Prateik's room was one of the three large bedrooms of their house. His father had purchased the flat with financial assistance from his company, a couple of years ago. On the southern facade of 'Skyline Towers', it remained sandwiched between the four floors above and the five below it. Besides boasting of spacious interior and well aired bed rooms it came with an exceptionally large living room and the usual two bathroom - kitchen - balcony combination. The balcony attached to Prateik's bedroom opened into the western end of their city where not far from their apartment, a large mangrove spanned the town's limits. It housed the nests of all birds known to their bustling town. For a grove, where no human dwelled anywhere withing a one kilometer radius, it was an awfully busy place with birds of all shapes and sizes and colour flying in and out of it all the time. It remained drowned in a perpetual ambience of a local fair-ground. It was often remarked by persons who walked by the mangrove during dusk that one had to literally yell to make himself heard to another because of the intervening cacophony of bird conversation, that emerged from the uncountable trees at the grove, that could put to shame their local Sunday morning fish market. But for strange causes, the pigeon families of their town, it would seem, invariably chose man made terraces and rooftops to build their nests despite the availability of a natural, communal alternative.
When Prateik flung open the door to the balcony, the unadulterated dawn air, a rarity of his times, filled his breathe with optimism. It drifted him away from the inevitable morning gloom. Howsoever challenging and dreary a night may be, he thought to himself, the breeze born of the dawn rekindles all hopes and rejuvenates one to embrace the day ahead, displacing all fear and doubts instilled through the reticent darkness. Prateik stood hypnotized for a while breathing in the freshness to his contentment, treating the air like some abstract enrichment, tightly shutting his eyes and slowly letting his smile return to his face. The magic of mornings. He recalled his grandfather's sermon 'My child, practice waking up early in the morning, possibly before sunrise and see the magic'. At that very instance, Prateik couldn't agree more with his dear departed grandpa. It was a good thing that chivalry had returned to his mood. He recalled the task at hand and walked up to the edge of the balcony
He craned his neck over the parapet. After a few failed attempts he finally caught sight of the nest of pigeons. As soon as his eyes met with that of one its dweller, the flapping stopped. There was another one ducking its head just below it. The latter was caught alarmed by Prateik's peeping face. It stood frozen, with its wings spread, semi flapped, and stunned. It cautiously folded back its wings and started bobbing its head with unusually grave eyes as if probing Prateik for his rudeness of having invaded upon their privacy. It suddenly took to its wings. One look at Prateik's harmless eyes, and it must have dismissed Prateik's presence as being inconsequential. The other sat where it was. It stood up and began to move in circles besides making its characteristic brooding sound and springing its head back and forth like a seasoned break dancer. Its eye was fixated on Prateik, blinking at steady intervals. Prateik figured that he must get a good view of the nest. So he pulled himself back and went around the room to the other window to allow himself a proper view of the aerial abode. When he pushed open the window, he was amazed by what he witnessed. There it lay. A near perfectly constructed nest, with minutely chosen constituents, not too big nor too small, precisely tailored to fit into the structure. The innumerable twigs and leaves were stacked and arrayed under such calculation that it vouched for an enviable architectural brilliance of its builders. They were fitted against each other in perfect balance and they ended up leaving just the right amount of space and depth in the middle of the nest for ensuring the comfort of the family that was supposed to find it there.
The other pigeon returned in the mean time. Prateik saw it drop something off its beak. It was then that he noticed that the nest was home to their full fledged family with even three tiny ones, tucked safely besides their mother, chirping away incessantly, hungrily eyeing the food that had just been hunted for them. The mother lowered the food into their beaks, who swallowed it instantaneously. Prateik relished their antics for some time before retreating to his chores. This went on for a few days, before Prateik found himself nurturing a certain fondness for the family of pigeons. He even contemplated building a better shelter for them inside the coziness of the balcony, unexposed to the fury of nature. On a rainy evening, Prateik joyfully discovered that at the first sight of danger, the family forthwith flew into the confines of his room. As they alighted at the corner of the highest shelf, their flapping reverberated through the tranquil of his home. Prateik was relieved to know that the pigeons knew where to fly in trouble. So he simply made sure that the shelf which they chose was ample with their necessities. Needless to say the simple headed birds were full of gratitude for Prateik's magnanimity. The mutual admiration they shared was impossible to escape one's eyes.
The images of the pigeons forever pulsated inside Prateik's head. He was even reprimanded once for his absent mindedness during lecture. As soon as the professor turned to face the white board, Prateik grinned with 'almost' pride, like a lover relishing the pain of his love. He couldn't wait to return home to his new found friends. He resorted to "google'' to know more about pigeons, their habitat, food and life cycle etc. He would travel kilometers to find particular kinds of seeds to feed the pigeon family. He fed them cooked rice, peas, carrot pieces, uncooked barley, cracked corn,and variety of other pigeon seed mixes. He read somewhere that garlic is very healthy for them. So Prateik stuffed small pieces of garlic in their food bowl once every week. He would pester his mother to separately prepare mixtures of specific seeds. She didn't complain.
