Papun opened the large mesh doors to the pigeon cage on the terrace throwing bird seeds on the concrete floor, setting a flurry among the gurgling pigeons scrambling for the choicest grains. Madho and Paro was a delightful pair. They were both accomplished in races. Madho was a distance specialist and could fly from Kolkata to Delhi and back. Paro was a racer and could fly a mile, a minute. The researchers from the Calcutta Racing Pigeon Organisation had clocked Paro using RFID chips and transmitters followed by a TV crew from the local Bangla channel.
Madho and Paro were breeding pigeons now, and the pair commanded in excess of eight thousand rupees in the open market. Their pedigree and union had produced four baby pigeons, two at a time, all excellent racers under Papun’s watchful eye. Madho is rumored to have eloped with Paro from Bilaspur on his way to Delhi. The markings on Paro’s wings were from a champion breeder from Bilaspur who claimed to have lost his fastest bird to a rogue pigeon from the east. Madho was gifted to Papun by a breeder in transit from Tiretta Bazar.
As is the custom among pigeons, Madho puffed his neck and strutted in front of Paro, bowing and turning in order to impress her. Paro initially walked away, even flying short distances. Madho kept pursuit eventually gaining permission to pirouette nearby in this test of persistence.
Gradually they flew together in circles clockwise and in reverse, rubbing beaks until Madho climbed on Paro and flapped his wings momentarily that produced progeny to last an eternity.
“Papun!, Papun!” it was his mother. Mallika was tired of her son’s obsession with pigeons. “I will make a stew out of them if you fail one more exam.” Papun spent the better part of his day on the terrace feeding, grooming and talking to the pigeons. He taught them hand clapping signals, when to dive, when to dart, when to hover in circles. One clap, two claps, then a somersault. The birds crisscrossed the blue skies littered with cauliflower clouds. Howrah Bridge looked tempting in the distance as did the temple squires by the river bank. They fluttered, they flipped, they danced and wobbled before settling down on a ledge or wire.
Mullick Bazar was a flower mart on the banks of Ganges at the city end of Howrah Bridge. People loved stopping buy to get their flowers early while they were still moist and fresh. The merchants arrived early before dawn when the horizons turned from blood red to pink then orange. Lorries and buses loved the huge marigold garlands to adorn
their hoods and bonnets. The taxi drivers and young ladies preferred the thin strings of jasmine blooms that looked
pure and smelt purer. The auspicious elders carried their roses in flower baskets with intricate designs invoking faith. There were flowers of every hue, pink, purple, violet and yellow. It was as if the previous evenings rainbow had crystallized and rained petals the next morning at Mullick Bazar. The pigeons loved circling the flower baskets as brisk
business continued below, before swooping down on the banks at low tide hopping about in the cool mud leaving their footprints behind on the fine clay.
Thursday was a good day, there was no school. The opposition party had declared a bandh and all businesses and schools were to remain closed for the day. There was no bus, taxi or rickshaws. Even private vehicles did not venture out fearing the worst. The neighborhood children populated the thoroughfares playing cricket and soccer on main city streets. The roads were booked early. There was a one day tennis ball cricket tournament at Watgunge, a Soccer tournament at Wellington Park. The streets were packed, not with traffic but neighborhood teams and spectators battling it out for the latest trophy organized by one dada or another. Papun was on the terrace training the young ones how to flip and twirl by clapping his hands. One clap, two clap, a flutter, a flip. Suddenly the phone rang downstairs. It was Mallika’s sister Piyali on the phone. “ Mother is having a diabetic attack, the pharmacies are closed, do you have any insulin at home?”
Suddenly there was commotion in Mallika’s household. “Insulin!”, “Insulin!”. Everybody started looking for the vials. Was there some in the dresser drawer ? Under the bed ? Bathroom closets ? In the safe ? People ran up the stairs, down the stairs, dived under beds and tip toed over books. Suddenly insulin was found. The maid came out from
under the bed covered in dust and cobweb with a vial found in an old pressure cooker.It must have fallen from the bed between the thin crack between the bed frame and the damp pink wall. Papun was still on the terrace with his pigeons when Mallika screamed, “Go downstairs at once, do you know what is going on in the house?” Papun slid down the banister and locked himself in his room. Mallika handed the vial to her husband, “Take it to mother, NOW!” Then they all fell silent. There was no taxi! The only transportation allowed was by foot or bicycle and mother’s house was at least five kilometers away.
There was despair in the household. What shall we do now? Mother will go into an attack. Mallika called Piyali, “ We found some vials, but how do we send it?” There were furious exchanges over the phone. Who loved mother best, who took care of her when she was really ill. Papun slowly crept into the room. “What if I tie the vials to Paro’s leg and let her fly?” Mallika was aghast, “This is no time for your pigeons”…. Piyali muttered something at the other end, Mallika agreed. Papun ran up the stairs, cooed gently into Paro’s ears, tied the vials to her leg and clapped away. The white bird flew, flutter, flutter and gone. Mallika enquired, “How will Paro know where to go?” Papun just smiled.
Piyali looked out of the window and thought this was crazy. How could a pigeon appear out of nowhere with vials of insulin? However, this was her only hope. When mortals create obstacles almighty creates another way. A seizure and coma was imminent now as the symptoms increased. Suddenly …. flutter, flutter a pigeon with vials tied with a red string to its claws appeared over the Red Cross billboard. The insulin had arrived via UPS, Universal Pigeon Service, as Papun loved calling them. Piyali held the bird tenderly and swiftly retrieved the vials injecting the fluids into mother’s veins. The intervention was timely.
Mother was recuperating the next day when the phone rang. It was Mallika, “Glad you are allright. It is a miracle.” Piyali asked, “How did the bird know where to land?” Mother smiled, “ Papun, taught me how to clap over the phone.” When? “When all of you went to work, leaving Papun by himself at home. He wanted me to help him train
his pigeons how to land. He taught me all the signals.” Then mother smiled, and started clapping slowly with her weak hands. One clap, two clap, the UPS code. Piyali felt a flutter in her heart.