Once upon a time, long before i expanded the list of animal species i had eaten to thirteen (counting the fish kingdom as one, else i wouldnt have a number to put up here), i used to be an animal lover. not that i was vegetarian (far from it, i was one of the few who could go to the chicken shop, pick out the chicken, watch it get killed and still eat it), but our house used to constantly have its share of injured pigeons, kingfishers, tortoises, crows, hummingbirds, squirrels and finally, the protagonist, bulbuls. most were unsuccessful hunting attempts by the neighbourhood cats, some were picked up from the roadside and from school.
bulbuls used to nest at our house every year. in fact they're so comfortable with the house, and amma is so adjusting that we regularly have these guys making nests on lamps inside the house. which usually means that we sit in semi darkness to accommodate the bird, and achan has to interrupt his shaving so that our tenant can leave via the open window near the wash basin. so as kids, we naturally considered these our pets, and everyone knew how many bulbuls we had at home.
so naturally, when an abandoned baby bulbul that hadn't even molted yet was found at school, i was called first to take a look at it. not that i knew much about the birds, despite having lived in close quarters with so many of them. but you know how it is as kids.. saw the bird, took pity, and had to do something about it. the first step was to get it to a safe location, which meant home. the most important hurdle was our PT teacher mr charlie, who had this amazing ability to muddle up any animal related situation. in fact, any situation, come to think of it. so it was smuggled out in the school bag, with important books left back at the desk to make room for the bird. that the bird produced an improbable amount of shit during the ride in the van and ruined the remaining books in the bag didnt matter one bit; we were on a mission.
i had a collection of abandoned nests of different birds, and i picked out one that i knew was a bulbul nest, and proceeded to make the little bird home in it. but there ended my knowledge, i had no idea what to do next. and we didnt tell amma since we'd figured she'd disapprove since the bird was too young. well as kids you dont tell amma anything anyway, especially if you have even the vaguest indication you could get into trouble. but maybe i should have. we kept the bird away from sight, and kept checking on it everytime we could get away. finally it was dawning on us that we would have to feed it something. and though i knew that birds ate worms, in the panic of the moment i forgot that perhaps, and decided to call in an expert.
enter VK, hero of the earlier story, who was the biggest animal lover and rescuer around, someone i genuinely trusted on these matters. it was he who figured that tortoises liked to eat mom's hedges (called khufia or something). with that kind of a formidable resume, it was inevitable that i'd call him. so i called, explained the bird situation, and asked him what do these things eat. he said they'd eat anything. i had no idea that he was talking from his experience with parrots or something, who apparently would eat a lot of human food. and he im guessing didnt understand the gravity of the situation, especially how young the bird was. "anything?" slightly incredulous question. "anything." assured answer. so i asked him a more specific suggestion, and he asked what i was having for dinner. chapatis, i said. so it was settled then, little birdie was having dinner with us.
so i slyly made off with the first chapati mom cooked under the pretext of not being able to wait since i was too hungry, and went straight to the nest. and started feeding the bird tiny tiny pieces of chapati. now this led to a second phone call situation. VK was called again, to ask how much i should feed it. he confidently told me that as long as the bird opened its mouth and did that thing little birds do asking mommy to feed them, i should feed it. disaster.
even though kids break a lot of rules, there are times when u stick to the book like it were the bible. this was one such unfortunate occasion. the bird had downed about one and a half chapatis before i realized maybe i should stop feeding it. it did keep opening its mouth the moment i went near its nest, but then considering that i ate only four chapatis for dinner, it didnt somehow seem right that a bird the size of my palm would eat one and a half, and still ask for more. i have heard various theories on this in later life, including that its a reflex for baby birds to open their mouth when they sense movement near their nest, so that their mother would feed them. i also heard a theory that birds dont eat chapatis, period.
sad to say, the bird was in bird heaven by morning, and i was devastated. and knowing the trouble we'd get into for this, the body was disposed of with enough discretion to make the KGB proud of us. i dont remember how exactly the story got out, but then soon i was laughing stock, and that doesnt trade well on stock exchanges. the story did die a natural death until strange alcohol related processes in one of my friends' head brought it back to life, and my laughing stock is trading higher these days. i have done no further rescues since then, except once make a call to pfa in ahmedabad to let the experts take care of a cow. it's one of the things i really regret and would give anything to reverse, but then again, in a strange dark and maybe even gerald durrell-ish sense, its also one of the funnier stories from childhood.