My grandmother died in 1984 when I was 8 years old. She told me once, “If you miss a dinner, a flesh of the size of a sparrow will disappear from your body”. Ours was a big family and she was actually ensuring that I should not sleep without taking dinner in case it is late. On another occasion she told me, “Look! once upon a time, all sparrows were very naughty and therefore the God punished all of them by tying their legs with invisible strings. This is why a sparrow cannot walk. Now they can reach a place only by hopping and jumping.” This was an ultimatum to me to avoid getting too naughty.
Ever since I come across the recent campaign against the diminishing count of sparrows from our neighborhood, I felt, I was lucky enough to see my sense growing with the memories of this bird. Sparrows were ensconced into the life, in the folklores and in the innocence of a child in me to such an extent that removing the collective memories of these birds would score out significant part of my childhood itself. Here is an incident vouching it loudly:
She used to tell me different real life stories. After witnessing the way a sparrow commute, we used to debate on the unjustness of the God for tying the legs of this little bird with so called invisible string. A kind of philosophy was taking a shape into our mind challenging the verdict of the God. Our ignorance was highly creative and resourceful to revolt against the unjustness of the God. We used to observe the sparrows continuously, for many hours, in isolation and discuss about how cruel a God could turn out to be. Sometime she used to stop me discussing the unjustness of God scaring me that God must be listening it.
However, nothing could stop us seeing the activities of sparrows. We were observing what seniors were ignoring. We used to observe their otherwise aptly designed aerodynamic body, the way they were eating, the kinds of food they were collecting, the challenges their young ones were facing, the way they behave within their folks, in their community, and their sweet voices. Everything was getting recorded into our fertile minds.
Dalaan in our native place was used to be a place for conducting all kinds of male related activities let alone be the routine hosting of political and religious debate. Mostly a Dalaan ought not to have a door in it, psychologically signifying that doors of a Dalaan was always open for a guest: one of many reasons why I feel proud of my culture.
We were on our routine spree of watching this bird playing around us. Then there came a day when we saw one of them bringing a piece of a straw into my Dalaan where the canopy of it was joining to the external nook of the wall. My buddy screamed, “Look! Now sparrow will build their nest into your house”. I observed there was another sparrow doing the same. Both of them were picking straws, long and narrow piece of leaves of the trees (typically of sugarcane leaves). Both of them were working hard. She told me that they were actually wife and husband birds building their own home to lay eggs to have their own family. I was excited and highly hopeful to see the adobe of this tiny birds getting constructed and their family taking a proper shape. My buddy forbade me to give more attention lest those little birds would take it as a sign of danger to abandon that place.
We were secretly observing two sparrows working so hard. Finally the nest took a final shape. Generally birds were not there in day time. However each evening they used to return back. Upon their return to their nest they were making lots of noises. Sometime other sparrows were also hovering around until the darkness. Just before the sunset and few minutes later on sparrows were chirping aloud. Sometime it was annoying to the other members of my family. However, the moment the darkness used to settle down in our neighborhood and before we used to lit our Dalaan, they were assuming a comforting silence until the break of the next day. There were observable difference between the noises they were making in the evening and the same in the morning. While there were competition, quarrel and other chaos in the evening, the morning noises of the sparrows were filled with enthusiasm, songs of invitation and a gust of life. In simple words we did not like the noises in the evening; however, mornings chirping were rejuvenating us in a big way. A curious mind of our childhood was noticing this difference gracefully.
In a day time these two birds were not traceable. Sometime we used to find them picking paddy seeds in our courtyard and occasionally we were finding them playing in dust. We were saying that they were taking bath with dust since they were spreading dust with their wings like water droplets. Sometime they also used to enjoy in leftover water stagnated near my hand pump. However, there were no particular routine followed by them therefore very hard to trace them.
It was the time when keeping an account of the daily activities of the sparrows was order of the day. While the life was prospering inside the nest we more excited to see the real outcome. Our first expectation was to see the eggs coming out. We were extra hopeful for the subsequent incidents i.e. the evolution of chicks. A kind of possessiveness was also ruling our mind to ensure that no one else should come to know about the future family of these birds.
We were not bothered about the elders. It was the other kids in our neighborhood bothering us in a big way. Finally, a day came when we observed that only one of the birds was coming out of the nest. Initially, I thought both of them have a fight and first bird abandoned the nest. However my partner was more experienced. She speculated that the birds already laid eggs. She brought wooden chair, climbed on it and then by the help of side pillars she peeped into the nest. I could hear the vigorous fluttering of the wings in surprise. The sparrow in nest flew away. She screamed! Look! birds have laid so many eggs.
We were eagerly waiting to see the chicks coming out of the greenish blue eggs. We could see only one sparrow always in the nest, probably the mother sparrow. The father sparrow was coming but very rarely. It was not returning home even in evening. Nothing can replace mother’s selfless love. At this age, I am wondering whether a female by its instinct are only supposed to be responsible for the family. However during those times, I was justifying it with an umbrella of understanding that male are supposed to earn and female are supposed to take care of the family. I had a concrete reason for it. I was comparing it to my father who was working in city and we were staying in village as per the wish of my grandmother. My father was visiting us once in a month time and so we could see the father sparrow hovering around the nest occasionally. I could not find it unusual.
