We had a white homing pigeon called Raja. Don’t ask me how my mom arrived at this magnanimous name for a homely pigeon! My brother Rajesh found it near a gutter, hurt and unable to fly, and brought it home. As usual, my mom took the poor bird to her heart. Immediately it was christened Raja. We kept him under a plastic basket as one of my friends, who kept homing pigeons said that if we keep them blindfolded for a month, they forget the directions to their previous abode. We were ecstatic to have a new guest. My dad hated the guttural sound, which Raja always used to express himself when content. Nevertheless, he was fond of the bird in his own gruffly careless way.
They say that the primitive islands of Hawaii were totally inhospitable. Made out of volcano ash, they were incapable of conventional food. So, whoever went there were transformed into something else. Something, more beautiful and sophisticated. Birds, which landed there had longer necks and sharper beaks; fruits were sweeter and more colorful; flowers were more vibrant and beautiful than their mainland counterparts. Similarly, our home tended to transform everyone who arrived here. We had a Rottweiler, who preferred veg food. We had couple of tiger sharks, who loved to frolic with goldfishes… This was the insane island of Pandeypur! Raja couldn’t remain immune to our magic. Even his characteristics were changed imperceptibly.
Pigeons have a set lifestyle. They forget whatever they learn. But, they always remember their home. It’s not their memory. They have a built in GPS system. They gauge the magnetic field of earth and interpolate the locations. Raja was a fathead. He was an abomination for a pigeon. He couldn’t find his way to washroom, let alone to some distant country! Furthermore, the transformation was taking place! Raja had grown perceptibly lazy, just like other denizens of this joint. We were supposed to keep him blindfolded for a week, but being a small child, I let him out the next day. Just wanted to see our new pet. He looked at me through his supercilious eyes and slept. I lifted him gently and brought him near window. I’m damned if he didn’t sleep all through this exercise! Enters my mom. She screamed and gave me a hiding! But, Raja didn’t even bother to open his eyes through this charade. I knew. I found a soul mate.
We always have had cats. Most of them were found hurt and were rescued by one of us. Even my seemingly careless dad had rescued one. Like a coconut, he always managed to portray a hard exterior to protect the soft interior. Cats are a natural enemy of pigeons. Raja used to rule the roost. He was transformed. Whenever he was out of his coop, cats used to scamper. He used to peck the hell out of them.
My maternal grandfather, ‘Nanaji’ arrived at my place in 1984. He was a gentle soul and a great Shiva bhakt. He was very brave. But, even he was knocked out when he picked up something and a pigeon swooped on him and started pecking his feet. It was funny to see Nanaji dancing! Wish we had cellphones then! The video would have been viral! We tried to admonish Raja. But, pursuant to his name, Raja was never ruled by the subjects. He always snatched a ‘Roti’ from Nanaji’s dinner plate, to his chagrin and anger. Raja was one of us now. Mischievous, daring and careless.
He was a homing pigeon, but we never tried to test this. My son, Shanu is 12 years old now, but I still hesitate to send him alone somewhere. I did my first job at 14, but am protective about Shanu. Guess, that’s human nature. We were scared that he won’t come back. One day, my venerable mom and dad were having one of their regular fights. We all know, how loving couples fight! Inopportunately, Raja decided to talk then in his guttural tone. Dad lost his mind. Scooped him out of his shoebox and threw him out of our second floor window. Raja was astonished! He circled thrice and went off north. Mom was all in tears. Raja left us. No one had dinner that night. Dad always came to window. Calling Raja and trying to console us that he will come back. No one, including himself believed him.
It was a restless night. I woke up for school after being prodded and kicked. And I saw a white, speckled head from his coop. I screamed! Raja! Everyone, exluding the sleepy turtle was awake! Dad picked up Raja lovingly. Now was he a real Homing Pigeon. Because, he decided that this madhouse was his home.
I never learned cycling till 1993. But, I broke my leg in a cycle accident in 1986! Talk about incompetency! I’ll get the award! It was a dislocation. I and my brother were going for vegetable and I was knocked down by a cycle. My ankle was dislocated to an impossible angle. Rajesh, my younger brother was very composed. I, instead was hysterical after seeing my unnatural foot. Rajesh always had a braver heart! He was 10 then. I was 12. He brought me home in a taxi and we got the ankle set through a bone setter, who was a local guy. I was fine for a couple of days. Then suddenly I screamed in pain at midnight. Dad took me to Nair Hospital. One of the best Government hospitals in Bombay.
People think that government hospitals are useless. Change your thoughts. They are always the best. Even now, I prefer the government hospital, when I can afford private. They have the best machinery and personnel. Guys… Your best private doctors graduated from here!
When dad lifted me from my home, Raja flew the coop. He left with us at around 3 am. I was hospitalized for a week. The one and hopefully the only time I was hospitalized. Raja never returned to his coop.
I was discharged after a week. Some useless operation was conducted, involving sadistic doctors and Mallu nurses, who never understood Hindi. I didn’t know to speak English ,being from a Hindi medium school, but I survived anyhow. Dad came to the hospital and carried me in his strong arms to a waiting cab. The Prodigal Son Returned!
We stopped at ‘Kamal Grain’. It was a shop adjacent to our home, where we always bought our daily necessities. Dad had to buy something. Suddenly I felt a whoosh of air and there was my lovely Raja pecking my face. He drew blood, but I was laughing with happiness! Happiness doesn’t have any relation with your life. It has a close bounded relationship with your heart. If your heart is happy and your life is sad, you are happy! The owner of the shop came to the cab. He said that Raja was a permanent guest at his shop since I went to the hospital. He never left. He was waiting for me. I was not his master, still he waited for me.
Raja was with us till the end of that year. One day he left and never came back.
I and my kid brother went to all the guys, who kept homing pigeons in our area, begging them to return a white speckled pigeon, who responds to Raja. I was a violent teenager and had a clout. Still we couldn’t find Raja.
Today is too late. A pigeon can’t live for 20 years. Just like a lover, I’d prefer to think that Raja was a prey to an hawk than cheating me. But, I really want him to be happy.
Whenever I see the blue skies, I see a white pigeon flying…