All for the love of birds...

All for the love of birds...

At the first light of dawn, when most of us are still tucked in bed or rushing to get ready for the day ahead, he heads to the parking lots of inner circle in Connaught Place to feed pigeons and other birds.

The sound of the characteristic aao aao (remember Amrish Puri in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge) is missing, but the straight-faced look and commitment to the task, almost as if it was his personal responsibility, is evident till the serenity of the scene is broken by a foreigner who asks a passerby to take his picture as he zips across the feeding area on his cycle, and sends the pigeons fluttering away in fear.

It is at this moment, the tranquillity on his face gives way to anger as he aims a series of expletives in the foreigner’s direction.

“How would it feel if someone walks over your platter or disturbs you when you eat? Is it that difficult to understand that birds are also living beings, deserving some sort of respect?”, says the bearded old man who regularly comes to feed the birds, but avoids identifying himself on the pretext that “when you do a good deed, you needn't advertise it”.

There are many such generous souls who take to the streets of Delhi to feed the pigeons. The roundabouts and road dividers around Patel Chowk Metro Station, Daryaganj. Ho Chi Minh Marg, Sansad Marg and others bear testimony to their love and devotion to these birds.

Between the closed premises of a road divider at Rani Laxmi Bai Marg stood Bhagwan Das, a sexagenarian, clad in a Safari suit attending to a flock of birds.

As you weave your way through the traffic to the middle of the road, you witness motorists, motorcyclists and others stopping by, raising their arms in devotion to their Almighty, and just throwing a bag of grain inside the premises, almost as if the birds could open a bag and feed themselves.

Only if getting your prayers answered was that easy!

Inside, Bhagwan Das, an ex-MCD employee, devotes time, almost as if he was talking to the birds, watching them play, while he fills the earthenwares with water and sprinkles the feed around.

“They don’t fly away when they see me. It has been years since I have been visiting them. They know me now,” he says with an air of certainty, as the sole feed-seller, a young boy, named Happy, listens to him intently.

Reminiscing old times, Surendra Bajaj says, “My grandmother used to call the birds by their names. ‘O Sita, Geeta, all of you come and take your food’, she used to call them out every morning, during our childhood. It used to amaze us how the birds came flocking in her direction.”

Listening to Surendera's story reminds you of Khushwant Singh’s Portrait of a Lady, where he fondly captures how his grandmother fed the sparrows and struck a chord with the birds.

How one wishes all the stories could be as beautiful and dreamy as that, but a chance encounter with an 82-year-old seller who sells a mix of bajra, makka, wheat by the platefuls as feed, along with hand fans, around Patel Chowk Metro Station, makes one melancholic.

As he huddles under the shade of a tree keeping a sharp eye on the birds in the middle of the road, Baburam, says, “I have to protect them from cats and dogs. It has only been three months that I have been working here, I was a tongawallah till a few
years back.”

Reviving memories of the times when horse-drawn buggies and carts were a common sight on Delhi roads, he complains, “Those were beautiful times when I used to whizz around the city, be it Plaza in Connaught Place or the market in Sadar Bazaar on my tonga. With my occupation taken away (as tongas were phased out of Delhi), and nothing offered in its place, I had to find a way to survive,” says the old man, still keeping a smile on his face.