had recently shifted my office out of the valley as it was practically impossible for me to work there and do justice to my work. At last the orders had been received from above. Accommodating so many people as would fill a three storied building was a difficult task. After a long search a departmental building located right on the railway station and having some spare capacity, though still not sufficient enough, was identified.
I collected all the officials and gave them a long pep talk on how to adjust to the new surroundings and adapt to the changed circumstances. This called for their utmost dedication and sacrifice. They were not to expect the same facilities as were available to them previously. With faces crestfallen and future uncertain they readily agreed.
We lost no time to set our house in order. As for myself I chose a small room facing towards the railway platform. I personally supervised the decor of my room. On one side of the room facing the entrace door the office table and the chair were placed while on the other side the sofa set which had been shifted from the valley was adjusted. A large sized photograph of Mahatma Gandhi was hung on the wall opposite the window facing the platform. Through the window you could see a large tract of fallow land extending beyond the platform across the rails with urchins defecating besides the bristly cacti, stray cattle bracing the scorching heat in search of food and the dogs scavenging the garbage. The scenery was totally different from the one we were used to in the lush green valley beyond the Pir Panchal ranges. There was no cool breeze blowing in the mornings, no cold water piped down from the Cheshma Shahi, the eternal royal spring and no cool shadows under the majestic Chinars to rest underneath. It was a different world altogether.
A few glass panes of the window had been broken and nobody attended to them because there were other important things to do. Often hot and dusty winds would blow through them and produce burning sensation on my cheeks.
One day while I was sitting in my chair I spotted a sparrow with a dry twig in its beak darting down from the blue expanse above. It sat on the window -sill for a while deep in contemplation and then flitted across the room to deposit the twig behind Gandhiji’s photograph. Then came another sparrow with piece of straw in her mouth and followed suit. Sometime in the past, God alone knows when they had agreed to live together and build a nest for themselves. A nest -where they would spend an entire season together, mate, lay eggs, hatch them to see young ones popping out their tiny beaks, and feed them till they would take to their wings. They flew time and again in search of more such material and kept depositing the same behind the photograph unmindful of my presence. I watched them for a long time and appreciated their skill and patience.
The sparrows too seemed to have migrated from some far off uncongenial place and were eager to cohabit since the monsoon was fast approaching. While watching them I felt that building a nest was as instinctive as eating, breathing or drinking for the whole animal world.
Day in and day out I saw these two sparrows building their nest straw by straw. They collected dry twigs, pieces of bark and straw, cotton wool, fallen dry leaves and feathers from places far and near and brought them into the room with a sense of elation and anticipation. Many a time they sat on the window-ledge and looked towards the nest with eagerness and urgency. In the process, more often than not, they forgot their own food. The very idea of a comfortable nest with their offspring protruding their tiny beaks evaporated whatever tiredness they had felt and this made them redouble their efforts. As a result it dawned upon me that it was not only the human beings who dreamt of a sweet home but birds too enjoyed the idea of a nice home of their own.
The two weavers kept we aving their nest meticulously with all finesse, intertwining the warp and the weft made of dry grass blades and straw. They used the cotton wool and the animal hair for cushioning the nest and to give it a soft touch. Simultaneously, they started to live in the nest though their efforts to embellish it still continued. I had become accustomed to their presence and with the passage of time had lost interest in these harmless creatures.
Nature rewarded them soon thereafter with bounteous monsoons. The atmosphere was filled with the songs of Koel and the croaking of frogs. There was romance everywhere. Young maidens riding on the swings welcomed the showers. Not to be left behind, the he-sparrow started petting and necking the she-sparrow with his small tiny beak, often expanded his wings as wide as possible to impress his sweetheart of his majestic presence and after assuring himself that his female partner was ready to receive him rode on her back while twitching his tail. For both of them there could be no better moment of ecstasy as this one.
After some time I had to proceed on leave for about a week and could not keep a track of these two tiny lovers who had taken refuge in my room for making love. My room remained close during the week. The two lovers had their heyday in my absence. No watchful human eyes pursued them any longer. There was no human interference whatsoever and apparently that they had a real good time. They had possibly thought that I had abandoned the room forever. They sat wherever they liked, on the blade of the fan, on the writing table or on the chairs. Twigs, straw and feathers had been strewn everywhere and the room had been littered with offensive smelling faces of these birds.
After having spent the week on leave I was eager to join my office, and therefore, reached my office early in the morning. Nobody had yet come to the office except the chowkidar and the sweeper. I asked the chowkidar to open my room. As I entered the room I was horrified to see its condition. There were pieces of straw, feathers and twigs strewn everywhere. Worse still the two birds had defecated at many places and their excreta stuck to the upholstery of the sofa and the chairs besides the glass top of the table. I watched helplessly and did not know how to react. Slowly the anger welled up inside me and I was besides myself with rage. I immediately called the sweeper and ordered him to clean the room. As if that was not enough, I asked him to remove the nest from behind the photograph. Shortly thereafter the sweeper reported to me that the nest had a few eggs inside it and it would not be proper to throw them away. He was too religious to think of destroying a nest having eggs in it. I could notice from his face that he was reluctant to carry out my orders and therefore did not press for the same as it could hurt his religious sentiments. So I took it upon myself to remove the nest from behind the photograph and throw it out of the window. The tiny eggs broke open as soon as they fell on the ground and the fluid in them oozed and spread over the surface. The chowkidar and the sweeper kept looking helplessly. So did the Mahatma from behind the glass frame.
I left the room for the sweeper to clean it and mop the furniture and as soon as he reported completion, I returned and took my seat in the chair and started disposing of the office files.
Almost after an hour the she-sparrow came flying from the heavens above with a grain of wheat in her mouth which she wanted to share with her mate in the exclusivity of her nest. She sat on the window-sill for a while with her eyes radiant with hope and promise. She flew straight towards the photograph but to her dismay could not find her nest there. She kept hovering around the place in utter disbelief and distress not knowing what had be fallen her sweet home. All her dreams had been belied and plans shattered. In deep anguish and frustration she flitted across the room unmindful of the rotating fan above. She had simply gone mad. In one of the rapid moves her body struck the fast moving blades of the fan and within moments her wing was torn into pieces, the feathers scattered on the floor and she herself fell dead on the floor.
Then came the he-sparrow with mirth and joy writ large on his face and sat on the window-sill. As he peeped into the room all his happiness evaporated like ether and he became sullen at the sight of his companion. He too flew towards the photograph to find for himself what was in store for him. Shocked and bewildered he darted down to his partner and hovered over her dead body for a long time with the expectation that she may hear his call and wake up. But that was not to be. His mate was silent as a stone. He was now convinced that she would not hear his call nor would the destroyed nest be rebuild. Dejected, he flew back and sat on the window-sill where he kept brooding for sometime. He had lost his mate, his home and his offspring to my wanton desire. His life had become desolate and held no promise for future. Quietly, he gathered his courage and flew away into the vast blue expanse towards the milky horizon never to return and I watched him in horrified silence.
*Deepak Budki is a renowned Urdu short story writer. He started writing short stories in 1971. His short stories have been translated in Hindi, Telugu and other countries where Urdu is read and understood. His two collections of short stories, 'Adhoore Chehre' and 'Chinar Ke Panje' have been published in 1999 and 2005 while “Zebra crossing per Khada Adami' is expected to be released shortly. Budki is a big name in Urdu literature. A few leading magazines have brought out special issues in his honour.
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