Tuesday 10 August 2021

Bhupendra Dave, ShortStory 2021 Magazine

The Talking Bird

I visited my friend Ramesh Talwar recently and while we were chatting, his four-year-old daughter entered followed by a bird, which was pleading in incredibly soft voice, ‘ikik ls dgks eq>s Hkw[k yxh gSA’ (Tell papa I am feeling hungry.) Seeing us, the bird quickly stepped back under the center table.

Ramesh suddenly got up and tried to drive away the bird, ‘This little rascal is after us, always demanding and disturbing our peace.’

I looked under the center table, where the bird had tried to hide.

‘Dear friend,’ I said, ‘it is a highly prized pet. It has brown body, yellow patch behind the blue eyes and has dark yellow bill and legs. See its striking features and friendly personality. It is definitely that well known maina --- a chatty and intelligent bird. I must say that you are fortunate to have a pet like this in your home.’

‘But I hate such pets that go on following you everywhere and all the time,’ Ramesh said expressing his deep dislike for this little harmless bird and I, therefore, had to find some more good thoughts in praise of mynah. I told him, ‘I am no ornithologist but I have read in the book ‘Birds in Sanskrit Literature’ (published by Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Ltd., Delhi) and written by my uncle Shri K.N.Dave. He writes, “No one need be surprised at the performances of exceptionally talented Parakeet and Mainas recorded in Indian literature.’

Maina,’ he writes, ‘is es?kkfofu which, by the way, is also the name of a most intelligent Maina in jRukoyh.’

When I was so talking , I noticed that Ramesh was trying to control his emotions. I tried to guess but to my knowledge there was nothing wrong with the Talwar family. Ramesh after clearing administrative services examination had been awarded good postings in the government. His wife also proved to be an excellent social worker. Now with their charming daughter the family had turned into an exemplary unit.

What can be reason for such a change of atmosphere in the family?

‘You know,’ I said, just to deviate from the seriousness engulfing the moods, ‘my first encounter with this kind of bird was typically amusing. I was on tour to Katghora a small town in Chhatisgarh in October 1962 for laying 33 KV electrical line. I had to stay there for a night at the Government Rest House.

The rest house Khansama was an old man with long flowing beard and had a good stock of stories of the British period. At dinner time he took out a briefcase size box of decorative silver cutlery and said, ‘Sahab, now very few visitors come in this isolated place and we hardly get opportunity to serve high ranking officers.’ I observed that he was laying the dinner table with deep interest and of course old-time style.

After taking my dinner, I went out in the open front verandah. Khansama brought out an old-fashioned armchair for me and sat down in front of me with his great stock of stories of British memsahibs. After a couple of stories, we saw the sun spreading its cool, yellow rays, scattered a mysteriously serene dusk. It was time to go inside. We could hear the howling from the nearby forest.

Khansama followed me and before saying ‘good night’ advised me to keep all the doors properly closed. ‘Leopard and cheetah do come prowling up to the rest house,’ he said.

After reading an article or two, I switched off the lights. Seconds later I heard a sweet tone questioning me, ‘D;k rqe lks tkus dh lksp jgs gks\’ (Are you intending to go to sleep?) I promptly switched on the lights as I suspected a girl or a lady in the room. But there was none. When I switched off the lights, I heard some musical notes followed by lines from a filmy song. I made a second search but could not find anything in the room.

The only remedy was to keep the lights on and wait for the sun to rise.

Next day early in the morning the Khansama knocked at the door. I peeped out of the partly open door; there he was ready with the morning tea.

‘So early?,’ I whispered.

‘In old days, we could not afford to keep memsahibs waiting for their morning tea. It meant a cut in cfD’k’k.’ he said with a dignified smile.

The kettle was a deeply ornamented one and khansama prepared a cup with great flourish and politely asked ‘sugar?’

‘Is there something in the room that can sing in a melodious voice?’ I asked.

‘Was she in your room last night?’ Khansama smiled, ‘Oh, it is mynah. A harmless little pet.'

This story Ramesh heard with deep interest, but his mood changed when I continued to talk in praise of the bird. I told him that mayna’s diet is very simple. It could be sweet banana, apple, dates, peaches, mango, papaya, orange, pineapples, pear, plum, watermelon. Make sure to cut them into bite sized pieces. mynah does not chew its food. It does not like dried fruits. Avoid green vegetables too.’

‘Any reason?’ Ramesh asked.

‘Because they contain high iron,’ I replied.

‘May I tell you,’ I continued, ‘mynah needs fresh water. It likes insects too.’

‘That is interesting,’ Ramesh said.

It was relief to me. It meant that Ramesh had become normal.

In fact, I wanted Ramesh should adopt the bird for the little daughter of his. I, therefore, felt happy to see that Ramesh was developing positive thoughts and may change his mind and love to keep the bird as his pet. ‘Children,’ I said, ‘who keep pets and love them learn to be compassionate and sympathetic towards poor, helpless and needy people.’

I felt that his daughter will not only get a company but will as well learn to love and be good to others.

Therefore, I continued to say a few more words in praise of mynah. I said, ‘it is a lively, social bird and is friendly, clever and adopts well to living in cages. It enjoys human interaction, but not fond of cuddling. It also adopts readily to new environments and situations. Mix up well with different people, different age groups, love car trips and is eager to roam. One more peculiarity about this bird is that it bonds closest to those who gives it the most attention --- feeds and keeps the cage clean.’

‘Mynah,’ I continued, ‘can learn up to 100 words and is easy to train. As a pet it not only repeats but has also the habit to mimic the human vices. Calls include croaks, squawk, clicks, whistles, growls. In order to teach it you have only to talk repetitively with patience. It can be taught to sing, and it often fluffs its feathers and bobs its head in singing.’

