Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Peggy the pigeon was found on M.G road outside the Deccan Herald Office almost two years ago. An employee of Deccan Herald found her and went to my husband who was having breakfast in Coffee House next door, to ask for help. We were looking after the coffee house cats at that time and the regulars there knew that we help out animals in distress. So my husband packed up the pigeon and took her home. Now came the problem of putting her in a safe place in a house full of cats.

We put her in the dressing room, called the vet, described her condition and asked what she could be given to eat. It turned out that she had a B-complex deficiency and all we needed to do was add B-Complex tablets to her food.

Because the dressing room was between the bathroom and bedroom, Peggy, as we named her, had to put up with us going back and forth through her room several times a day. She would flap her wings indignantly, fly up and perch on the curtain rod and look down at us, annoyed.’ You smell of cats' she would say.

It did not take long for the cat network to get to know that their humans had brought home something different for dinner. They ran into the bedroom and sat outside the closed door of the dressing room in anticipation of being let in to the feast inside. Some tried to break the door down when they found that we were of no help. Others, in rotation, kept a constant watch at the door. Inside Peggy would flap her wings furiously each time a cat mewed. This only frustrated the cats more.

One day they got in, five of them, Peggy flew up to the ceiling and flew from one end to another. Poor thing, she must have been terrified. The cats were trying all they could to get at her, but there was no way they could. They were shooed out and the door was shut. We realized that it was time Peggy was released. It had been close to three months, she was getting very fat and she seemed fine.

I did not want to part with her despite the permanent bird poop stains on the floor, despite the difficulty of preventing cats from running in, despite her not making friends with us. But she had to go, there were pigeons in the area and she would surely find friends and live happily.

So we opened the window and hoped she would get the idea. Promptly a cat walked in from the open window. I had forgotten that they could climb from the parapet below the window. Peggy flapped angrily till we locked all the cats away and waited. By the evening, she had flown away. I looked out for her for many days after that, hoping to see her on some tree, somewhere nearby. I scattered grains into any likely area where pigeons might roost but I never saw her again.

I won’t forget her, little Peggy, the pigeon among the cats.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The graveyard of the ants.

I will never know why there were squares cut into one of the compound walls of my childhood home in Lucknow. The squares were small and ran along the length of the wall, right in the middle. Perhaps they were meant for lamps. One day I discovered ants in one of the squares, hundreds of them and they were all dead. As I watched, I saw a procession of ants bring a dead one into the square. It was carried across the other dead ones and left in a corner and then the others went away. I had found an ant graveyard!.

From that day on, I would go there everyday to observe and check if I had indeed found an ant graveyard. On most days it lay there silent. The dead lying there naked, exposed, vulnerable. What if the gardener decided to clean up the squares? All of them were becoming collection points for dead leaves and mud and would soon become too obvious even for him to ignore. What if he decided to clean everything up? Where would the ants put their dead? I kept a vigil from that day on. I made myself the protector of the ants and their graveyard.

I even kept flowers there. Purple bougainvilleas, tiny wildflowers whose names I did not know and covered their bodies with leaves. At least twice more, as far as I can remember, I saw a procession of ants carrying a dead one and depositing it in the graveyard.

Ant graveyards do exist. Most of what I have found is anecdotal evidence. Ants graveyards in kitchens, in the bathroom of a hilltop home, in some shed and other such places. The people who have discovered them have been as surprised and fascinated as me. I would love to have a scientific explanation for ant graveyards but I have not been able to get much.