On a fine morning, I could see pieces of eggs skull spread on the ground. I rushed to my buddy,she came immediately and concluded that chicks came out of eggs. We were fervently waiting for this day. Now we could see even mother sparrow hovering most of the time. My buddy climbed on to confirm, yes, there were three chicks. She did not have a trust this time and strictly warn me to climb on. She was afraid of my irresistible enthusiasm to warn me that the moment I will touch the chicks it will die. However, she did not forget to describe how it looked. Only one thing I remember her saying that they were too ugly to have a glance of them. I respected her instruction and never climbed on to them even in isolation.
We could observe, the routine of the mother sparrow was changed. Now father sparrow was not visiting at all. Mother sparrow was not absent from the nest for a long time. We were wondering what those little ones were eating. We started investigating. The mother sparrow was picking soft food grains. We could also see it was going to distant places and bringing something strange in its beak. For few days we kept observing and wondering. Finally we realized that it was the small insects the mother sparrow was hunting for its young one. We compared it to our non-vegetarian food that was appearing very tasty for us. Then finally probably after a fortnight my buddy allowed me to climb and see the chicks. I climbed to see there were three chicks. They were ugly, budding wings were scarcely present and almost they had a bare body. Their size was too small compared to full grown sparrow. Their eyes were closed. I was not excited to see them all.
However my buddy told me that all chicks of sparrows are like that. She also assured me that in few days when their wings will grow considerably to hide their body they will look beautiful. She also told me that after few days when they would have wings grown up, the mother sparrow will push the chicks out of the nest force them to learn how to fly and one fine day all of them will abandon the place. The mother sparrow will seek one more marriage alliance to give birth to another set of chicks. I started waiting for that moment. After few days we were able to hear feeble chirping sound of young ones. I could also hear the noises of their activities, especially the quivering of their small wings.
In spite of all the excitement we were worried that after few weeks they will abandon the place. I was already deeply heartened by the so called unjustness of the God. There was not a single day when we were not discussing about how God had tied the legs of all sparrows with invisible string. I was observing how much hard work that particular sparrow was doing to feed her children, the three little chicks. On a fine morning we decided that we will help the little bird. We decided that we will put some food grain in the nest. I climbed up and put some grains of wheat. After few days we realized that those little young ones could not eat by themselves. Someone needed to feed them. We also speculated that wheat would not have so tasteful for them. Then finally we decided that we will hunt for insects that their mother was bringing for her.
The same day I climbed up again. I could see the wings were almost grown up. It was appearing beautiful. I hold that bird and brought it down. I could see the mother sparrow came from nowhere and started hovering around me. Initially my buddy scared me but she found it too sweet to get away with. We decided collectively that we will hunt for insects and then feed it properly. We went to the paddy field. We wandered on the elevated-grassy-line-of-separation between the paddy fields and found the kinds of insects the mother sparrow was hunting.
When we were alone in the neighboring paddy field one of our other friends saw us. They asked what we were actually doing there. Scared with the potential complain he would do, my partner wanted him to include him in mission sparrow to avoid any kind of disciplinary action against us. Initially that guy agreed however he fled away from there. Kids rivalry was ruling his mind and he had got a wonderful opportunity. On the other hand, we started feeding the bird. It was not in compromising mood and it was not accepting the food we were giving. We tried forcefully opening its mouth and feeding the insects. We were successful in letting it eat few insects. Finally we decided to return.
In the meantime the other guy who saw us went to my home and complained to my grandmother that I had stolen the young one of a sparrow from its nest. We were not speculating this complains and therefore happily returning to our home with the understanding that first thing we would do upon our return is to put the sparrow in its nest. However I could see my grandmother standing near Dalaan with that guy. I put the little sparrow in the pocket of my half paint and hold the right hand of my buddy with my left hand and started walking confidently towards my grandma. The other guy was too vigilant. He screamed, “look! He has put it into his pocket”. My grandma asked me what I was holding in my pocket. In my native place, if elders are given option then they are supposed to rather please the kids of others. My grandma did the same. She pressurized me to display the contents of my pocket. Finding no other option, I took out the sparrow.
My grandma observed that the sparrow was motionless and she screamed at me, “what you did with it. It is dead now.” We all saw it. It was really motionless. Instead of concern my buddy demonstrated a kind of hope. She said, “it is just unconscious. If we let it smell the cow dung, it will immediately wake up”. My grandma started scaring me, “It is a big sin to kill someone. Now God will definitely punish you. Only way you can get rid of the punishment is to behave like a real good boy”. She had something urgent and therefore she left that place. My buddy pulled me towards the cow shed of neighborhood. We went to the heap of cow dung and buried the beak of sparrow in it. We could see the activities in the sparrow. After a while we could see the little bird opening its eyes. We were elated and happy once again.
A tender humanity had already given priority to four prospering lives in a beautiful adobe over the lust of humanity itself. My seven years old son has never noticed a sparrow from his conscious mind. If he happens to see it, I will definitely teach him that (a) he should not miss his dinner otherwise a flesh of the size of a sparrow will disappear from the body and (b) God could punish all naughty boys by tying their legs with an invisible strings like he did with the naughty sparrows.