Amrita Valan

Updated: Jun 16, 2021

A Tale of Three Sparrows


My first close encounter with a sparrow was when I was expecting my first child.

It tumbled in through the bathroom window and had a harassed, worn-out look.

Outside the window the loud concerted cawing of crows made me realize why it had taken

shelter or temporary refuge in my bathroom. 

It was tiny, a baby sparrow still, and was so dazed it allowed me to pick it up.

I arranged a shoebox with wisps of old rags and cotton wool atop the cistern. And placed the

bird in it.

It looked at me with heart-melting gratitude, trust, or serenity, whatever you may call it.

It had clearly placed its faith and fate in my hands.

I was happy and fulfilled Florence Nightingale for about a week. All ceiling fans were kept

off for it, but then, it was February-March, and the heat was still bearable.

The little thing stayed with me for around seven days. Then one day, it fluttered its wings in the half-light of my curtained living room flew a few circles around me, and flew out of a

window.

My heart skipped a beat. Goodbye is hard to say when you have poured affection and hard

work into another living creature. The empty ink filler full of water I had fed it at first, the

rice bread crumbs and biscuits granules had made me feel a bit like its foster mommy. 

But now it was gone.

Just then the tiny distinctive sparrow flew in through the slit of a side window of the spare

bedroom, and pranced about on my desk.

It looked at me, cocking its head at an angle, eyes bright and beady, brave and innocent. 

I recognized in it a creature of the wild, at heart, momentarily tamed by love.

I blessed it, and it blessed me back.


I had watched Demi Moore in The Seventh Sign where the story goes, that, in Jewish beliefs, a sparrow brings down the soul of the unborn child from heaven.

Thoughts raced through my mind as I sat and mused over my baby to be yet to see the light

of this world.

Somewhere outside in the dazzling world of daylight, my surrogate sparrow son took flight.

That little sparrow came back a few more times that summer till I moved temporarily to my

brother's flat nearby, for a fortnight or perhaps three weeks.

I could easily make out my adoptive son from other sparrows. He was bolder than the others,

never shirked away from me, and was happy at home inside my apartment, occasionally

chirping at me. Eating whatever scraps I arranged for it.

I just rushed to switch off the fans whenever the birdies visited.


But hubby and I were moving to South India soon so that we could show our own flat to

prospective tenants, we moved for a few weeks to my brother's vacant flat nearby.

We were planning to live in a small town about fifty miles from Kanya Kumari, the

southernmost tip of India, where the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea, and the Bay of Bengal meet.

My husband was in charge of a grassroots start-up business venture there. Not only were we

excited about the imminent move, but we wanted to put up our own flat for rent. Hence the

move to my brother’s empty flat for a month so we could get our own flat ready to show

prospective tenants. As my brother lived in the faraway USA he didn’t mind us temporarily

occupying his apartment.


I was pregnant, eating all the prescribed health foods, and bored in my new surroundings

where I knew no one except my maid. 

One afternoon I found a bare skin and bones bald fledgling of a sparrow with raddled pink

skin lying on its side on the balcony.

Half dead.

It was not cute like sparrow number one, but almost repulsive, a skinny naked ball of pink

flesh, quasi reptilian, with long twiggy clawed legs.

I rebuked myself mentally for not feeling maternal.

Picked up the poor thing and finding myself an ink filler I tried to put a little water inside its

beak.

In my mind, I knew the mother would probably have crushed food in its own beak to feed her

baby. 

I tried everything. I mashed rice and bread soaked in milk, juice crushed out of a pomegranate seed, and then tried pushing it in through its beak.

Hubby commented that I might kill it with my care, I was devastated.


That evening I asked Urmila, our maid, what to do. She took one look at the wee little bird

and made a loud, half contemptuous, half pitiful sound between her lips.

" Boudi, (Elder Sister in Law) the mother kicked it out because it is too weak to survive."

I disagreed. Sparrow moms aren't known to do that I said.

" Well then, a crow must have pecked it off its nest. And the bird somehow landed on your balcony. Maybe from the crow's beak?”, she speculated callously.

If only the crow had dropped it below the tree, where the nest was, " Urmila lamented,

" the mother might have taken it back. Now it's doubtful. And if it won't eat from your hands, it will be dead by tomorrow."


I was a coward. I quaked at the thought of getting up the next morning and seeing its frail body lifeless.

I sang to it and tried to feed it again and finally went to bed. Hubby's advice was “Nature will

decide”.

The next morning, it was indeed lifeless. Or perhaps the coward in me decided to think so. 

It was blueish, fast-approaching death.

I could've kept it till it died and buried it, but something told me to try to return it to its

mother.

Urmila showed me the tree overhanging my balcony where the nest was.

We wrapped the bird in soft cotton wool and old rags but instead of putting it in a box, we

placed the tiny fading life at the foot of the tree. Then we left.


The whole day, I noticed no mommy bird hastening to its rescue. Urmila tut-tutted me for

being soft.

Nature's way was evidently the mature way I was forced to accept. But my eyes burnt for

some reason and I felt like a coward deep inside.

Late at night I looked out from the balcony at the Judas tree and mourned my second

foster sparrow. The one I let go of.


Urmila showed up the next morning with a bright fake smile pasted on her face and announced loudly, " The mom took it back Boudi. It wasn't under the tree anymore." 

But her eyes told me the Truth. The crows were cawing loudly again. Blood meal for them.

Lent and repentance for me. Forgive me brief-lived baby sparrow bird, for I have sinned. 

