Gopi had these beautiful birds collected in a wired cage. A few trees and flowery bushes, especially the red hibiscus in the background play with the eyes making one forget about the green coloured metal that made the cage. Birds of all colours were visible due to this spectacular arrangement. And this was a definite treat for the eyes whenever I visited Gopi’s place. My belief in freedom for all, won’t let me be to happy at seeing the caged bird, though!
We had this kid of the neighbour’s – Syamili who used to admire these birds. And she used to draw the birds on paper with her pencil colours. And to my fascination, the birds would sit still just so that she could complete her picture. She was very considerate about the birds too, where her drawing would not last for more than 10 minutes at a stretch. And a definite treat awaits the bird which agreed to stand still for this child artist. She would often have some piece of broken fallen fruit, sometimes mango or on other times guava that she picked up on her way from the street.
While me and Gopi would engage in the musings of the teen world viz. Cricket and science, this kid used to enjoy her company with the caged birds. Once, she used to have long conversations with the yellow bird, which was her favourite. She did the talking and to her spoken words apparently the bird was nodding or tweeting. Or was it the kid’s wild imagination! I had to check this out personally. And one day I could do that sacrificing the valuable time normally devoted to perpetual thoughts of the spellbinding universe also known as “nerd” talk.
Syamili was asking her friend, the yellow bird she had named as ‘Appu’. ” Appu, how are you today ?” . To my bewilderment a sober single twirp could be heard in reply.
She continued “Why , are you sad today ?”
Appu : ( no reply)
And I was about to rejoice on the my belief, my thought, that the twirp heard before was faux tympanic simulation
Syamili kept her colour pencils and writing pad on the ground. Some red ants which was searching for its way continued its pursuit from the damp soil onto the writing pad, only to move fast out the pad and back to the damp soil.
She said ” I believe that if I was closed in a cage like you, I would have been happy for a while. Because, I will feel safe and I would be taken care of by Gopi. I would have food and water. And I do not have to worry about finding my food. Or I would not be scared by any cats or bigger birds that may attack me , if I were a bird.”
Appu was nonchalant and seemed to look at a distance in deep thought.
” But , then after a while I would get bored, for I cannot meet any new birds like me. And I would be bored, I guess”
And there was a definite sharp tweet from Appu. Oh boy! It was as if the sound penetrated my bones.
“So I guess, now you are bored, unhappy and sad at the thought that you have no freedom to really fly”
Appu nodded ‘yes’.
“I heard Gopi is going on a tour for a week. I guess this would be a good chance for you to fly around and make new friends. May be you can return from your tour when brother Gopi also returns.”
Appu had turned its head at an angle as if in thought.
” OK ! I will ask Gopi, but I am not sure if he will let you out. You know he loves all the birds here, that is why he takes care of you very well. I am pretty sure that he would like to see you safe here all the time.”
saying this Syamili turned . At the same time Gopi was there with food for the birds, some grains and milk. The eager child wanted to feed the grains to the birds, and Gopi allowed her. Her tiny little hand would be as big as the birds themselves. And Gopi was concerned if the birds beaks would hurt her hand. The birds were delicate and enjoyed their dinner thoroughly, they all made some sound which was like a chorus music.
Syamili requested Gopi to let the birds go away for one week and come back when he returns from his trip. Gopi patted on the child’s head saying ” I am sure they won’t come back even if they try to . This is because Freedom is heavenly pleasure. And no creature would trade freedom for anything else. I feed them and take care of them . These have no meaning compared to them enjoying their own freedom. I appreciate your concern Syamili but I will not let them out. ”
“But then, have can you go on a trip and enjoy your freedom and not let them go ?”
For which Gopi replied ” I like them so much that I don’t want them to leave”.
Meanwhile, some friends had just brought in the news of a new finding of rose apple tree. And a child’s mind is so dynamic Syamili said a quick ‘bye’ to Appu and ran with the folks for her share of rose apples.
Next week, I was sitting at home like a caged bird, with nowhere to go. It was raining very heavily. I had not joined Gopi on his trip because it was his family’s tour. And then I had 2-3 days passing between the 3 teas that I had everyday in the morning , the brunch and the evening. Clouds parted and it was sunny for rest of the holidays. I joined the local group of Cricket gang and went to hangout with them. And the 10 -day school break just got over and I thought I should visit Gopi just before we were busy again.
There was this pleasant smell of from the red hibiscus flowers from Gopi’s garden when I took the turn to the entrance of his house. I could hear Syamili’s giggle as I entered the gate. Gopi was there playing with a puppy dog which was licking Syamili all over. And more giggles followed as the puppy played with her.
After a few exchange of pleasantries regarding the days of raining and his trip and my Cricket and his new puppy, I felt that something was missing in the background. The smell of hibiscus was somewhat stronger inside the plot. I checked to see how big the plant has become and there were undoubtedly lot of flowers ready to join the many others which have fell on the ground. And in the foreground to my surprise the bird’s cage was empty. I could not help wonder and asked Gopi what had happened? I asked if he had let the bird’s embrace their freedom. And then Gopi replied ” The birds were all dead when I returned from the trip.” I was shocked and asked ” how and why ?”
He explained ” There was this strip of coconut leaf hanging from a dwarf coconut tree that just about touched the bird’s cage. The ants had initially apparently come for the grains and later consumed the bird’s too. And when I returned the cage had only dead birds. And I cleaned the cage and threw all the remnants at the base of the hibiscus plant.”
I said “that is very sad, If only you had let them out . Atleast the guilt of causing their death, by capturing their freedom could have been avoided”.
With nothing more to say. I hung around with the new puppy. And left in sometime taking with me some of the hibiscus’ smell and the little girl’s innocent giggle. And at the gate when I turned to wave ‘bye’ to Gopi and Syamili , my eyes may have deceived me but I definitely saw a yellow hibiscus flower among the red.
PS: Adapted from True Story by Aneesh