Children

Let Shaheen fly

Bala and his mother were enthralled by the sight of the falcon soaring up into the sky and then speeding down to snatch away the bait. But, deep down in their hearts they knew the falcon was sad.

“Yayyyyyyy!” yelled 12-year-old Bala ,at the top of his voice as the Land Cruiser went hurtling down the sand dune. For a moment, he thought the vehicle would careen over and end the career of a promising leg spinner who hoped to play for CSK at some point.

However, the driver, Atif, with a deftness which would have done a Formula 1 driver proud, kept the vehicle on course and before Bala could regain his breath, drove the Land Cruiser up a crest at breakneck speed. This roller coaster of a ride continued for more than 20 minutes. Bala was fascinated by the landscape. The carpet of sand stretched as far as he could see. The bright sun in the clear blue sky added to the beauty.

Finally, Atif brought the vehicle to a halt. Bala looked at his mum. Her face was white, her eyes closed and she was mumbling what sounded like a mantra.

“Hey Amma! Open up! It’s over and you are alive and sitting!” Bala loved dishing out verbal puns as much as he loved unleashing his googlies on the cricket field.

Revathy opened her eyes and looked around. “I thought I was going to die,” she gasped.

Bala and Revathy had come to Dubai. Revathy, a writer had been invited to the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival. After her morning session, the organisers had packed them off for a Desert Safari trip to Dubai.

“Madam, the next item on the agenda is a Falcon Show,” Atif announced.

They followed the driver who led them to a group of people standing in a semi-circle. In the centre, facing them was a tall and wiry man. On his arm was perched a falcon.

King of he sky

A few minutes later, the ‘performer’ announced, “Ladies, gentleman and my young friends, my name is John and I am from the Netherlands. And this beautiful creature is Shaheen, the falcon.”

He then went on to describe the physical features of Shaheen, its wing span and its speed.

“The fastest creature on Planet Earth is a falcon, not a cheetah, as some believe. And unlike the cheetah it can cover long distances at full speed. Today, Shaheen is going to demonstrate how fast it can fly. I’ll dangle some meat and Shaheen will go for it for your viewing pleasure.”

John released the bird. Even as Bala watched mesmerised, it took off and after completing an arc came back at lightning speed. It lunged at the piece of meat dangling at the end of a short rope held tight by John. Its master, in a flash, jerked the rope away. Shaheen whizzed by and did an encore of its previous flights. It made a few more desperate attempts but John made sure it went hungry. Finally, John seemed to take pity on the bird and let it have its ‘pound of flesh’.

Rather proud of his performance John waited for the applause which naturally followed.

“You know, friends, a falcon can survive for close to 20 years in captivity, but only 10 in the wild,” he declared.

Revathy and Bala were taken to a Safari Camp which had camel rides, dances, a fire show, sand art and shops selling souvenirs. There was even a shop were you could carry a falcon on your arm and pose for a pic.

“Would you like a snap with this cutie? It will be a great one to share with your friends,” Revathy said.

“No,” Bala said turning away.

Later, as they were returning from their tryst with the sun and the sand, Bala told his mum, “Amma, isn’t what John is doing to the falcon, inhuman?”

“In what way, kanna?”

“John said that a falcon can survive for close to 20 years in captivity but only 10 in the wild. Even if it were true, isn’t it much better for that magnificent creature to roam free and wild in his universe than live a life tied to a rope — even if it means shortening his existence by half ?” Bala said realising that this was probably the longest sentence he had ever spoken in his life.

Revathy pulled her son and gave him a hug, “You are right son. And did you notice that among the onlookers we were the only two who didn’t clap? This cruelty will end only if everyone stops clapping and starts thinking, not about the speed but the spirit and soul of Shaheen.”

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 1:21:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/let-shaheen-fly/article27139564.ece

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