House sparrows, crows and parrots in Lower Bazaar in Simla of the Sixties

House sparrows, crows and parrots in Lower Bazaar in Simla of the Sixties

The only birds that I was acquainted with, during my childhood, in lower Bazaar of Simla were the ordinary house sparrows, small homely birds. There were crows as well but these sparrows looked my very own. The crows, of course, were much in demand during annual shraadh days when the souls of our ancestors would partake all the delicacies through them. And I would be amazed at the devotion with which Bauji would make noises like “Kaw…Kaw” to invite a crow to feed upon the mouth watering bhaturus, channa, dour kaddu, kheer, dahi-bhalle etc. before offering even a small morsel to us.

The crows reigned supreme for a few days of Shradaas. They, too, were sacred and enigmatic and living like our ancestors long departed for their heavenly abode. On all other days it would be the leftover chapatis, if any that would come the crows way and that too, if that piece of chapati would be spared from the clutches of monkeys who ruled over the kingdom of tin-roofs of entire neighbourhood.

Then there was the “ghutari” who, if in benign company of other ghutaaris in the flock would make us think of so many tidings on the anvil the pattern of grouping would herald. Groups of twos, three, fours or fives together was fine but a single “ghutari” a big NO NO. It heralded “one for sorrow” and who wanted sorrow in her life!!! These Ghutaaris, too, had some strange beliefs attached to them true or false, I would never know but what was important that I believed in the omens that these Ghutaaris would anvil.

There was one poor parrot, always locked in an iron cage having a sliding door. The poor parrot would watch the busy path from Ram Bazaar and numerous people going up and down the road. It would wait for some passerby to get interested to know of the tidings of the fortune which was closed in the envelopes lining a cloth spread on the road. To me the parrot was a prisoner to the whims of his owner and it surely must be waiting eagerly to be brought out to pick up an envelop from a number of envelopes lying in a god-knows-what sequence. If I happened to pass by when the parrot would be helping in predicting the answer to a query of an aspirant, I would stand close by to listen to what the stars would pronounce!!! This, too, was a message from the unknown.

But my all time favourite would be the house sparrows or “Chidia” that I called her. Gender was immaterial when it came to these birds, atleast whar it came to our understanding. These were my friends.
Amma used to hand over, in the morning, rice grains in a big paraat and daal grains in another big thaali to both of us sisters. We would switch turns in cleaning those. One day I would clean the rice grains and next day the daal. And cleaning was a tough job as one could not be distracted even for a second. Picking up a small piece of crushed stone required great concentration. I would slide the cleaned up rice grains to one side of the paraat and the uncleaned to the other. And some house sparrows that lived somewhere around on the tin roofs would, as if on a cue, start chirping in their peculiar voice “Chee Chee” on the nearest corner of the roof. I really wonder how would they know of the exact timing every single morning.

These house sparrows lived around us, no one knew where, but every single morning they would be on the rooftop when we started cleaning the cereals. Once we were done with the cleaning of the grains, I would put on the ground the picked up full rice grains, and would add extra helping from the paraat and put them as a dedicated place on the small open area outside our door. And all of them would come down from the roof to pick those up!!!! They would have been waiting for the rice pickings. And they were not afraid of me….the moment I would spread rice grains on the ground, they would hop in eagerly.

It was a daily routine for them as it was for us taking daal-chawal everyday. I would look forward to have this exciting meeting with sparrows everyday. I waited for them as eagerly as they, perhaps, waited for me.

When I lost my first milk tooth or later would loose any milk teeth and would be crying for the loss of a art of my body, Amma would tell me to hide it deep under the green doob. And egen I would be worried of getting it back she would reassure me that they’ve small Chidia that I feed everyday would give me a new tooth. She would tell me to ask the “Chidiya* to give me a small tooth like her. And I would go running to the end of Lower Bazaar, where the stairs from the Indian Coffee house met the stretch of lower Bazaar, and find the softest and greenest doob grass to bury my small tooth under it.
All the while I would be praying to my friend Chidia to give me a small tooth like her as this was what Amma told me and I believed her. In my utter innocence and ignorance I would never ever think whether those “Chidiyas” really had small teeth, but I believed they did have as Amma said so.

But over the years I literally don’t notice them anymore. I don’t know where they all have vanished. I might not have thought of them had it not been for the loss of a tooth recently…the tooth which went straight to the bin of my dentist…. uprooted so ruthlessly… The same tooth that I believed that “Chidia” had given me in lower Bazaar of the Sixties.

Now neither there are the house sparrows, nor are the green patches near the Telegraph office…. I don’t bknow what destiny unfolded for the persons getting the parrot to predict their future. And in my turn I look for the crows making “Kaw Kaw” like sounds during Shraddas and try to satiate the souls of our ancestors, Amaa and Bauji amongst them!!!

Though my innocent beliefs in such stories have waned a little because of the so-called-rationality acquired during the years, but such innocence, ignorance and beliefs made my life so beautiful in Simla of the Sixties!!!

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