The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, April 30, 2000

Death in a glass cage
By Rooma Mehra

ON my way back from the hospital where my mother was convalescing, I decided to check up on my potted garden. It was while I was watering my pale and thirsty plants that I noticed a slight shivery movement behind a pot, I moved towards it discovered a scared wet pigeon trying to make itself as inconspicuous as possible. It appeared to be ill or wounded.

Instinctively, not daring to hold the bird in my hands, I asked my maid to find out the nature of its ailment. She said that the pigeon was hurt in the underbelly, and one could do nothing but leave it till some cat came and ate it up. It was nature’s law, she said.

I decided to bend nature’s law—with an antiseptic cream, and then releasing the pigeon in my roomy workplace that came closest, with its glass walls, to the open free.. and in its somehow-mustered-up greenery and in its inevitable untidiness, to a "jungle", while offering environs safe from the cat.

  "Bird," a watercolour by the writerBobby as I decided to name the pigeon, crawled to a corner, refusing to eat or drink anything. Before leaving for the hospital in the evening, I decided to turn off the lights so Bobby could rest at night. Then, on second thoughts, I left one light on and watched from the gap between the door and the floor while standing on the iron ladder leading up to the room. Sure enough, Bobby crawled out from under the settee and headed towards the water and grains I had spread out for him.

I went downstairs to give the news to little Saif, my four- year old nephew, who was quite concerned about the little injured bird.

Next day, back home from the hospital I rushed to Bobby’s room and watched again from the space between the door and the floor while standing on the ladder. This time Bobby came up to the door. His red eyes looked into mine. I tried to fathom the expression in his eyes. Wondering if it read "I am ready to fly". I left the door open, only to return at the sound of a thud and a servant announcing that a pigeon had fallen from the ladder on to the floor.

Suddenly, not sure if the pigeon would really ever fly again, I wondered at my own little greedy desire to keep Bobby with me. Chiding myself for my selfishness, I decided to wait another day, giving him his food and water after getting my maids okay, who shook her head in disapproval at my attempts to bend nature’s laws.

Two hours later, before leaving home, I saw Bobby from under the door again. His red eyes looked at me in a way that haunted me throughout the drive to the hospital. What was it? Was it anger I had seen in his eyes? hatred? Red was somehow not a colour of gratitude.

Next morning, the telephone rang at 6 a.m. to tell me that Bobby had died in the night.

This was six months ago. I still wake up at night, in a cold sweat, as red eyes glare at me accusingly for giving a bird a death in captivity. I imagine Bobby finally strong enough to fly that night and trying to fly in a glass room mistaking it for open space. I imagine him bashing his head against glass walls. His red eyes glare at me accusingly as he lies dying in his glass prison. I wish I knew how or why Bobby died. The family insists that the servant left the door open by mistake and a cat killed him. But I would never be sure.

When little Saif asks about Bobby, I point to the two pigeons that visit us everyday, and I tell him they are Bobby and Bobbin. That Bobby left us to get married and he comes regularly to look us up from his new home.

But my heart sinks and a pair of angry red eyes brings me down several iron rungs of a ladder.. in my own eyes.