By Mirza Mohammad Salman
It all started with a crack as I pushed my way out of the shell into this world, unaware of what life had in store for me. I drew my first breath and basked in the sunlight coming at me filtered through the branches of the Kikar tree father and mother had chosen as home. It was a beautiful afternoon in June.
Soon after, my brother emerged, stumbling on the ground and squeaking to call mother. Just as he uttered his first words, mother landed somewhere outside and came running inside our humble abode. She must have been expecting us for she had a caterpillar clutched in her beak. She broke it in half and each of us had our first lunch. Life couldn’t be any lovelier.
Time passed and as I started to wander off from the Kikar tree, mother thought it was imperative that I learnt to fly. So the flying lessons started and as my flying improved, my beauty also started to swell. My birthday suit that made me look like a fur-ball, gradually developed into a sensational attire of shades of brown and grey feathers.
My first life-threatening encounter was when one day as I was aimlessly flying over the Kikar trees, I suddenly heard a flutter above my head and the next instant felt a sharp claw scratch my back. I quickly dove for cover and ran inside the nearest bush. It was a falcon. Mother had warned me to be wary of those awful creatures. Now I knew why. I sat there for nearly three hours, for I knew I couldn’t fly because of that scratch and I couldn’t risk roaming around on foot either, be a sitting duck for the monster. I waited till night fell and came out after I was sure there was nothing around to harm me. A grasshopper jumped somewhere in front of me, and I dragged my body towards it. It didn’t resist as I grabbed it and shook it with my beak, making it give up and become lifeless. After a good dinner, I went back into my bush and lay on the cool sand waiting for the sun to come up.
The wound healed with time. But if I hadn’t gotten it I would have been left out on the most important lesson of life: Trust no one and keep your eyes open - always. I learnt, too, that except for a few other species, all other birds and beasts were keen on ripping me to pieces. It was a fact of life and nothing could be done about it. Mother wasn’t there anymore to guide me and I was alone in the ruthless world.
But then came the happiest event of my life. As I was roaming around one morning, my feathers wet with the night’s dew, I heard the most spectacular sound. It was so intense that I couldn’t resist moving towards it. It was coming from somewhere near, and as it started to get louder my heart started to race. I stooped into a Kikar bush from which the sound was coming and saw the most beautiful partridge I had ever seen. It was June, again, and I was almost a year old. I had seen other females before but I knew this was the one with whom I would spend the summer.
The month after our first encounter proved to be the busiest time of my life. My partner soon laid quite a number of eggs, and I had to guard the Kikar tree in which we had nested to fend off males of my species and other life-threatening creatures. Between all this hassle, I would sometimes think of Mother and Father, of how they too must have guarded us when we were inside our shells.
But this lovely thought would almost always be broken by the intrusion of a diving falcon or some such callous creature, making me scurry to safety. After nearly twenty-three days, my first child broke out of his shell and gave out an insignificant squeak after a few minutes. I was overwhelmed. I flew to a bush nearby and brought him a caterpillar, his first meal. But just as the other egg had started to crack, I sensed footsteps of a quadruped approaching at a fast pace. My partner and I rushed under the Kikar tree and lay on the ground making sure not to make a sound. The sound of footsteps had stopped but we knew that whatever it was it was standing right outside the foliage of our tree. A few minutes passed when we heard some other voices getting louder. As these voices got closer we realized that we had not heard them before. We couldn’t make out if they had a mask of joy – or sheer vandalism. They had long sticks and they started beating the bush we were hiding under. We tried hard not to let fear get the better of us and lay there with our beaks buried in the ground. As we refused to give in, they started to throw rocks at us. One rock landed a few inches from my beak and just as I had started to think of an escape strategy, the next one landed right on my child’s back. His squeal of agony silenced everyone and brought all this madness to a halt. For a few seconds I thought that they would probably leave us alone. That was wishful thinking. Soon the worst was to happen. There was a chance for me to fly away from a possible life of gloom and misery. But, that is, if only I had gathered enough courage to abandon my family.