Prateik cherished the transition of the three hoppers from squabs who squealed and squeaked for food all the while to grandly grown pigeons who displayed their utter fondness to spread their nouve' grown wings. None of them wore any hesitation to hop into Prateik's affectionate grip. They seemed to relish the sliding of hands on their feathery backs and the planting of kisses on their beaks. Prateik even indulged in light hearted banter with the pigeons, especially when one of them would be busy searching for balance on his shoulder. Their civic sense had startled everyone. They never soiled the place arbitrarily. They had chosen the most unvisited corner of the terrace to empty themselves. Instances of continuous droppings gave the spot a uniquely patterned appearance, painted with white, black and grey. So much so that from the highest point of their building nobody could say that it was a place where pigeons dropped their dirt and not some artist's abstract manifestation.
One day it rained so heavily that the pigeons swiftly switched to their safety refuge on the top shelf inside Prateik's bedroom. Prateik saw the restless frames of his beaked buddies. They were probably dealing with anxiety, he thought to himself. All throughout the night, Prateik, heard their wings flapping, their beaks brushing against their own fidgety feathers. On other days when the sun was not particularly kind in its task, the pigeons would come hopping near to the pitcher full of water, that Prateik would have kept for them, and dip their beaks numerous times before flying satiated. Sometimes they brought along friends. Just like Prateik did. He didn't mind as long as his friends were content. He also kept a warm gunny bag on the shelf for times when they flew in to evade extreme weather.
Prateik's friends were always afforded the exquisite honour of being introduced to his winged buddies. As he described the behaviour, likes and dislikes of each, the birds would stare at the guests in absolute oblivion of the purpose of their meeting. If any of the two legged made advances, the pigeons were prompt to communicate their utter disinclination for socializing with humans, except of course with their host. It would then take a purposeful intensity filled cajoling and caressing for Prateik to make them somewhat affable.
Haldar the brat of their neighbourhood took upon himself the inexplicable task of uprooting the pigeon's nest from its place. He would indulge in stone pelting from the ground, aiming high at the nest as its inmates gazed in sheer wonder at the solid objects flying past them, sometimes dangerously close. Haldar never took into account the risk of hitting Prateik's window pane and smashing it. That was exactly what had happened on a Thursday morning. Prateik ensured that the scoundrel got a solid treatment from his stern father. The pelting stopped thereafter and life returned to normalcy inside the nest. There had come to exist a deep wordless bond between Prateik and the pigeons. He stared at them for hours without exhaustion or boredom. He made an effort to befriend them and won their trust. They felt no danger from him and moved about freely in his presence.
A month later Prateik's customary, week long, vacation - visit to his maternal grandfather's house far away in another state became due. That meant a week without the pigeons. A part inside him yearned to take the birds along. But he knew that wouldn't happen. On the day before he was to leave for the excursion, he and the birds brooded together for several unending moments. There were deep and profound messages being exchanged. Out of the blue, one of the pigeons hopped close to Prateik and stayed near his hands which he had rested on the railing of the balcony. Prateik lifted it up and slowly let it be on his shoulder where it cautiously budged near to his head and stayed their for what seemed till eternity. The moment Prateik would try to hold her to bring her down, it would start to vigorously beat its wings in a show of protest. To an eye unfamiliar with the development of their rapport, that would make no difference but to Prateik it was a crystal gesture of deep bonding and affection that he and the pigeons had together come to cherish. The next morning he was tucked in their "Omni' van and was gone.
He had kept three wide pitchers full of water. He had replaced the dirty old gunny with a brand new one which smelt of fresh jute. He even kept two shallow jugs brimming with water on the shelf, as a temporary alternative, in case they couldn't fly out to quench themselves.
A week later, early in the morning, Prateik returned from Hyderabad full of share worthy reminiscence and he ran up the stairs as if he brought life changing news for his pigeons. Gasping for stale air of their long shut rooms, he plunged himself through the curtains and doors to unlock his bedroom. He could almost hear them making welcome sounds beyond it. As he pushed the door open he was greeted by an unmoved silence. It seemed unresponsive to his craving. Not like before, when upon his return from world's battlefield the whole ambience coordinated an act of warm welcoming full of breezes intruding through the gaping windows and the joyous vocals of his airborne pals. The silence was scary. Nothing broke it. Neither the characteristic pphudd pphudd of wings nor the distinctive suppressed vocal booms. In what seemed like a panic move, Prateik made a dash to the balcony and peeped out just the way he had that dawn. He saw the nest and heaved with relief. He didn't find the pigeons there or on the shelf in his room. They must be out for food, he thought to himself.
