Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Beasts in my Balcony


I have always been a wee bit too partial to the fellow denizens of our planet, and have a penchant liking for them and their usually agreeable company; even the ones which have an unfair reputation of being a bit unpleasant and generally avoidable. My curiosity for unusual creatures of different hues and shapes is rarely dampened by the possibility of the unpleasantness that might ensue if the said creature decides that I ain't no friendly fellow creature.

This ideology was tested to its limits during my stint at the b-school-encroaching-upon-a-jungle that IIMK was, what with the zillion critters roaming around, infesting our rooms, wardrobes and pretty much any space they could crawl into. This was, however, made up for by the bird life which would put a national park to shame and the resident mother fox with her litter, not to mention the fearsome looking monitor lizard which a friend under whose hostel it resided insisted was a full-bloodied komodo dragon. I missed this continual companionship subsequently as I moved base to less charming locales.

Despite the amazing tree cover that Delhi has, it doesn't seem to have any biodiversity to really rave about, a fact that rather disappointed me after moving here. Maybe it's gone down recently like every other Indian city, or maybe it's simply an unfair comparison to cities located with an hour's flight (for a bird!) from that incredibly amazing thing called the Western Ghats, which tend to spoil every nature lover who's lived around the western coast for some time. Delhi is thus rather boring, at least from a biodiversity perspective. What it does have though, in humongous quantities, is them blasted pigeons.

As a kid, I used to love pigeons. They were large, not too ugly birds and had the brains of a single-celled organism. It wasn't too tough to catch them, though why any one would want to do that is quite beyond me, now that I think of it, unless you planned to devour them, which is not as uncommon as you'd think, but wasn't quite what I trying to do. They also had that rather innocent look of a labrador about them, which makes you rather want to pet them silly. An accessible pigeon nest was like a treasure, and I've quite excitedly seen quite a few of them hatch and grow up and turn into them fine, magnificent birdies.

Anyway, as I grew up, my love for these creatures diminished rather quickly, in proportion to the population explosion which they underwent, threatening to submerge the world in mountains of disgusting dark green and white shit. Over time, I was indifferent to these creatures, apart from the occasional curse which came out when they crapped on my bike. And so time passed, life moved on. Little did I know that destiny was slowly taking us to a slow but deep-rooted warfare which would involve biological weaponry, some excellent guerrilla warfare and some plain-old face to face combat.

After moving to Delhi, seeing a couple of dozen houses and driving our poor agent up the wall, Persis and I finally found the perfect place. Well-lit, with two balconies at both ends and a couple of leafy trees close to the building seemed perfect. The house had been locked up for a few months, with the consequence that a pair of pigeons had decided to nest in the rear balcony. They'd laid a couple of eggs. No sweat, we thought, let's give them their space and not open that balcony up until they're done.

We eagerly watched and waited for the cycle to run through. The chicks grew up, started losing the yellow stuff which they have in fair quantities and started fluttering around. One fine day, we saw the slower one of the two on the railing of the balcony, making short sorties around. With joy in our hearts and a certain knowledge that we'd done the right thing by waiting, we opened the door of the balcony, only to see a rather surprised looking mother pigeon sitting in the nest again. She bent her head and looked up at us, and we knew had the feeling that we'd been beaten. Sure enough, after we managed to shoo her off, there they were - 2 freshly laid eggs. Winter was still retreating, and a cold draft filled the bedroom as we stood there, wondering what to do. There was no choice, really. We couldn't be heartless enough to throw the eggs out, and we couldn't use the balcony for the fear of scaring away the mother for too long with the consequence that the eggs would get too cold.

