Story Contemporary: Pigeons-Shail Agrawal

It is a true story !. You may indeed laugh on such a trivia, but to her it all mattered a lot, especially in those keen teen years, when emotions totally rule one’s mood and everyone and everything around, is too important. With a rhythmic movement of the neck, and beautifully co-ordinated tiny steps they used to come in the group of tens and twenties and ran all over her back garden.
She remembers it all so well.Mother used to buy seeds in a big bulk and they use to eat it all, every tiny spec of it. “ They bring peace and happiness to the household ”
She used to justify her passion in various positive statements.
“And a lot of shit to clean.” Nepali servant kept on complaining all the time . He used to clean the verandah and curse them every morning. Wrench them by necks even, sometimes.They used to make it filthy as soon as Nepali used to clean the place. There was an open war between them; they could not see each other eye to eye. Whenever he used to get very upset one or two definitely used to be cooked in his kitchen as shaag-bhaaji .
He knew, they were mother’s favourite but mother could not count how many they were. Could not tell how many went missing .
They were her favourite too. There constant humming was like a background music floating on cool summer breeze in those hot afternoons. Hues of different blues and greens flashing with their swift neck movement always fascinated her. One day, she decided to paint them. Made hundreds of the sketches; of their keen eyes and sharp beaks, their ballerina poses of chase and lovemaking…span of their wings in a clear blue sky, whatever her eyes could captrure.
Then she put the first draft of her painting in front of her teacher. He was pleased. She could tell with the positive nod of his head.
“These Japanese artist they devote their entire life to one subject only. They observe them closely , accumulate the subject in their psyche first, only then they could produce a masterpiece. One famous artist observed hen and cocks so keenly and constantly that he even started to walk like a hen and a cock. But he did not mind. He was the ‘master-supremo’ on the subject, nobody could paint them like him.”
He told her all that in one breath, while seeing her sketches.

