My alarm clock is rather an unusual one. It doesn’t operate on batteries, so I don’t have to wind it or set it every night before going to bed. But I know, every morning even before the sun starts shining bright, my alarm clock will be right there at my window sill.
My alarm clock is a sparrow. Somehow every morning, he knows he has to wake me up. I don’t ask him to, but he knows. He even volunteers to wake me up on Sundays. I cover my head with a pillow and draw the curtains, yet he relentlessly chirps away ensuring I wake up. When I wake up, he’s so thrilled to see me that he fluffs up and flies away, just to be back every morning.
As a child, I have always been fond of sparrows, they were in abundance in our hometown Asansol, and when I would visit my grand aunt in Delhi. On winter mornings, my grand aunt would sit in a chair in the large verandah, cleaning debris from the rice while basking in the warmth of the Delhi winter sun.
Around her would be a bunch of sparrows, happily picking up the fragments she cleared and a few rice grains she would purposely throw around, so the little fluffy sparrows can have a hearty meal. These sparrows were not afraid of her, after all, my grand aunt would sit still with her thick glasses over her nose, with her wrinkled hands totally focused on clearing out the debris from the rice for the day’s meal. She never moved until the cleaning was over and the sparrows loved having her around.
Back in Asansol, I had a pet sparrow. She had fallen down from her nest in my art teacher’s bungalow. The architecture of the bungalows in Asansol had a lot colonial influence. Our bungalows had high ceilings with sky lights and vents and they formed an ideal spot for the sparrows to make cozy little nests.
One fateful day, a baby sparrow fell down and I happened to be there in the art class. Her wings had not developed fully, but she was all plump and fluffy. None of the other kids wanted to go near her. When I came to class, I asked what the commotion was all about. The moment I saw the little fluffy baby sparrow under the table, my heart melted.
I took her and kept her on my lap and my cotton frock kept her warm till I finished my painting for day. As soon as I finished my class, I took her in my palm and walked back home and put her in a shoe box with fresh and dried grass from our garden and she lived with us for several months.
We named her Cheep Side. When I would go to school, Cheep would sit with my father in his home office and hop around his large table. The table had a glass covering, under which he kept some photographs and visiting cards. Cheep would look at her own reflection and hop around looking at it.
Most households then had a semi circular plastic or a metallic mesh dome that would be kept over fruits or cooked food, to prevent flies and cats from attacking the meal. Since we lived in a large bungalow, and most bungalows had several doors, we had to be very careful that a cat didn’t enter the house.
Usually after a meal of milk or mashed rice with a dropper, I would put Cheep Side to her bed where she would cuddle up in a corner of her shoe box with dried grass that was change frequently and place the large semi-circular mesh dome over the shoe box, so that no one would disturb her. I would watch her sleep and was surprised to see that at times she would chirp in her sleep!
Her shoe box was kept on a high dining table that was used only when we had guests or a party. Since the location of the table was central, it was ideal to keep Cheep Side there so that every one could keep an eye on her, and ensure her safety.
When I would come back home from school, I would take her out of her shoe box if she was awake and play till Ma would call me for lunch. While I ate, Cheep would hop around my dinning table, chirping as if inquiring how my day was. We played everyday in the garden and I proudly showed her off to the neighbourhood kids who all curiously turned up to see my pet sparrow. She also gave me company by hoping around while we watched cartoons on Sunday and in the afternoons after school.
But I took care that Cheep never felt lonely. We had a table in the rear verandah which was used for ironing clothes. I would keep her on that table, during the day after lunch and watch her. There were several other sparrows who lived in the verandah and around our bungalow. Each day, I would watch the other sparrows fly down to teach Cheep to fly. Cheep tried her best; she would flap her wings with all her might, but fall. The others chirped louder as if encouraging her, and she would try again. This went on for several days, until one day, she flew right inside the small dining room which just next to the rear verandah where we usually sat down for breakfast and she perched herself on my father’s hand and chirped continuously. My father said, “Oh My! That’s a lot that has happened. Oh ho, is that so? Really? Hmm, I understand.”
Dad looked at me and said, “I think Cheep is hungry. Get her some food.” I took Cheep on my index finger, kissed and cuddled her and kept her on the table in the rear verandah, and when I came back, she was gone. Cheep had come to say her goodbyes to us before she took her flight.
My Dad though upset, took me on his lap and opened the book on ‘ Elsa – The Story of a Lionness’, by John Adamson, which was and still is my favourite book, that he would read out to me every other night and said that Cheep Side was like Elsa to us. We brought her up, but it was time for her to go and start her new family with other sparrows. I asked him whether Cheep will remember me and miss me, Dad said yes. She will always remember us and love us. She learnt how to fly from her other sparrow friends, but we were her family and she will always love us.
There have been several instances where I have rescued baby sparrows which had fallen down from their nests. In some cases, either they are too small and frail or they fall in such a way that they break a bone that saving them is next to impossible. But I have managed to give them water and burry them when the pass away.
Maybe there is some connection with these small, fluffy, cuddly little sparrows, because where ever I go, I always find them in Mumbai, Calcutta and Delhi. And by the way, this alarm clock that I am talking about, is a sparrow who visits my seventh floor apartment window in Mumbai.
The photographs that you see is the very sparrow that visits me even now.