It has been almost 40 years now. I still clearly remember the events.
I was just a kid then, 7 years of age if I am guessing correctly. Never mind the number.
It was on my birthday that I wanted it. A parrot. Bright green. I had taken a fancy to the bird at the pet store. I guess we all know what happens when children ‘take fancy’ to something at the store.
I spent an entire week reasoning with my father about the wonders of a parrot, how it would bring good luck to me and make an obedient child out of me. But over the years my father had grown accustomed to my ways of persuasion.
“Let’s see your results in the exams, and then I will decide. Besides, it is not right to cage a bird.” It was as good as saying a straight ‘no’.
No matter how good (or bad) my academic performances were, the parrot was not to be mine. As any other child, I was hurt and angered. I made a vow to revenge my dishonour! Home was a battlefield. I felt like a young rebel. But such rebellions are usually crushed in their infancy.
Over time, I withdrew from the rebellion and led the life of a hermit.
This was only one of the incidents which I mention to reveal my childhood miseries. In later years, I came to know that I am not the only child who suffered these ‘miseries’. Ninety nine out of hundred children tolerated this! The world must be a cruel place.
Years rolled past and I grew up quite well (without the parrot). My mother has always been kind and understanding (in the sense she never objects to anything I say or do). I studied to be an engineer and fared well. I left hometown when I was 23 to work. I saw less of home after that.
My father was against my going. It is not that my mother wanted me to leave but she was supportive of me. In the end, I being adamant, my father agreed not to cause any more trouble. I felt relieved to have finally escaped. I was so ready to face the world on my own.
My work took me to different places. It quenched my passion for travelling to some extent. In short, I loved my job and way of life. I returned home rarely, maybe once a year or even less.
My father passed away when I was 29.
I came back home for a month. My brother had just graduated then. When I left, my mother did not ask me to stay back for a couple of more days. I thought she would but I was grateful she did not. My brother took up a job in the city and decided to stay in town. I did not have much say in the matter, I’m glad for that.
Time flew by and I got older (and weaker). My brother got married 5 years later. It was quite a party. I even met some of my old buddies then. Mother was really happy for him after me being a disappointment (maybe she did not think so of me, but the thought kept gnawing at my mind).
I had a nephew 6 years later. My mother named him Siddhartha. Little Sid. We shared quite a bond. I never had many friends but somehow it was easier to connect with Sid. I guess it was because we did not understand much of one another, only what was necessary for a lasting bond. I mean, even when I notice other people with their friends, it looks like such a delicate balance. They don’t have to share everything to become friends, just enough to fuel the friendship.
We used to chat sometimes over Skype, when I was not very busy. He tells me all about school and his friends, apparently he has many. Of course, I cannot discuss about my work but I try to tell him about my school days. Nothing much to tell. It is as if like I am telling a boy who has never been to college about the college syllabus and routine, so that it excites him anyway. But Sid is an attentive listener. He is also very fond of working in the garden with his mother. Not very fond of the flowers, but he fancies the tall and strong ones, like fir or Sal. There is only a Sal tree in the garden, it is only 7 feet in height. But Sid takes real good care of it, says he will make it the strongest tree in the world. My brother may find this annoying sometimes, but I’m glad for it. He should not only know the value of things but also how to take care of the things one values.
Well, so much for the past. Right now, I’m travelling to my hometown after two years. It happens to be my nephew’s birthday the next day. He will be turning 7. My sister-in-law has been asking me to visit for the last couple of months so I thought I might as well utilize this opportunity for a much needed break. So, here I am.
My brother received me at the railway station. We took a taxi home. I had to make a brief stop at a store on the road for the birthday present. It is rather a difficult job I must say, choosing a gift for a person. One always wants it to be neither too expensive nor too cheap, I feel myself in such situation like balancing on a taut wire.
It was 7 in the morning. Fortunately, I had a good sleep last night and the early morning drive is refreshing. We reached home around 8:40, Sid was already awake by then. Hearing the commotion, he rushed downstairs. My mother was still asleep, she has not very well for the last couple of weeks.
Sid hurled himself on me as soon as I was in his sight.
He said something like, “I’m a rhino and I want your flesh”
Well, exactly the welcome I expected from him. I managed to say “Happy Birthday, Rhino. Please don’t kill me, I brought an offering in your honour”
That did the trick, I am spared. Without much delay I handed him his gift. I must say he is quite in awe of the huge package. I mean it was not very big but compared to Sid’s size it is. He could not wait to open it. So we go into the backyard, leaving the rest of the household to arrange for breakfast and other chores.
I just kept looking at his face as he started unpacking. It was not a gift which should be kept wrapped for long. As much as I would like to help him open it quickly, I just did not want to miss the look of expectation on his face. After some struggle, he was finally able to get away with the wrapper and stood in awe.
It was a bird cage. I bought him a parrot!
He looked up at me now, completely at a loss of words. I did not know what to say, but seeing that he started smiling I said, “Do you like it?”
