Barring crows and an occasional fluting cuckoo, Chennai's spreading concrete jungle seems to have no other significant avian specimen. A few parrots can be spotted de-winged and caged to pick cards to predict men's future. Also lovebirds entwined on the sands of Marina, under threat of being chased by police maintaining Love and Order.
“But where are the sparrows?” asked Subbu, a specialist in rhetorical questions. “May be the cell phone signals are the culprits. You can't spot those tiny, plump brown-grey passerine birds any longer picking seeds with their strong beaks,” Subbu said.
"”You can spot them at Anna International airport”, I said laughing. As he raised his left eyebrow theatrically demanding clarity, I added, “Customs code words. Ants are small time operators, and sparrows big time in carrying contraband.”
“That reminds me of my maiden foreign jaunt,” he said sipping hot coffee that was served. “Twenty five years back I was sent to Sri Lanka by my boss to submit a tender. I was thrilled. The whole family, including our dog, proudly saw me off at the airport. Even Hanuman on his Mission Sita to Lanka wouldn't have had such a hearty send off from his fellow Kishkindaites,” Subbu recollected.
He took another sip. “With a paltry foreign exchange at my disposal I eventually came back with a few knickknacks, but without the mandatory two-in-one, air thermos jug, pen-cum-torch and a bottle of duty-free scotch,” he remembered. “My wife greeted me with the longest face. She had indented for a wrist watch but I didn't have the time to pick one at Colombo. As a compromise, I gave her the tin of Ovaltine I got, hoping the health drink would cheer her up,” he said.
“But when prised open it did not have chocolate brown granules but caked up solids. Her disappointment compounded she threw the contents into a basin with silent rage. Giving a O Henrian twist to this episode, she fished out a cellophane pack from the heap. Inside a pricey, gold-strapped lady's watch was ticking. Fancy that!” "Which means" I pointed out, "you had metamorphosed into a sparrow that merrily flew past the green channel hoodwinking hawk-eyed customs!"