A Tail of Two Cities

The London Red Double Decker Bus
The London Red Double Decker Bus | Source
The DTC Double Decker
The DTC Double Decker | Source
Feeding on bird seed
Feeding on bird seed
In search of free food
In search of free food
Pigeons on telephone wire
Pigeons on telephone wire
Pigeons in flight
Pigeons in flight
Flight  from London to Delhi
Flight from London to Delhi

Calcutta still has its red double decker buses which were based on the prototype of the London red bus. In Delhi, however, double decker buses did not have a very successful run because the buses had to pass through the various darwazas (gates) like Kashmiri Gate, Khuni Darwaza and Dilli Gate, which were built by the Mughals to commemorate their achievements during their rule in India. The other snag was that these double decker buses could not pass under the various bridges like Minto Bridge, Hardinge Bridge, which had been built by the British and named after their illustrious lords. Thus, though some of us have been fortunate enough to have commuted (route no. 21X to the university - Kingsway camp Terminal) as green horn freshers in these now historic double deckers, in time to come, they were phased out, and in Delhi, the hapless commoner continued his daily journey in the single decker buses run by the DTC.

Meanwhile, the reigns of the kingdom of Delhi came to rest in the hands of a queen who asked the citizens to think of a way by which Delhi would continue to have something in common with London, the seat of power of the British Raj. After all, if Calcutta was linked to London by its trundling red double deckers, how could Delhi, which was the capital, be left behind?

The citizens put on their turbans and thinking caps and came up with a fresh idea. Why, we can have our own Trafalgar Square! And thereby be linked to London.

The queen was happy and approved of the idea and promised the citizens of Delhi that as a token of her appreciation, she would put Delhi on the world map by making a bid for the international games and by building world class facilities and infrastructure, ensure that Delhi was selected for the games, which in turn, would give a lot of scope to the people of Delhi to become even more prosperous and leave their brethren in other parts of the country way behind. .

Delhi had its own indigenous pigeon population which was now encouraged to grow in large numbers. The dutiful commoners bought sacks full of bird seed, at special rates approved by the government, from Fair Price Shops and the neighbourhood grocer and started throwing handfuls to the pigeons who ate them gratefully and got down to the act of procreation, which nature and the queen had bestowed upon them. After all, if food is subsidised, you don’t have to work to fill your belly and you have a lot of free time on your hands.

The people of Delhi also believed they could please the gods and wash off their sins if they fed bird seed procured at special rates to the pigeon population. Some even believed that by doing this pious act, they would vastly improve the chances of marital bliss for their unmarried children. Thus, every morning while others slept, even before they had dunked their biscuits in their bed tea or argued with the newspaper boy as to where he had flung that day’s newspaper, dutiful Delhiites, dreaming of hearing giggles of cherubic grandchildren, threw generous handfuls of these tasty tit bits to the eagerly waiting pigeons.

So they flung it out of their balconies onto the road in front of their apartments or in parks when out on their morning walks. Some even deployed people to feed pigeons on plots of land where old buildings had been demolished and which were lying vacant till the builder found time to construct.

The once-upon-a-time-humble pigeon grew more and more comfortable in this new life and its population grew by leaps and bounds. In earlier times, before the British had instituted the Indian Postal Service in India, pigeons used to serve as messengers and had their distinctive career of being official couriers of short text messages. In time to come, however, pigeons had to join the ranks of the jobless as they were replaced by bicycle riding postmen in khaki uniform.

But now, they just had to breed, and breed they did. They collected twigs and made nests lined with leaves in every house and apartment, on roofs and window ledges, in lofts and above coolers and air conditioners in balconies. So much so, when the queen’s men were on a sealing spree of residential premises from where commercial activities were being carried out without permission, they were given orders to look the other way and not seal any premises which housed pigeons.

