings of the mother hen, clucking away to glory on sighting a dog or a cat.
I often wondered what it must be like to fit into the wire-mesh cage they called ‘khurawada’ in Marathi.
I thought that I was plain unlucky to be born as a human. It was such a waste…you cannot fly, you cannot prance around in gay abandon and then there was that evil that one suffered with a daily routine…THE SCHOOL!
I wanted to fly, I wanted to soar like the eagle…peck at grains from fields and courtyards of people.
I wanted to live in a nest that was preferably built by my mother, also a bird.
Once, I found a dry and abandoned nest on an autumn tree. I took it to Mum, who was very sensitive to my flights of fancy and longings.
“The bird cannot come and inhabit this nest, child,” she had tried to tell me when she caught me placing the nest on a ‘parijat’ tree. “They build their own nests and it is their concern for their own safety, tells their instinct.”
She would say these very practical things that were not learnt from school but from mere compassionate and mute observation.
I would often tell the birds that I will not capture you, I will not harm you….wait up, let me play with you….but they never obliged.
I was reminded of this when my two kids stood in the main Bada Bazar of Nainital and insisted that I buy them the small chicks from the roadside.
The bearded old gentleman with his typically Muslim goatee (beard) dyed in henna was a feisty seller.
He had realised that the kids were in awe of the birds and he began playing with the little creatures in an intriguing way.
There were three lots. One basket had about thirty to forty very small chicks; painted in various hues of orange, pink, blue, green, yellow and what have you. The little beings were almost a day or two old, and could barely stand, let alone fly. Therefore, without a fear, the seller had left them in the open basket.
The other lot was of a few days old chicks. These were left unpainted and wore a muddy coat of feathers. They were quick and the seller had kept them in a woven basket with a dome shaped basket covering them. The third one had chicks older yet.
By now the kids were jumping with joy.
“Mummy, please let us take them home.”
I refused to relent as I knew my mother-in-law would disallow any pets and the poor chicks would have to be left in the open.
“We will convince Dadiji (grand-mother)," offered one of them.
“And we will keep them clean, well fed and safe,” tried the other.
But as I left them admiring the chicks and moved a shop ahead to buy the famous sweetmeat- the ‘Bal Mithai’ of Nainital, the shop-keeper advised me about the deal.
“Do not buy these chicks, behenji (sister), they will die…they survive only in the cool hills here. And as you say, you come from Delhi, I am sure you will travel out of here soon. Travel will certainly kill them.”
That had me decided. The temporary return of my own childhood awe for the winged creatures vanished in a moment. I could envision a cat lunging at them in our courtyard, or them asphyxiating in the bus we would take to return to the hot, sultry summer of Delhi.
The children arrived at the sweetshop.
“Mummy, they cost just Rupees Five (about a tenth of an US dollar) each. Please let us have them. Puhleeeez?” begged one of my kids.
They were very angry when the sweetmeat seller tried to sell them the wisdom of otherwise.
“Mummy, you have been manipulated and you are ready to buy whatever opinion this Uncleji has, and we can see. “accused the girl.
“Now I am not talking to you, ever,” threatened the boy.
But Mummy had become deaf, dumb and was not about to relent.
A ride in a boat on the Naini Lake and a visit to the Naini Devi temple calmed them. I do not know if it was the cool breeze of the mountains, the chill water from the lake or the calming effect of having bowed before the Naini Goddess.
Finally, the two very decided people did come around. But even today, when they see the holiday snaps and the picture of those birds opens on the digital camera, my son goes, “You did not buy me those chicks, did you? So now I have nothing to do with you. That’s it!”
Cluck….cluck…..cluck! Ha ha ha!