If only to myself. To my own capacity for kindness and courage to do right by you.


The third of my Sparrow musketeers came unexpectedly after a long interim period.

I was by then living in a metropolitan city in South India. My boys were maybe seven and

eight years old.

I had totally lost my ornithophilia. In fact, I now regarded all of God's smaller creatures with

grave suspicion. As spreaders of dirt, dust, contagion, and unwelcome fur.

I had two little boys depending on me to maintain health and hygiene and my home was my

sanctum sanctorum. A temple dedicated to cleanliness. Pets had no place in my scheme of

things. Pets were taboo.


The young bride who left bowls of creamy milk for an abandoned kitten below stairs, or fed

avian fledglings with ink fillers brimming with juice were now “Gone Girl”.


Even as the heavily pregnant mommy to be, in a small town in South India, who had brought

home a neighbor’s dog cruelly chained to the main gate for the whole summer afternoon for

a bowl of food and water had disappeared.

In her stead was an OCD afflicted creature roaming with a damp toothbrush to wipe stains off walls. Once you have children, the nesting instinct never really leaves.


During my first pregnancy, I had hurled caution to the winds and brought home my

neighbor's ill-treated pet dog. The poor thing being a furry poodle found the sweltering June

heat oppressive. Her cruel owners were wealthy enough to possess a huge bungalow but

hadn't provided her with a shady kennel or a cool bowl of water. They simply chained her

to the wrought-iron main gate and left for their respective jobs. So from 10 am till 5 pm...they

expected the dog to survive the summer heat, chained to the gatepost. As far as I could see,

No man or maidservant visited to provide her with food and water. So I brought her home, fed her rice and soft-boiled eggs, and played happily, while hubby cast disapproving looks as he worried about our neighbor’s reaction. Also, he was apprehensive about any disease I

might pass on to my fetus. I didn't. (My baby was born healthy and there's a story attached to that too. But for another,

day.)


But coming forward by eight years I had morphed into an animal fearing, mop stick-wielding,

supermom.

So much so that when I discovered that the dog owned by the Pentecostal Church next door

had taken to migrating post-haste, from the church door to my doormat on Sunday mornings,

(probably the early morning service accompanied by high spirited raucous drumming had

something to do with it!) I had to do something about it.


I went over to the church security guard and decided that to win him over I must use the local

language, and put my scanty Tamil to good use. It was also hubby’s mother tongue, so I was

actually putting in some good practice!


Thus went my valiant effort:

" Anna", (Elder Brother), Koil Noi",  (Church dog), "Naan veedu", (I meant my house, but what I actually said was, I, House).

By then church security guy was sweating slightly with his already bulging eyes popping out

even more.

I, however, continued with greater determination, "Naan veedu, Maal", (I, House, Upstairs),

"Naan Kadavu, Noi, Tookam." 

(I, Door, Dog, Sleeping).


Gopi bhaiya's face finally lit up like a hundred-watt bulb as comprehension dawned, and

relief flooded in. I was not complaining about the loud music or the parking!

But by now, I was enthused and proud of my “mastery” over my husband’s language, which I

had been secretly practicing! I warbled on solemnly, " Rombpa naraiyel erm....hair! " (Lot of large er...hair!). 

Belatedly, I realized, I didn't know the Tamil word for hair!


Gopi bhaiya's head and frizzy hair both started nodding at top speed with swift and soothing

" seri !seri!, (ok-ok) flying from his lips to soothe me down. 

My work done, I went home rubbing mental palms with gleeful satisfaction.


Miraculously, the dog indeed never darkened my doorstep again.

I would be quite entitled to say " Hallelujah" with the Pentecostals at this juncture. But more follows.


So where does the third sparrow come in?


He makes his grand entrance quite simply through my bedroom window

overlooking the church in the midst of their very enthusiastic, melodious service. 


I am busy dusting and polishing, (what else would an OCD freak do?).

When he chirps at me from the heights of the bedroom ceiling fan.

From where he hops onto the wardrobe.

And as I watch him, I'm stunned by silent memories of a different time, a different

place, a different me.

He takes two full rounds of the room, walking on the edge of the ceiling to floor wall

cupboards and then the curtain rods.

Precariously balanced, yet adept, it's a comical hop and strut motion.


This one had come to stay. This one wasn't shy. Or injured or in need of help.


I recalled my first two sparrow children and looked up at this merry, chirpy fella who showed

absolutely no fear. 


Had my first fledgling grown up and followed me to Bangalore?

Wow...


I looked up at him and softly mouthed, "I name you Zachariah ".

" Zach for short...Hello Zach! "

" Cheep, cheep! " Zach was quick to reply.

I spread some rice grains on my son's desk.

Zach moved on to the dining room and settled on a flower vase on top of the fridge.


Coincidentally, that flower vase carried a soft synthetic rose with my son's name embossed on it, given to all guests at his first naming ceremony.


I left the house to pick up my kids. When I returned, Zach was still waiting.

He had eaten a few rice grains, scattered some more.

But despite the windows left open, he hadn't flown the coop.


That night our family slept without putting the ceiling fans on.

Because Zach perched on top of one the whole night.

The next morning, he waited for us to wake up.

After a while, he was gone! 


We took pictures as this; I felt was no ordinary visit.

No. This was a visitation.

Perhaps organized by the confederation of the Sprite Magi of Sparrows.

Zachariah, the little winged prophet, left behind its sweet message.

I think it was about Love.

Love for all creatures. 

Love for children.

Love and friendship between man and beast.


It's all about love always. Isn’t it?




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