The house sparrow

“Awwweeee, she’s so cute”, tweeted my daughter Chikki, gazing over the little girl running behind her dad on the jogging track of our building. I looked up for a second from my morning feed of whole grains, looked at the little pest and her father, who were both scuttling along hastily, and put my head down to focus again on what should be the focus of every morning (or any time of the day, for that matter), food!

Chikki, on the other hand, couldn’t contain her excitement for some strange reason. She again poked me and said-“Mom, don’t YOU find her cute?” I replied in my best disinterested manner, “No, she’s just a human. And all humans are the same, dirty, disgusting and above all, dangerous, so you better stay away from her if you know what’s good for you.”

But trying to dissuade Chikki was like playing a been in front of Vyjanti, our neighbourhood buffalo, and incidentally, Chikki’s best friend. She (Chikki, the sparrow, not Vyjanti, the buffalo) was almost in love with the little girl, and turned a deaf ear to whatever warnings I was trying to convey. In that aspect, she was like the typical American teenage daughters that are the originators of all catastrophes of global proportions, like that girl in that serial that the first floor people play on their TV, where one screen becomes four, and the girl’s father keeps saying “Dammit”, and “Son of a Shaalu “(or Mrs. Shaalu Barker, as she wants everyone to call her, in her airy-fairy manner, when she is just the wife of a common street dog who has recently come into some wealth).

So Chikki decided to get to know more about that girl, by spying on her through the windows of her home. I tried warning her, but as my shrink, Doctor Gaytonde keeps telling moo…I mean me, “Yoo need too bee moore assertive Choon-Choon!” As a result, Chikki flew off the tree in the compound which was our home, and followed the girl and her father to their fourth floor apartment. Little was she, or I, to know that this seemingly innocuous decision was to lead to repercussions as dire as what that girl on TV (Emily Bauer…yessss, that was her name, I am sure…or at least I think I am) always brought about, and the mild-mannered Choon-Choon would be forced to turn into Jack Bauer to save her world!

It was a fancy building in South Mumbai that we lived in, with glass elevators (OK, WE did not live IN the building, but in the trees around it, but ghar dil mein hona chahiye, so please allow me this poetic licence, if you please). The man and his daughter took the elevator to their apartment, and Chikki kept a tab from outside. The minute they went into their home, Chikki flew around the building, and reached the balcony of the father-daughter duo. And from the French window of their house, she started looking in….and could not hide her shock and awe (Ohhh, sorry, that was Norman Schwarkopf during the Gulf War), I mean, shock and horror.

For the minute that they entered their home, the man immediately went to a book case kept on one side, and took out a book. And lo and behold, the book case swung open, to reveal a secret entrance to another room, actually, another apartment, because it was then that Chikki realized that the neighbouring apartment, which had supposedly been empty for a very long time (Vyjanti’s next buffalo neighbour Sukanya, a cattle egret had told her that her fiancé Kabu, a pigeon had told her that all their parties were held on that apartment’s balcony only, as the house was empty), was not actually empty, but had a lot of computers, complicated machines and chemicals kept on different tables.

On one of the walls was stuck a map of Mumbai, with red-coloured circles around some 10-12 dots. The man and his daughter directly went to one of the computers kept there, and punched in some buttons. Suddenly, another person’s face popped up on the computer screen. He was wearing green clothes, and had a big moustache. He was obviously the man’s boss, because the man and his daughter immediately straightened up when they saw him on the screen.

The father and his daughter saluted the man on the screen, who nodded curtly and said, “Is the plan in place agents?” They both nodded vigorously in return, and the daughter said, “Yes General, after we are done with it, the people of Mumbai will not remember a thing, because there will be no people remaining in Mumbai, people outside Mumbai will just remember that there used to be a city called Mumbai, and it had more than 20 million people living in it.” And saying that, she started laughing loudly…”Ha ha ha ha”, like the villain of a 1970s or 80s Bollywood film. And it was then that Chikki realized that the little girl was not so cute and innocent after all, and not just she, but the entire city was in terrible danger from her and her father (If that man was actually her father, that is).

Meanwhile, the man on the screen was giving detailed instructions to the duo, “The codes have already been delivered to you Pawan, you and Munni know what to do now. Start from the top of the map, from Andheri (beyond that is not Mumbai, it is almost Gujarat, we don’t care about that area), and end at Nariman Point, and by the time you finish, Mumbai will just remain as a point on the map…Ha Ha Ha Ha…WHO IS THAT?” And you must have realized the reason behind this ejaculation, the General had just seen my poor daughter Chikki, who was hovering behind Pawan and Munni, trying to listen in to their sinister conversation.

The sweet & innocent (looking) Munni was the first to respond. She quickly turned around, saw Chikki near the window, and a throwing knife almost miraculously appeared in her right hand. Before Chikki could even take the next breath, Munni had thrown the knife at her, piercing the tip of her left wing, and nailing her to the soft board with the map of Mumbai on the wall, not hurt too badly, but completely unable to move.

