When I was little, we used to live in a palatial house. It was an old building built during the British era, painted an unblemished white with a huge pond in the front. Our house used to stand out even from a distance. Our landlord was a famous doctor who had made quite a name for himself, and as it happens in small towns, everyone knew our house.
The ceilings were some 25-30 feet high, and it would remind you more of those havelis in the Ramsay movies. No matter how much you tried to maintain it, there would always be cobwebs in the remote corners of the wall, and a musty, damp smell whenever it rained. There were skylights the size of present day windows, and French windows double the size of present day doors. There were some 8-10 rooms on each floor, and the ground floor was always locked and dark. Truth be told, I’d often get goose bumps every time someone knocked and I had to go downstairs to open the main door.
There were many grey pigeons that lived in the skylights. As a kid, I had my normal share of curiosity. Back from school, I’d happily jump flapping my hands and see them fly out of the skylights. I would often try to get close, observing the way they blinked their lidless eyes, trying not to scare them, yet never really getting close enough to touch them. They made peculiar sounds and as a 6 year old, I would happily mimic them. Sometimes when I cleaned the walls of cobwebs as a part of my routine weekend fun, I would chase the pigeons with the long pole and derive wicked pleasure in seeing them helplessly flap their wings, too afraid and confused to find an open window to fly out of. When I was tired of my running around with the pole and scaring them chore, I would let them fly away, and then close the windows to see how they found their way back. And as always, they would find an open window, some open nook from where they would re-enter the house. They often pooped and made the floors and the walls dirty and our cleaning maid mad, and believe it or not, I have spent hours positioning myself obscurely to witness the exact moment when white poop emerged out of their rectal opening and fell with a soft thud on the floor.
The most exciting phase for me was when these birds were getting ready to lay eggs. Weeks before, they would start making their nests, spending days working hard, carrying back and forth pieces of twigs, small branches, and dried leaves in their beaks. They probably glued it with their saliva, for the nests would be very compact and whitish in appearance. I would spend weekends not doing my homework but observing them fly out and bring back paraphernalia to build their homes. And then the female would lay eggs, sitting on them for days till they hatched. As a 6 year old, I knew nothing of parental behavior and nesting, yet it was such fun watching them make homes and babies.
However sometimes, there would be an accident. One of the many eggs would fall off and break, leaving watery yolk on the floor and the unbearable stench. Sometimes the babies would fall off and die, and our maid would give us a hard time agreeing to clean it up. Whenever an egg or a little one fell down and died, the parent pigeons spent days mourning by the corpse. The sadness would be evident, and despite me getting close to them, they would refuse to fly away. These would be the unbearably sad moments for me, for no longer I would use my cobweb cleaning pole to run after them and chase them away. Sometimes, the entire nest with its next generation content would fall and be destroyed. But with time, they would start making nests again, and lay more eggs. The resilience and the ability to move on in life these little birds showed always amazed me.
Today, I feel like a pigeon. My close friend, who was about to deliver twins in 4 weeks, had one healthy baby die unexpectedly inside the womb. As I read her husband’s email, I sat like a rock, unable to bring myself to face it. When she delivers in a month, it will be one live baby and one dead corpse. I have spent a good few hours crying my heart out till I gathered enough courage to talk to her. My eyes are all puffed up now. Since blogging is my way of releasing pent up emotions, I am typing my pains out here. And after more than 20 years, all I can think of at the moment is about those pigeons, the way they were my childhood friends, the way they built their nests, and their faces every time their babies fell from the skylights and died.