Once after his shower, and thrice between his breakfast and lunch, Prateik rushed back and forth, on to his balcony and made quick trips to the terrace. He couldn't get a trace of his pigeons. Dusk came and with it returned even the most nomadic bird. It was when his pigeons didn't come after sunset, it occurred for the first time to Prateik that his friends might have gone away for good. But the most convincing of logics often lay vanquished in their battle with faiths of heart. Especially in matters where man is sentimentally invested. There was no chance in heaven that Prateik wouldn't have spend atleast a painful and agonizingly long week, toying with the hope of their homecoming. Through those difficult days he sat facing the sun and the perplexed stares of neighbours, trying to identify his pals in the several flocks that would tantalize him by taking multiple flights around his vicinity. One such evening when he sat inside his room pointlessly staring at the world beyond his curtains, bemused at the turn of events, the sound of doorbell, knocked him out of his trance. His mother answered it. In a moment he found Haldar standing before his eyes.
For a couple of minutes, Prateik stood speechless, lost in the maze of guessing and counter guessing the purpose of the rogue's visit. Not a month ago this nincompoop was bent to raze the home of his beloved friends and yet today he stood before him, looking him in the eye, filling him with misdirected rage for the loss of his pigeons. Then for a brief moment he was filled with humiliation thinking that, those for whom he had got this boy punished, had now abandoned him. And this fellow has probably come to spit his taunts on him.
What ? Prateik spat at Haldar.
'Prateik bhaiya, I've got to tell you something'
I hope its not one of your stupid jokes because I'm in no mood for it.
No no. Its about your pigeons.
What about them ?
Well, a couple of days after you left for Hyderabad a terrible storm lashed this place. And...
"..I only saw two of them desperately beating themselves against your room's closed windows before my mother pulled me inside.'
Prateik was devastated. A pang of guilt stung his heart and brimmed him with terrible remorse. His own callousness was too much for him to take. He clenched his fists in sheer hatred for his own self. He swallowed a rising scream. He wondered over and over, How could he be so naive to have shut the windows of his room and leave his pigeons helpless.
'Oh !! how the poor birds must have struggled to fly inside to safety from that gale. Oh !! How shocked and cheated they must have felt then. They deserve better than me, he thought to himself and reconciled to the consequence of his negligence.
Sinking back in his chair, he thanked Haldar for the information, dismissed him and closed his eyes. The picture of the anguished & hapless family of pigeons flying scared in that stormy evening tormented him for days. He could not stop imagining all their miseries in the storm and their clueless eyes perplexed at their unannounced abandonment. It must have been such distress for them. Prateik was drowned in the layers of his shame for days.
One spring evening later, as Prateik was reluctantly unlocking his room on his return from his customary trip to Hyderabad, he was filled with unabated guilt which had taken shelter in his soul. He was choked with flashes from that afternoon and the anxious days that followed. His heart sank again. He hated the feeling and wanted to get over it quickly. He didn't walk over to see the forsaken nest. He no more was in the habit of peeping out of the parapet of his balcony to check on it. It was unnecessary and pointless. Nobody lived there and the last time he checked it (accidentally) while he was watering the plants on his terrace, he saw it in tatters bereft of any signs of life about it. He threw himself on his bed after he turned on his antique ceiling fan which swung to life in its characteristic creaky fashion. Just when he was about to succeed in moving his mind beyond the pigeons, something familiar struck his ears. At first his mind rejected the urge for guessing anything about that sound that symbolized lost bonds. But then its familiarity was too obvious to be passed off uninquired.
With long lost vigour, Prateik ran towards the balcony, stumbling upon chairs and table legs en route to the parapet. His heart raced as he strained his neck and slowly pushed his head forward peeping over the parapet. Suddenly he reconsidered for a better view and ran around.
It was from the other window that he saw it.
Not only the original nest stood rebuilt, two new ones, constructed in characteristic perfection, now hung in its company. Two lushly feathered pigeons cuddled in each of them. There were eggs too. It didn't take him long to spot on their legs the threads which he had tied on the legs of the three kid pigeons Two more came and alighted just near his hands near the window grill. A wide grin adorned Prateik's already beaming face. He ran out to the balcony and so flew both. One of them nibbled at his palm. He picked it up and put it on his shoulder where it budged near to his head and brushed its tiny soft head against his neck. The message was impossible to miss. Prateik whispered back ' I promise I would never ever do it again'. With his wet eyes reflecting the somber sunset, he felt the weight of age upon him in the company of his aged buddies, even though he was only twenty one. Just then the excited young pigeons fluttered out of the nest in a team.
They would return soon, the three of them reckoned, as they saw the flying pigeons' soaring frames dwindle away into the sunset
"Nests" is a work of fiction and any resemblance in it, to any person (alive or dead), place or incident etc. if any, is only coincidental.