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The Birds’ Meeting in the Yard

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By Savitri Narayanan

Meera loved the weekends. Mummy didn’t rush her to get up, bathe and get ready for school. She could wake up, laze around and take her own time to do things.

‘Why can’t the weekends be longer!’ thought Meera as she took her own time to brush her teeth and freshen up.

“Aren’t you hungry, darling?” Mummy called out from the kitchen.

Meera ignored the question and continued to play with the water.

“She doesn’t know what’s today’s breakfast!” Daddy said aloud.

‘What could it be!’ wondered Meera as she wiped her hands dry and rushed into the kitchen. A big bowl of ‘batata poha’ was on the table. Daddy and Dadiji were seated, eating heartily. It was one of Meera’s favourites. She loved the crisp slices of potatoes and grated coconut in the seasoned ‘poha’.

“Good morning, hungry baby!” Mummy welcomed her fondly, “Here’s yours with your favourite chutney too, but drink your milk first!”

Meera carried her plate to her favourite spot in the front verandah. She loved to eat there, watching the blooming flowers and the mangoes ripening on the tree. There would be a crow, a sparrow or a pigeon around in the garden to keep her company.

But instead of one or two, Meera was surprised to see many birds in the yard.

“Caw, caw, caw,” crowed a crow. Many crows flew down as if responding to the call.

“Grrr… grrrr…,” called out a pigeon.

A few pigeons came down and sat around.

Very soon the yard was full of birds as mynahs and sparrows joined in.

“We might starve to death!” the wise crow addressed the assembled birds, “There isn’t enough food around; we’ll have to find a way!”

There are hardly any worms!” said the sparrows. “These people put pesticides all over the grass.”

“We don’t get any grains either!” said the sparrows.

“Nor any nuts to be seen anywhere!” said the squirrel.

“We all might starve to death!” said the wise crow, “unless we find a way!”

“What’s the reason? Why have we come to this stage?” the pigeon wondered aloud, “Why this shortage of food?”

“I heard that they have a magic box inside their kitchen,” said the owl. “It keeps the food fresh for many days!”

“I too heard so,” said the mynah. “This magic box is very cold and all the leftover food is kept in it for their next meal!”

“No wonder we go hungry!” said a pigeon. “Before this machine came, there was always food in the backyard for us!”

“Let them have their machine, but we need our food too!” chirped a mynah.

“They’re cutting down the fruit trees,” lamented a parrot. “There’s hardly a ‘chikkoo’ or a berry to find! Not even a guava!”

“We’re domestic birds!” said a sparrow. “Isn’t it their duty to feed us?”

As if she understood their conversation, Meera took a spoonful from her plate and spread it in the yard. The birds happily pecked around relishing the ‘poha’. Chirping, the birds looked up expectantly and Meera sprinkled more food in the yard.

Once they finished their breakfast, one by one the family came out too. Dadiji sat on the armchair and Daddy headed for his favourite chair with the newspaper.

“Meera, you’re not eating but throwing away the ‘poha’!” exclaimed mummy. “Don’t you know that we shouldn’t waste food?”

“I’m not wasting, Mummy but feeding the birds,” said Meera. “See how hungry they are!” She sprinkled more ‘poha’ in the yard and said, “Our teacher says that domestic birds, like domestic animals, survive on the food waste from the community; unless we take care, they could be extinct! It’s up to us to protect our environment!”

“When I was your age, there was no fridge,” said Dadiji. “The leftover food was left in the backyard.”

“Yes, Maji, I remember in the mornings how the backyard was frequented by cats, dogs and even cows of the neighbourhood!” said Daddy. “There was food for everyone!”

“The moment the rice was cooked, my mother used to place some on the stone wall in the backyard,” Mummy joined in, “and the crows would come down from the branches as if they were waiting!”

“In the mornings after her daily pooja, Dadiji still throws grains in the yard!” observed Meera.

“Glad you noticed it!” Dadiji sounded rather surprised and pleased. She added, “Bitiya, have you heard of ‘shraaddha’, a ritual in memory of our ancestors? After the prayers, the offering is placed in the front yard and it is believed that the departed souls come down to receive it in the form of crows!”

“That could be superstition but the fact remains that we must make sure that the domestic birds and animals don’t go hungry,” said Daddy and turned back to his newspaper.

Bitiya, there’s more poha in the kitchen, go help yourself!” said Mummy as she got down to tend to the garden.

         (The author is a retired educationist at present in Goa. A mother and a grandmother, loves reading, writing and travelling.)