Soon every balcony in every house in Delhi became the labour room for pigeons. Undeterred, they cooed and strutted with their chests puffed out like Bianca Castafiore in The Adventures of Tintin. The poor citizens had to stop using those spaces to hang their washing. For if they did, the pigeons, who had by now become possessive of their habitat and aggressive in nature like the average Delhiite, would by their droppings dirty not only the place but also the clothes carefully laundered by the already overworked housewife. The superstitious citizens did not dare disturb the roosting place of the pigeons for fear of rendering expectant mother pigeons or their fledgling homeless. When one harassed and desperate lady went looking for fencing to ward off the uninvited house guests, she was advised by the kindly, elderly and bespectacled shopkeeper to feed the pigeons instead of looking for chicken mesh to keep the feathered friends away.

When the pigeons were not busy, they entertained themselves by swinging on overhead telephone wires strung from poles. The telephone company asked the pigeons to coo background music and caller tunes to landline subscribers. A rather good looking pigeon called Massakali even starred in a Hindi film and became famous. One song in the film was dedicated to him. It went on to become a chart buster and won awards. In time to come, the census revealed that in Delhi, pigeons outnumbered crows, mynahs and sparrows.

Meanwhile in London, the pigeon populace grew larger than the human population. In alarm, the Queen of England decreed it illegal to feed pigeons. The bird food wallah’s license was cancelled and the queen cried in anger, “Off with his head”. A hefty fine was slapped on anyone who tried to feed the birds. It has been heard that the English pigeons are trying to migrate to Delhi in large numbers.

Comments 19 comments

sen.sush23 profile image

sen.sush23 4 years ago from Kolkata, India

Tillie, you never let me down. When the temperature is above 40 degrees in some parts of Kolkata, and similarly the humidity, making one gasp for each breath, this was a little cooing refreshment. Just the other day, we were talking about the double-deckers, I don't think there is even one on the streets of Kolkata today. But in the KSTC depo- yes. The pigeons in the nooks and crannies of North Kolkata too are becoming a rarity. If many Londoner's are planning on migration, please request a few who are not particularly choosy, to come over to Kolkata. For old, colonial times sake. Voted up as always and thanks for SHARING.


gracerao2ks 4 years ago

y dearest Tilly, Your stories r becoming more and more intersting and so relaxing - even a child would enjoy it as its so plain and simple - I will always vote for your stories Please kee on writing and sharing I am proud of you I can imagine you smiling and writing


Tillie's Tales profile image

Tillie's Tales 4 years ago from India Author

Hi sen.sush23,

Thanks friend. You also never let me down. Yours is always the first appreciative comment. Happy you liked it. We are sizzling in Delhi's heat at 44 deg. Might get worse. I think the pigeons need their cold drinks by now! You think the Cal pigeons have also migrated to Delhi? Does the L9 not run from Gol Park any longer? Nostalgically yours, Tillie


sen.sush23 profile image

sen.sush23 4 years ago from Kolkata, India

One good news you might like to hear of, Tillie. Lots of people are keeping water for street animals and birds. This is what Kolkata is doing right now.


Khuku 4 years ago

Mithu!! Another super one from you. Loved it and once again the images your words conjured up for me were priceless.. but then memories have no value do they!!!


Tillie's Tales profile image

Tillie's Tales 4 years ago from India Author

Thanks Grace. Glad you liked it.


Arati 4 years ago

So Tilly, why not build your own kabutarkhana atop your flat and then have a kaburtarbaazi contest in the neighbourhood. You might just revive this historic pastime and perhaps the Brits , senior citizens and children will love you all the more for it!!!!


Tillie's Tales profile image

Tillie's Tales 4 years ago from India Author

Thanks Khuku! For us with a past to treasure, memories have a lot of value, don't they?


Kiti 4 years ago

Tilli hi:

Nice going. You are writing again and that is good. I'm trying to remember the double-decker, but can't. Was it because they had turned blue/green by then?

So how about one about the Jamuns and the roses in Delhi and another about the Parantha wallah galli? Khan Market, Karol Bagh, Gol Market, Kali Bari? I can wait.


Tillie's Tales profile image

Tillie's Tales 4 years ago from India Author

Arati dear,

Thanks but no, thanks. I don't have to make a kabutharkhana, the pigeons have already beaten me to it. I have had to surrender one balcony to these illegal squatters! They have sent many babies out into the world from there. They are doing the kabutharbaazi, I am just the keeper and the cleaner!


