A few weeks ago we had an unexpected visitor at about seven in the a.m. Chest puffed out, inquisitive little pink eyes ran around our apartment as the pigeon calmly walked in off the balcony to check out this human dwelling. She (or maybe he) was massively unexcited by the furore she caused by her friendly interspecies visit. Once she’d satisfied her curiosity as to our living conditions, she hopped back to the balcony and then settled down to wait, apparently having decided to have some chai paani at our expense.
Reassured by her willingness to leave our home to us, we too were nothing loath and provided her with a handful of rice. In the days that followed, she became a permanent fixture, showing up at least once a day for some grain.
Contrary to popular belief, birds do not eat sparingly. In fact, a healthy bird will eat its own weight in food every day. While we did not grudge the bird her eating habits, what did concern us a trifle was the fact that she proved to be an exceedingly generous example of her kind, often inviting all her family and best friends to breakfast at our house.
Only once did my mother, the thrifty housewife, attempt to feed it some day-old bread instead. The bird would have none of it, dismissing the offer with the contempt it deserved. She was apparently a very nawabi kind of chick.
Soon we were playing host to a variety of pigeon characters – the original philanthropist bird, her timid friend who’d apparently survived a life-threatening attack of some kind, the big rowdy bully in their well behaved midst, the starving opportunist with a couple of ragged white feathers whose hunger gave it courage to stand up to the fat bully and so on. Once in a while an ingratiating crow or sparrow would also show up to gaze longingly at the balcony ledge and its fowl smorgasbord. Firm adherents of equality, we would impartially scatter some feed for these as well. But with a remarkable sixth sense, the bully pigeon would show up out of nowhere to drive them all away before settling down to the feast. Desperate, a bold sparrow even hopped indoors in emulation of the original bird to get some chow – only to be cast down in disappointment as we stubbornly refused to let her use our home as a de facto bird sanctuary and firmly pointed her out to the usual ledge with its pigeon menace.
In the wake of the bully is usually the original pigeon, slightly embarrassed by this gluttonous partner but driven by its instinct to keep pecking at the grain on the ground rather than stand up for the unfortunate victims of interspecies rivalry.
And as I fed them one day, I suddenly thought of George Orwell: I look from man to pig(eon) and cannot tell which is which.
originally published at Chowk.com (2004)