Pigeons are practical creatures. And for them, life carries on. By autumn, they were back and had apparently decided to start afresh. They began building another nest. Once again we watched them follow their strict regimen of using the specially demarcated in and out gates. This is how we assumed they were the same pigeons which had built a nest earlier.
Once again she laid eggs. We hoped that this time the nest was better constructed and waited in anticipation for the eggs to hatch. And sure enough, this time, there were two little bundles of joy.
It took us some time to realise that they had entered this world. But once they began squeaking in their high pitched voices, there was no ignoring them. Everyday we would stand at the edge of the balcony, as far as the railing would allow us, to catch a glimpse of yellow bare chicks. They would sit fairly still like well behaved children while their parents would go and fetch some food. But at the sight of either parent, they would get excited. Jumping up and down, pecking away at their mother, the two of them would scream and demand their share of the food.
It had become a daily ritual. Each of us would go to the edge and watch as the little ones grew a little larger. Every day at the dining table, the topic of discussion would be the progress made by the little ones. How, with each passing day, they were becoming more energetic, more noisy. “I saw them walking today ”. “Yes! You noticed how much she has to run these days? As soon as she arrives, the little ones run after her”. “It was so cute! The mother running away from her kids!”. “I think they can’t wait to fly”.
One morning, when we made our usual trip to the edge of the balcony, we found one of the little ones had got stuck. Maybe its excitement got out of hand and while running around, its leg got trapped. The leg was caught between the wooden block and the frame supporting the artificial roof.
It was struggling to lift itself up. It was flapping its small wings and squeaking, clearly putting in its best efforts to climb out. But it was still too small. The mother was sitting next to it. We went inside and hoped that it would find a way to climb out of the mess it had got itself in. We felt uneasy. Every few minutes, we would go and check. But it was still stuck. It was still giving its best shot, but in vain.
Our uneasiness grew. The mother was still sitting there. Was she bothered at all? Or did she have no clue as to how to help the chick? How could she not try to rescue it? Had she given up hope? Whether or not she had these thoughts, we can never tell. But the uneasiness was too much for us.
By afternoon, we had decided to do something. The plan was to use a walking stick to reach up and shift the surfboard just a little bit so that its leg would be able to come out.
My father volunteered to nudge the board as my mother and I watched. Just as he was reaching up with the stick, both of us screamed as we simultaneously realised that maybe it could go horribly wrong and that the board would shift much more and the little one could potentially fall. My mother rushed to grab a pillow. But it was a little too late. Our fears became a reality. The mother flew away. The chick came crashing down.
We stood there for a few seconds in shock at what we thought was a dead bird.
We waited for what seemed like an eternity. Then we saw some movement. It was getting up and dragging itself. It was struggling to balance itself.
That was our first real close look at the chick. It was so small, so fragile, so cute, and so scared. It looked immensely adorable as it tried to move. But none of us felt happy. It was in pain. Perhaps the fall had damaged something. We watched for a little while longer. We were not sure what to do next.
The tension at that point was absolutely incredible. Here was a chick, in a rather helpless state. And we were sure that its mother would not come near the chick because of its proximity to us. We feared that it may not survive the injuries that it could have possibly sustained.
Not knowing what to do, I searched for information on how to care for little birds. Most resources suggested that birds were designed to survive falls and that many times the birds would deliberately throw out the chicks so that they would learn to fend for themselves. I also learned that it is best not to interfere in their lives, for they may become dependent on humans, and learn not to fear them. And this would be rather dangerous for them.
But this one was not kicked out. Perhaps it was too small to fend for itself. So, ignoring all the advise, we spread some boiled rice near the chick. It moved away and refused to eat. We pushed the rice closer to it, but it kept moving away. Clearly it only wanted to be fed by its mother.
Afternoon soon turned into night and the chick had not eaten for almost the whole day. The chick seemed to become tired. It had not eaten much, and was constantly trying to hide from us. It was scared of us and desperately shrieking. It wanted its mother.
My brother was home from work and on hearing the entire course of events, came up with a plan. He took a handful of wheat flour and tried to force the bird to eat. I lifted the chick and held it as gently as I could. It was fidgeting and trying to free itself. It was pecking at the my brother’s hands. But we had no clue if it was eating at all. Its beak was closed and the pecking seemed more of an assault. We tried to feed it a few more times, but it all seemed fruitless.
Before going to sleep we took one more look. It had taken shelter near the rocking chair. The parents were perched at the nest. It was a little cold outside, so we decided to bring it inside.
We kept it on a pillow. And, to prevent it from moving about, we kept a hollow cane “moda” on top of it.
The next morning we put it outside again and asked the cleaner to be careful. We tried to stay as far away as we could.
At lunch, we were discussing conspiracy theories about the parents not being bothered about the chick. “Maybe they knew that it would not survive, so did not bother to waste time on the chick”. “Maybe that chick has a defect in its leg. You noticed how it was limping?”. “The parents would know better than us, right? I think they have come to terms with reality. Very practical.” We had almost come to terms with what we thought was the “reality”. Then my father announced, “One of the parents was sitting on the floor near the chick this morning”.
So the parents were still concerned about the chick. That day the chick became a little more sure of itself. It began moving about a lot more. It seemed to be curious to see the world, moving in a rather excited manner. It would try to look under the junk lying around. As its confidence grew, it seemed to have no care in the world. It seemed to enjoy the open space. It wanted to explore its new found freedom.
We were a little relieved but even more apprehensive now. We were the ones who were cautious. Every time we thought about entering our balcony, we would look for the chick, so that we would not accidentally step on it.
But it still refused to eat anything that we had to offer. Clearly its instincts were still intact. It would still try to walk away from us.
The next day, we decided that it would not be safe for the chick to be on the floor. It needed to be taken care of by its parents. We located a high table and my father climbed up. I handed him the chick and as he raised his hand, the mother flew away, and he put the chick back up on the surfboard.
We waited for the mother to be back. And when she came back, everything seemed to be normal.
In the next few weeks, we saw the chicks transform into adults. The yellow flesh began growing grey feathers. The neck became a little longer and before we knew it, they were beginning to spread their wings.
Taking small steps, they first flew from the surfboard to another frame. Then they made their way to the clothes-line. They did not seem to be scared. They would sit on the swing or the clothesline and if we went near, they would not even bother to move. When they flew out, we would have to duck out of their way to avoid collision!
Soon they began to fly outside and stopped coming back.
The parents, however, decided to stick around. In the absence of the young ones, the balcony was a quieter place. But the older pigeons were still a source of entertainment for us. Watching them would always liven up a boring day.
A ‘moda’ is a piece of furniture made of cane or bamboo.