Tillie's Tales profile image

Tillie's Tales 4 years ago from India Author

Thanks Kiti. Our Delhi double deckers were always blue-green vintage DTC colours. Fading red double deckers were always in Calcutta - the red bastion. Hmmm, you're giving me ideas girl. Sounds good.


Gita Bareja 4 years ago

Nice going Tilly.... double Deckers and pigeons.... I used to love to sit on the upper deck.... can still see flocks (is it the right word)of pigeons surrounded by grain on the roads often in Delhi.....Nice Triangle ... London- Delhi-Kolkata


Tillie's Tales profile image

Tillie's Tales 4 years ago from India Author

Thanks Gita. Yes, sitting on the upper deck used to seem like a huge treat those days. Yes, this is a relatively new phenommenon in Delhi, feeding pigeons....City of sinners I guess! Yes, Calcutta and Delhi like some other places in India are intrinsically linked with London.


gracerao2ks 4 years ago

Even till this day Tilly sitting on top in the Double Decker is a treat - I love it Keep on writing love it


Awww- shucks 4 years ago

Read it immediately,Mithua. I always believed you should write. This quiet yet precise style is so refreshing and reassuring.As Gracerao has written,'so relaxing'.The piece is very timely because the Queen (Didi) has declared that Kolkata will be made into London and so we will probably have our own Trafalgar Square and imported pigeons and Didi's Transport Minister,the Madan Mitra (will annotate the use of the article later)is also planning to bring the double-deckers back into the traffic cauldron that has become the everyday rage and despair of this city.

The pigeons on the terrace of our building and the windows are sacred for the Marwari Dida next to our flat('janwar(?!) ko khilana chaiayay')eat and ...leave their digestive signatures (I was going to use the spade-word but your friends and this column are so British and 'ppropher')and have become a positive nuisance. Babun (Chhandasree) who is now the Secretary of the Association is fuming even in this heat because the entrance to the building and the terraces have become unusable because the birds have no toilet sense(now I'm being prim,see ?--- infectious).

I loved that sentence: 'got down to the act of procreation which nature and the queen had bestowed upon them.' 'Nature and the queen"-- good one! And also the Castifiore analogy.

Kudos Mithua, lets have more of this !!

Awww.... (this is Chippy's coinage).


Tillie's Tales profile image

Tillie's Tales 4 years ago from India Author

Thanks Awww.shucks,

Chippy is brilliant! Love his coinage. Thanks for reading. Your comments mean a lot to me; coming from you, it is the equivalent of an A Grade, dear Professor.

What Delhi thinks today,....I don't believe it...why doesn't Didi, the queen, think of different things? Tell Babun to wait for cooler times, in any case, you can never win against these feathered friends who are ruling the roost!


Pallavi Gandhi 4 years ago

what a refreshing perspective!! love ur style aunty! brilliant writing!


Tillie's Tales profile image

Tillie's Tales 4 years ago from India Author

Thanks Pallavi for reading and for your kind comments! Glad you enjoyed! Cheers!


Tutun 4 years ago

Dear Mithki, as usual so refreshing and bringing back the lovely past.

Thank god we still have those massive buses. They have changed colours of course. Calcutta also had the 'Tritolikas', a kind of triple-decker, simply said a trolley bus. You have kindled a strong urge in me to once again ride on the upper of a DD bus as we called them in our college days. Cannot remember the last time I had the courage to board a bus!! But may be I should wait for cooler days, certainly get roasted and well-browned now with Kolkata temperatures soaring.

By the way, pigeons are a part of our housing society, they are tap-dancing on the window ACs undeterred by the running and purring machines. There are two outside on my bedroom AC.

Mamatadi should also be told about the pigeons and DD buses that London and Kolkata have in common, I don't think she would have thought of the humble pigeons!!

I loved the comparison to Bianca Castafiore, can almost visualise the pigeon outside my window break into a high-pitched soprano...

Hope to read more and more...

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