Chikki cried out loudly in pain, and from outside the window, came a rush of wings. It was none other than Kabu, the pigeon (Remember him? The fiancé of Vyjanti’s next buffalo neighbour Sukanya, the cattle egret). He was performing his morning ablutions in the balcony of what he thought to be ‘the-empty-house-that-is-our-party-pad’, but had to stop in the middle of some complicated bowel movements when he heard the cry of someone who appeared to be uncannily similar-sounding as his fiancé Sukanya’s next buffalo neighbour Vyjanti’s BFF Chikki. So, he neither saw ‘aav’, nor ‘taav’, and rushed in where angels fear to tread, but pigeons obviously don’t, because pigeons are the undisputed kings of household pests!

But Kabu, like all pigeons, did not believe in the old adage of ‘Look before you leap’, and before he could enter the room, Pawan had quickly shut the French window to the balcony, and the result should be obvious by now….Kabu went splat against the glass window, and slid to the balcony floor, unconscious.

And inside the room, the stakes had just become much higher. The General, Pawan and Munni were discussing what exactly to do with Chikki. Pawan said, ”She’s just an innocent house sparrow, we should let her go.” Munni, on the other hand, was much more pragmatic, and knew better than most, how deceptive appearances could be. She said, “No, we should just cook her, and eat her, that way, any secrets that she might have overheard will get digested along with her.” The General pitched in at this point, “But isn’t there a saying that auraton ko secrets hazam nahin hoteen?

The debate had the potential to last indefinitely, but then, suddenly Pawan saw the time and exclaimed, “We’re already late, if we delay leaving any further, we’ll miss Happy Hours in the restaurant…I mean the whole schedule will get disrupted, and the PM might not be there at Marine Drive when we reach there. The first bomb has to kill him and his cabinet, so that the nation is headless after that, and the General can take over.”

Chikki was horrified listening to all this, and started sobbing and whimpering pitifully. And as the Old Jungle Saying goes, “Terrorist bhi insaan hote hain”. Pawan could not bear listening to her sobs, and decided to put his foot down, which landed right on top of Munni’s tiny foot, and almost crushed it in the process. Munni’s face went red in anger, and another knife miraculously appeared, this time in her left hand, which she quickly put against Pawan’s neck and threatened in an ice-cold tone, “Do that once more and you will not have any feet left to put down.” Poor Pawan apologised profusely, and then finally managed to convince Munni to not kill Chikki there and then.

But Munni had one condition, “We will not leave her behind, because she has heard our entire plan, and I have seen in many films that if you underestimate your enemy and leave them after they have come to know of your nefarious plan, they inevitably escape and cause your downfall. We will take her with us, so that she is not able to escape and warn others.” Pawan reluctantly agreed, and with the blessings of the General, they made their way to their car, and left, with Chikki securely imprisoned in a shoe box kept on the back seat.

But what they didn’t take into account was the resilience of that king of all household pests, Kabu, the pigeon. The minute they left the apartment, Kabu opened his eyes, looked around surreptitiously, and flew off. He had heard everything, and knew what he had to do next.

Which, obviously, was to go directly to his fiancé Sukanya, the cattle egret, tell her everything, omitting no detail, howsoever small, and await instructions. Sukanya heard the complete story patiently (one had to be VERY patient with someone of Kabu’s limited intelligence, she knew, but he was kind of cute, and had a big heart), and took him to her next buffalo neighbour Vyjanti and instructed him to narrate the story to her. Vyjanti became all teary-eyed and concerned when she came to know what danger her BFF was in, and the three of them immediately rushed to find me.

One huge benefit of having a teenaged daughter (as I am sure Jack Bauer will be more than happy to confirm), is that nothing shocks you anymore, and you become primed and habituated to acting at a moment’s notice, something like muscle memory I guess. I listened to the story, and then asked just two questions. The first one was to Kabu, “Which car are they driving? And the second, this time to all three of them was, “Are you guys in?” And we were off, to save my little baby, and Mumbai city in the process.

Since I am just a house sparrow and can’t fly too high or too fast, Kabu was allocated the responsibility of acting as the homing beacon and locating the terrorists’ car. And for the first time that day, we found some luck. Because while Pawan and Munni had dashed off in their car at a very high speed, what they had not accounted for was the stretch of quicksand called Western Express Highway, where even the swiftest of fleers is bound to get bogged down sooner than later. And in the case of my daughter’s kidnappers, it had happened soonest, i.e. within 5 minutes of them leaving their apartment. So, in all the time that it had taken Kabu to inform us of the situation, one by one, the getaway car had barely moved 500 metres.

Kabu filled us in as soon as he returned, and we put our heads together to rescue my daughter (yes, yes, and save Mumbai, I remember, don’t worry). And then, we put our plan into motion.

