A Tail of Two Cities
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.