Even the imagination of walking like a pigeon was too much. Imagining herself walking and running like them was compelling her to laugh aloud, but seeing the teacher’s stern poker face, she somehow controlled herself and choked on her own giggle in the process.
He was a strict and a skilled art teacher and she a keen and talented student. It was three months now, since she started this painting . Every detail was coming up to her satisfaction. Five pigeons roaming happily, and mother pigeon watching over them; her painting was beautiful.
It was in the wash and tempera technique, which she was using for the first time.
She soaked the painting after touches in a particular colour . With each shade, the process continued until the desired effect was achieved. It was the scene of a dawn. So many shades of black and grey, blue, brown, orange and finally pink and a hint of yellow and white were desired and aimed. She was humming happily. This was her last but one wash. She dipped the painting in blue and put it under the two blotting papers. then left it all on her table in the folds of a crisp newspaper, so it can suck out remaining moisture evenly.
She knew she will definitely finish it when she will come back from the college this evening. Whole day she was imagining how her painting will look, when finished.
With an eager heart she ran to the room first thing in the evening. But to her utter shock her painting was not there . The newspaper, blotting papers, painting itself, everything was missing from there.
‘Where could it be? Who came to her room?’
Her heart was thumping loud in anxiety. Her forehead was sweating profusely. She hurriedly came down to her mother’s room and asked-
“Have you or anybody, been to my room?”
“ No.”
She replied swiftly.
“But why are you so worried? What is missing? “, She asked.
“You must be hungry. Eat something first. I have made your favourite dish. Whatever it is, must be in your room only. I’m sure we will be able to find it together.”
“No, Mum! I can’t, till I find it. “
Mum was also clearly puzzled now.
“They cannot fly out. Somebody has moved it.”
She was worried. She was shocked.
Mother put her holy-book down and started to console the daughter.
“Calm down first.”
She looked at her with tearful eyes. Putting her head in her lap she tried to calm her.
“Now tell me what is missing? What and who cannot fly out, my child?”
“Those pigeons, Mum!”
“Pigeons?” Mum and Nepali both exclaimed together.
“Yes Mum. My painting of pigeons, I have worked hard on it for many hours every day for last three months. Left the painting this morning on my table, wrapped inside a news paper. And now it is not there. They cannot fly, can they?”
“Oh Didi, I gave alms to the beggar in that newspaper this afternoon.” Nepali joined the conversation sheepishly.
“What! In that newspaper! You could not find any other news-paper in whole house?”
Now she was in tears.
“You have to find that beggar and bring my painting back. Do you understand! Do you even recognize him ? How can you find him?“
“ I cannot say? Even if we find him, we may not find the newspaper. He might have thrown it”
Nepali was so unsure of it all.
“ Do not waste time. Come with me. We have to find it somehow!”
They were all in the car in a tick.
Dashaswamedh ghat, Assi ghat, Viswanath mandir, panchganga, no trace of that beggar anywhere.
“Let us go back. It is getting dark.” Mother was restless and mother and driver both were insisting to turn back.
“No we cannot. We have to find him. I have to get back my painting. Has to submit it tomorrow.”
There was a painful urgency in her voice. Mother knew, she was not going to give in.
“Drive slowly through chowk to Sankat-Mochan temple route through the crowd and keep your eyes open. I’m sure we will find him. I have seen lot of jhuggis there . He might be living in one of them.”
This was her last shot. It was 8pm. Four hours already have passed, since they were searching for the beggar. It was like searching for a needle in a hay-stalk.
“Look at them, they are all sitting in a row. Hundreds of them eating hand out food.”
Nepali recognized him immediately .
“Here he is Didi, here he is! We found him at last.”
“Have you used the Seedha we gave you this afternoon?” He was now on his throat.
Beggar was taken aback.
“No. Today is Tuesday, so we get free food here.”
“Thank God. “ She sighed. “Give us back that news paper please.” She put a rupee coin in his hand.
“Why?” he was totally puzzled.
“There is some very important painting wrapped in that newspaper.” “Please, let me find it!” She pleaded again.
There were tears in her eyes.
“Come with me.” Beggar quickly finished his food, left the queue and asked them to follow him.
Near the river swamp on an abandoned land, there stood few torn up sheets hanged in funny tent shape. He entered one of them. She followed, followed by her mother, Nepali and the Driver. He lit up the small oil lamp. On the floor were few crunched up balls of old news-papers. She could see one thicker and bigger than others, immediately recognizable.
She happily pranced over it and carefully picked it up. “Thank You all! Specially you, My kind beggar.” Tears were flowing from her eyes and to her surprise from the beggar’s eyes also.
“Nobody has ever thanked me. In fact in my wretched existence I have never been an instrument of any happiness to anybody. You do not know how happy and worthy I’m feeling today, because of you my child. May your dedication and skill be blessed by Gods themselves. Take you far in your life.” He was all emotions now.
“Thank you!” Holding his hands she thanked him again and again and walked hurriedly towards the car.
She knew there was still lot to be done on the painting, before morning. They all were back in the car with the painting. Even Nepali was relieved and laughing now-
“ I know, for sure these pigeons will kill me one day!” He joked.
“Yes if you do not take care before giving away things to the beggars, or throwing away anything.”
Mum snapped back at him -“Remember, we may not be this lucky next time.”
“Yes, Mam!” He was quiet and looking outside the window now.
“Are you happy, my child?” Turning towards the daughter, she asked affectionately.
“Yes Mum. I’m thankful to God that we found it!”
Wiping those joyous tears, she repeated herself again and again. Then it was all tears and smiles for mother and daughter.
Her excited fingers were constantly running through daughter’s hairs. Putting her head in her lap, mother hugged her closer,
“ You persistent little soul!” and planted a gentle kiss on her flushed cheek.
Daughter’s smile was content and angelic now.
Sitting up, she peeped again inside the newspaper -pigeons; beautiful as ever, though bit crumbled, were all safe in there ! .

Shail Agrawal

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