The jam had just cleared a bit, and Pawan and Munni’s car was finally moving at a decent speed (read 20 KMPH), when suddenly, Pawan pointed towards something from the window, and said, “Awwweeee, how cute!” Munni looked in that direction, and saw a cattle egret flying alongside their car. Seeing a white bird in the middle of a crowded highway was a rarity indeed, but Munni just said, “Focus on the road Pawan, we already have one bird in hand, don’t need another in the bush.”

Seeing that his trick wasn’t working, Sukanya now started doing something desperate, but inescapably dramatic. From their car window, Pawan and Munni saw a strange and wondrous sight- the bird had started performing backward and forward flips while flying (something Sukanya had learnt from watching Deepa Karmakar’s inspiring performance in the Olympics). Now this was truly so bizarre that despite their best efforts to contain and control themselves, their eyes became totally transfixed on the bird.

And while they were looking at Sukanya in a trance, a giant buffalo suddenly ambled onto the road, and stood directly in front of their car. By the time Pawan saw Vyjanti, it was too late to break and stop the car before it his her. And in that split second, Pawan realized that hitting Vyjanti with his car was a sure-shot invitation to getting lynched, since it was not only the cow which was holy now in India, all its cousins, close or distant, were equally sacred, as had recently been demonstrated in Lucknow, where even the legendary Tundey (aah melt-in-the-mouth) Kebab Shop had to stop selling buffalo meet galauti kebabs!

So Pawan took the only sensible and rational course of action, he veered sharply, and rammed the car into an auto-rickshaw. All traffic suddenly came to a standstill, since humans love nothing more than a good fight. The auto driver belligerently came out cursing and shouting. He saw that with the plain-looking driver of the car sat a sweet, little girl. “This will be easy pickings”, he said to himself, and tried opening the door of the car, when suddenly, his mouth and his words froze midway. For in that sweet, little girl’s right hand had appeared a sharp knife, which she was very calmly pointing towards him. He stopped with a jerk, turned around, and started walking back towards his auto, with Munni and Pawan keeping a sharp eye on him, in case he had a sudden attack of stupidity (read suicidal tendencies) and came back to pick a fight.

But what they were not keeping a sharp eye on was the shoe box in the back seat, in which my poor daughter was imprisoned. Taking advantage of the confusion, I quietly slipped in through the open back window, and using my beak, cut open the string with which the shoe box was tied. The box immediately popped open, and out came my Chikki, bleeding slightly from one wing, but otherwise safe and sound. We quietly hugged, and were just about to fly out together through the window when two knives came and buried themselves in the backseat, sort of like shots across the bows of ships during wars.

And what we saw filled us with stark terror, for Munni was looking directly at us, and had two more knives in her hands, pointed towards us, and her eyes were shining like those of a madwoman, the thrill of the kill taking her right to the edge.

But what Munni had not accounted for was the staunch loyalty of our friends. Before she could do anything, Sukanya came in through the window and bit her sharply on first one hand, and then the other. But Munni was a trained assassin, and used her tremendous fighting skills to fight off Sukanya, and throw her out of the window.

Now, Pawan restarted the car and started driving fast on the highway towards his destination, afraid that the VIP gathering would disperse before they reached there. But suddenly, there was a barrage of what seemed like bullets on his windscreen, and he couldn’t see a thing. It was Kabu, of course, to the rescue, doing what he did best, shitting on people’s cars, especially the windscreens.

Pawan once again lost control of the car, and this time, slammed into a bigger SUV on his left. And before he or Munni could react, they found themselves suddenly surrounded by more than a dozen Black Cat commandoes, whose SUV they had accidentally hit. The commandoes got suspicious on seeing Pawan and Munni’s guilty faces, handcuffed them immediately, and then searched their car. And imagine their shock when they saw plans of key strategic installations in the city, some guns, 34 knives , out of which 32 were in Munni’s dress, carefully hidden, and a remote control for bombs. And yes, they also found two house sparrows on the back seat, whom they released immediately!

We immediately flew to our friends, hugged and thanked them, and then I asked Chikki, “So what did you learn today Chikki?” Pat came the reply, “That appearances can be deceptive Mom, kabhi kabhi jo dikhta hai, woh hota nahin hai, aur jo nahin dikhta hai, woh ho bhi sakta hai!

Saying that, she pointed towards Munni, but to our shock and consternation, Munni was nowhere to be seen. She had used the point of an undiscovered knife to pop open her handcuffs, and had slipped away silently into the wind! We looked at each other in confusion, but then, we are just simple birds and animals, so we shrugged our shoulders, and went back to our apartment. Yes, yes, I know, it is not OUR apartment, but you get the picture, right?

About anuragbakhshi

At the age of 40, I decided to exit the corporate world, and enter the world of stories as a full-time writer. Wish me luck!
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