What happened next sealed my fate. The creatures outside started to make noises again, communicating with one another. They seemed very agitated. Suddenly, something was thrown on top of our tree from one side which landed on the ground on the other side. It was a net. I gathered courage to take flight but got caught in the net a few feet above the ground. Dangling upside down I flapped my wings with all my strength, but to no avail. One of the humans (as I later discovered their identity) standing nearby caught me through the net in one swift action and pulled me out. The other one standing nearby rushed closer, to watch my desperate struggle to wriggle out of the captor’s hand. After they had examined me I was pushed into a small cage and a dirty rag thrown over it. It was difficult to make out what was happening outside, but judging by the sounds I knew my partner and my children too were being taken captive. Now there was a movement. My cage was lifted and placed somewhere – as if on top of a roaring lion – and I was on the go. It must have been around sunset when I started to hear strange voices and felt smoke all around me. But it wasn’t smoke like the one from a forest fire but rather of a different sort, an obnoxious one. My journey didn’t stop there, and after another two hours or so my cage was lifted again and placed on the ground. The rag on top and the darkness didn’t allow me to see any more than a few inches. Just as I was trying to find a way to escape from this ridiculous trap, the rag was suddenly lifted and a hand came in through the cage door, grabbing me and putting me in another cage. The moment I was released into it the first thing I noticed was the smell. It was partridge droppings. I settled in a corner and wondered what this could possibly mean. After a few minutes another handsome young fellow was shoved into my cage. He was frightened out of his wits. He glanced at me and quietly settled in the other corner. We kept glued to our corners. The rest of the night passed in silence.
At the break of dawn when the sunlight started to appear, I experienced a spectacular yet extremely bewildering scene. Thousands of different birds, many of them I didn’t even know existed, started to cheer at the beginning of a new day. It felt as if there was a celebration of having to live another day. As the sunlight brightened, I saw that my cage placed on the ground had nearly fifty other cages around it, stacked one on top of another and each one imprisoning a different winged specie. What puzzled me even more, several two-legged creatures roamed around the cages, some of them carrying birds in small net bags and occasionally calling out: “Empress Markeeet!”
It was a little after mid-day when two of them came near my cage and started talking to the one who had been sitting in front of it since morning. They talked for a few minutes, after which Iand my cage-mate were grabbed and thrown in a small net bag. We were now in the hands of those two creatures. They carried us some distance away from ‘Empress Markeeet’ and placed us inside a box. Soon the familiar roar and I understood it was the same sound I had heard the day before when we were brought here. Soon the roaring sound stopped. We had reached our destination. We were taken out of our net bags and placed in a fairly big cage the size of a full grown Kikar tree. It had plenty of room for us to fly a little, and it had a small patch of sand as well. After the two creatures had left, we tried to make ourselves at home and even found a few maggots in the sand. We kept ourselves busy till night fell and I chose a spot in the sand and rested there. The night was quiet and not being able to go to sleep I started thinking about the past two days of my life. I had been kidnapped. I didn’t know where my family was. And I was in a place I was sure I couldn’t escape from. Why did it happen to me? Strange thoughts kept coming to my mind.
With the first sign of morning light, my body had turned lifeless. Sometime during the night I had given up and my spirit had left me. I was nothing but a stiff form beneath a few feathers. Ants had started to crawl over me and by evening my eyes were reduced to sockets. A vulgar stench emanated from my inside. The creature that had brought me here the previous evening climbed up the stairs and noticing me lying on my back, frowned. He kept watching for a few minutes, then walked inside the large cage, grabbed me carefully by my leg and brought me outside the enclosure. Placing me on the ground, he continued to look at me, turning me ever so cautiously – as if I would come to life and put him to harm – finally, having found that what he was looking at was of no use to him, he grabbed my chest and pulled out three feathers from my tail for his hat. Then once again he held me by my leg and picked me up, brought me to the edge of the roof and tossed me on the empty plot of land next to the house. I flew my last flight, landing with a soft thud on the ground.
I stared at the blue sky. Not a worry on my mind! At last, I was free.