And so we waited for another couple of months or so, until the exact same thing happened. As it turned out, luck decided to be a bit on our side for a while, and we decided to keep a tiny kitten which I'd found meowing her top off on the edge of a road. The last batch of chicks hadn't still flown out when Mishi entered the house, and it would be fair to say that she made life miserable for the missus and kid pigeon, by making the fact that she knew that they were there just on the other side of the door amply clear. I mean, I can imagine what that must feel like. One fine day, you're raising your family in what seems like a nice place inhabited by rather dumb folks who just cannot figure out  how to get rid of you, the next day, you have a fearsome predator separated from you just by a door. I also used to regale in a little bit of animal cruelty / entertainment, by picking up Mishi and showing her the tasty morsels on the other side of the door which didn't amuse missus pigeon one bit, I am quite sure. With alarming trepidity (is that a word?), they seemed to hustle their chicks through the whole cycle before hastily flying off and surveying the quarters only from a safe distance, though not before an alarming episode when the heat of summer made us open the balcony door and forget that we had a cat, which had the prompt effect of Mishi wandering around with her tiny fangs inside the chick, wondering what next to do, instinct having taken her only this far. Thankfully, the chick was rescued and grew up to be a fine (blasted) pigeon although with probably a few traumatic memories. Mishi was scolded despite the silliness of scolding a cat for trying to eat a bird not having escaped us.

Things had reached an equilibrium, considerably in our favor. We had won, and the balcony was ours. And then tragedy struck. Mishi died in a tragic accident. Not a couple of days had passed when the pigeons were back, with guerrilla tactics that drove me nuts. As soon as dawn broke, they fluttered into the house. One of them took up position on the balcony door, while the other sat atop a humongous bag kept on top of the wardrobe and proceeded to peer down at us with exactly the same amount of unnecessary enthusiasm and curiosity every morning. Pigeons outside the house are merely disgusting, annoying creatures. Pigeons inside the house, however, are a different thing altogether. With unerring aim and the dedication of a suicide bomber, they can manage to get entangled in all sorts of things - fans, windows, curtains, pretty much anything that forms a part of a normal house in the city, either dying quickly and leaving behind an unholy mess of feathers, blood and gore, or getting badly mangled but not quite dead and leaving you wondering what really to do with them, or giving me an asthma attack by fluttering around till they contaminate the air. The same scene repeated it self every morning, thus - flutter, flutter, flutter, only for me to wake up and charge them like a madman, at which they would calmly move outside and watch proceedings from the balcony. During a really hot spell of weather, it was impossible to keep the door closed, and so this circus act played out a few times every morning before I gave up and went off to sleep drowning in sweat.

Again, a sort of an equilibrium came into force, this time with the pigeons calling the shots. Still they weren't laying eggs, so it was ok.

And then, Persis went off to Hyderabad for a few weeks for work, with the consequence that the balcony remained undisturbed all day and the pigeons figuring out that this was the opportunity they were waiting for. A small pile of twigs greeted me each evening, which I dutifully disposed off, and the war was on. And then, one fine day, there was another visitor in the balcony. A small chocolate-coloured bat was hanging out (literally), in peaceful slumber one morning. I decided to let the fellow be, and not trouble him too much. As luck would have it, I went off to office without closing the balcony door properly that day. As I returned in the evening and sat in the living room, a dark object fluttered across, settling under the table. Oh dear. Armed with 2 bedsheets (one for me and other for the winged fella), a broom and a dustbin, I managed to trap him inside the bin and transport him to the balcony. And since then, he's hung on, refusing to leave the place, with the result that the door cannot quite be opened without the fear of doing another evacuation. The pigeons gleefully accepted this opportunity and promptly laid an egg. Here we go, all over again :|

To be fair to the fellow, I wasn't that unhappy about this latest winged visitor, and thought that he was quite cute. I mean bats do look quite cute, if you can shake off a bit of the bias we tend to unnecessarily have against them. Plus, I'd never been able to see one this close up, so that made me quite thrilled too. The office folks, who comprise of most of my social interactions these days, aren't quite sure about me after hearing about this though!

The final act of this battle played out today morning. As I slumbered through my beauty sleep, I heard repeated splashes of water. Alarmed, I realized what was happening. A quick run to the balcony, and sure enough, there she was, the maid, trying to splash the bat away with enormous amounts of water. As another wave of water hit the wall, the poor fella desperately tried to shake off the humongous amounts of water he was suddenly covered with. He was dripping wet, and the maid was in no mood to relent. 'Bhaiyya, kitne din hue… jaata hi nahi hain. Andar aaeya aur katega', she protested. I finally managed to convince her to leave the poor thing alone and keep the balcony door closed. Anyway with the pigeon egg, it was a lost cause for a month or so. So we now have a couple of pigeons and a bat in our house, and we're one short of a balcony. Oh dear indeed :|