He looked at the parrot again and said, “Yes, this is amazing. I was expecting a videogame or something, but this is totally so awesome”
Then slowly the smile faded away from his face. I approached him and knelt beside the cage. The parrot seemed to take in its new surroundings slowly. I asked, “What is the matter Sid?”
“It looks really sad. My teacher says it is not good to cage birds. I am wondering if I am doing something wrong here”
“Of course not, I know you are going to take good care of it. That is what is important, it will live in pleasure with you and does not have to scavenge for food in the wild. Isn’t it Sid?”
“I guess so, but will it not get bored in a cage?”
“I don’t think so, you will be around to keep it busy”. I smiled at him then. But he had a perplexed look on his face as if he has discovered a new species and could not understand what to call it.
I asked once more ,”Well, what is it now?”
“Well, a bird is meant to fly. Will it not miss flying?”
I was taken aback at such a simple question. I may have the answer to complex mathematical equations but at that moment I could not come up with any straight answer.
A bird is meant to fly. Any illiterate could see the logic in that. It is really difficult to understand the logic of trapping of a bird. A bird flies, so we consider it a unique and beautiful creation of our world. Hence, we capture that beauty in a cage, to have a feeling of ownership. Why is it so important to own beauty rather than to appreciate it? The funny part is, by caging the bird we actually take away the reason for our interest in the first place, that is, its ability to fly.
I began saying,” It may miss sometimes, that is why you are here. You are here to make it comfortable and see to its needs. It is a big responsibility I am entrusting you with”. I was feeling like a fool, lecturing a 7 year old about duties and responsibilities on his birthday!
He just sat and kept staring at the parrot. I asked,” Well, what do you want to name it?”
Ignoring my question, he just said,” I think it’s really sad that it can never fly again”
Kids can be persistent until their curiosity is satisfied! How could I explain it any better him? That I have no better answer than that I have already given. Yes, it is wrong to trap a bird. It is wrong to trap anything whatsoever.
But that is what we have been doing for ages. To keep the things we cherish the most behind cages, for the sake of our pleasure and keeping them safe. Don’t we do the same for the people we want be close to? Hold them down by promises and relations, whereas relations are actually meant to support while we soar higher, not bring us down to the ground. Why is it so important to uphold the illusion of possession? The illusion that we own things, animals, flowers, gardens, rives, land and people. Why is so difficult to let go off things which was not even ours?
While such thoughts kept rushing through my head, my mind was suddenly flooded by thoughts about my father. How he had been reluctant to let me go, but had finally agreed. Why had I never felt grateful for that? Maybe I looked upon it mainly as my victory and not the victory of my father over his self. How could I have been so blind? My mother was always silent about it. I had so much to be grateful for. The way my parents let me have my way.
Sid turned his head to me, anticipating some reply. I said,” Yes, it does look sad”
What if I had never been allowed to leave? What if I never got to do the things I do now? What if I never got the chance to explore myself? What if my wings were clipped?
I tried to divert his attention (and mine too),”Hey, want to go in and check what’s cooking today?”
He nodded and holding my finger, we started walking towards the backyard door. From the tug at my finger I knew he had stopped. I wondered what happened now. I looked at his face to ask, but before I could say anything, he blurted,” I think we should release it”
He looked really nervous. After all, it was a gift from me and it was kind of rude to decide to get rid of it just now! His mother would be furious about it.
I said, “Sure, if that is what you want. In fact, I think that would be nice”
We walked back to the cage again. I urged him to go ahead and open it. He did it without any help, and then I asked him to step away from it. He walked backwards, keeping his gaze on the parrot. Of course, the little green creature was not familiar with such situations, and stayed in the cage for a while.
Slowly the parrot began trudging towards the opening and peeped out. It climbed out and on the ground. I felt Sid really stiff, not really sure what would happen. I am not sure how many minutes passed.
Then it flew!
Our eyes just traced its flight as it flew away and out of sight. I did not even notice that I was smiling. I guess it is not so difficult after all, to feel happy about another’s freedom. It was like releasing oneself from the responsibility of something, for which one was really not qualified to take care. Of course, the cage is a safe place and comfortable. But maybe some plants grow better if to themselves. One has to let go off things one loves to let them grow on their own, to make them more loveable. That is the help maybe most people look forward to, the undoubted and unhindered trust from others that they can do better.
Sid’s voice brought me back,” What are you smiling about?”
“Uh, nothing. I’m just happy for that parrot and you”. I smiled at him now.
We could now hear his mother calling. I wonder if my mother is awake now. I said to him,”Hey, let’s go in and see what we can get to eat”
“Sure, let’s go now”
As we entered the room, he said,” You know, I would have called it Fishy I think. It sounds cool”
“Yeah, well, I think Fishy got a really nice gift on your birthday! You’ll become a hero among Fishy’s family”.
He laughed at this silly remark. I broke into a light laughter myself and the rest just stared at us, wondering as to what mischief we have been up to.