I was startled to see Ramesh suddenly getting up from his chair and walk closure to me. ‘Please,’ he cried, ‘say no more in praise of that talking bird. It pains me and my wife. Why? You may ask. But just wait, let my wife give me the permission first.’

I saw that Ramesh was not able to control his emotions and his wife too was trembling. Everything was not well with Talwar’s family.

‘O! my good friend’, he murmured, ‘don’t tell me to give this bird as a gift to my Mini. I will be insulting her. O! my heart shade off all your burden and declare to this mocking world that I am the father of that dumb child. She is born mute but not deaf. She will hear the talking bird but will not be able to shade a tear, but her tiny heart will weep profusely. O my friend, it is easy to wipe off tears rolling on the cheeks but how can one pacify a weeping heart.’

I know that when emotional thoughts dominate, and the wisest arguments fail. I was therefore unable to say a word. I looked at the child. She too was a silent spectator.

‘Oh God! Let her speak. Let her telepathy awake.’ I murmured, ‘I still feel that this little girl needs a companion like this bird to give dignity to her life. Let somebody talk to her without expecting a reply from her. Let there be someone who can hear and understand the language of expression.’

I saw Ramesh getting up from his seat and coming a step or two nearer to me, he said, ‘But I have already made effort to the find the owner of the bird. An advertisement has been sent saying: “In my garden a talking bird has appeared. Owner may recover by identifying same.’ But till now none had come to claim her.

Ramesh was right. Any Indian can tell Mynah is one of the best avion mimics of human speech second only to the gray parrot. A search in Google can give every detail and it is not possible to find any distinct mark on birds --- they all look alike.

I, therefore, concluded that advertisement cannot help in identifying the rightful owner.

‘True, any claimant can at ease describe the bird even without seeing it. My suggestion,’ I said, ‘is to make him call the bird by name.’

‘Birds kept as pet are not necessary given a name,’ Ramesh was thinking seriously for he had now determined to retain mynah for his daughter, ‘Avions are kept in cage and there arises no need to call them.’

‘Further, since talking birds are rare and therefore precious, I was of the opinion that our mynah will not remain unclaimed.’

Ramesh only sighed which indicated that we had to only wait and see.

‘Don’t bother. We together will tackle the situation,’ I suggested, ‘You have to just call me.’

We kept a constant watch but there appeared no response. Three weeks passed, and nobody appeared to claim the bird. Hopes sometimes fly higher and far off like a bird. We, therefore, prayed the claimant to forget his lost pet forever.

Then, one Saturday afternoon Ramesh gave me a ring and informed about the massage he had received that very morning. A claimant was to come next morning, and he wanted me to be there before his arrival. Exact time of arrival of the stranger was still not known.

Next morning, I hurried, but as the luck would have it, a blue car had just pulled up in front of Ramesh’s house. It was 6.30 a.m. on Sunday. The stranger strode straight towards the gate. I, too, jumped from my car and almost raced to overtake him.

The stranger was a well-built young man. He stood 1.88 metres tall and had wavy dark tan hair and a handsome face with deep set intelligent eyes. In quick steps he reached the gate just before me. I had to wait as he looked up at the peach tree. He was still holding the gate. He saw something on the top and called, ‘Hi! Sweety come.’

In seconds our mynah came down and reached the stranger’s shoulder.

‘You have conformed your ownership,’ I said as soon as I reached him. He looked in surprise at me and said, ‘so, you are the one who advertised!’

‘Not exactly,’ I answered and then added, ‘In fact, I need you in my place. There is one sweet girl here and a bird that loves her. But all merciful God has been too harsh. He has made her dumb and she needs sympathy. Can you play the role of God to help her? Can you sacrifice your love for mynah and award an everlasting smile to this little fairy?’

The stranger stopped and took a turn to look deep in my eyes and said, ‘I will see to it.’ And with a ‘wissh!’ directed the bird to fly away.

‘Let us get set and go --- and let God test your gamesmanship,’ I said.

We saw Ramesh waiting for us under the porch. In the front verandah Sunita, Ramesh’s wife had made all arrangements. I wanted to tell Ramesh that bird has already been identified by the visitor and any attempt to nullify such outburst of facts is no more possible. I was, however, aware of Ramesh and Sunita getting a shock.

Mini was watching us from a corner and looked pale. Her eyes were fixed on the stranger.

‘Am Madanlal Singhaniya,’ said the stranger introducing himself after the completion of formalities of wishing ‘good morning.’

‘I’ll explain why I am here,’ coming straight way to the point, he said, ‘It’s about mynah. I have come to see my mynah and as you know mynah needs no identity. No name too because by whatever you call her, she will speak as sweet.’

I had a short while ago had heard Madanlal calling the bird. But even when you know a thing is going to happen, you hope it won’t.

‘Mynah is yours, I am sure,’ Ramesh assured, ‘ but I wonder if you would mind calling mynah by name.’

Mini and the bird were standing in a corner like a statue. There was an awkward silence, which only Mohan could dare to break.

‘All mynahs are alike,’ he said and then called, ‘Hi! Smarty come.’ The bird , however, stood baffled and then strode unwaveringly closer to Mini.

‘Not my mynah,’ this whisper from Madanlal floated in the air.

Mini jumped with joy and was clapping her hands saying, “It is sweety and not smarty. She had told me her name.’

We all looked dumbfoundedly at the moving lips of Mini. She was dancing in joy. ‘It is a miracle,’ cried Sunita.

‘It’s no miracle. It’s God’s way of showering His blessings at the right time and at the most appropriate moment,’ said Madanlal as he walked out and waived ‘good bye’ to us from the open window of his car.

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