Free For All

On a wing and a prayer

A painting inside the Charity Birds Hospital. Photo: Meena Menon  

Amid all the blood sport that Delhi is notorious for, there is an island of care and concern, since 1929. You can almost miss the Charity Birds Hospital near the crowded old Delhi railway station and opposite Red Fort, but the large neon sign proclaims it in no unmistakable terms. So when a friend wanted to take a sick pigeon there, I was surprised. Located in the Digamber Jain Red temple, the hospital can house over 2000 birds and August was particularly a bad month for them. Rameshwar Yadav who works there since ten years, said 450 birds were injured on August 15 when people flew kites to celebrate India’s independence. Not so big in terms for freedom for the birds, it was mostly pigeons which suffered broken wings and other injuries.

Mr. Yadav says the Chinese razor sharp manjha used for flying kites was deadly. Most birds take a month to recover. The hospital has neat rows with cages to house the birds and you can see the careful attention to detail. The fans are covered with wire mesh and the place is clean and disinfected. The cages were full of love birds, a very ill peacock, and pigeons of all colours with fractured wings, set rather neatly by the doctor in attendance.

At the reception the walls are painted with stories of benevolent kings and even Shakespeare with his famous quote on the quality of mercy. There is a painting of a king who gave his own flesh to save a pigeon from a hawk.

A brochure says the hospital was started in a single room with a few sick birds at the house of Lachchomal Gotewale and it shifted to its present location in 1952. People were encouraged to bring ill birds with the promise of a white pigeon and soon generous donations helped the hospital reach its current three- storied avatar. In 1968 it adopted the allopathic system of treatment and appointed a surgeon and physician.

The hospital admits 40 birds every day and about 30 are treated on an outpatient basis. You can even write to the doctor and he will suggest a course of treatment for your sick bird.

One of the many injured pigeons, with a cast on its wing:

And since I am on a be-kind–to-Delhi- trip, I have to say something about the swanky metro, such a world apart from Mumbai’s congested lifeline or the suburban railway network. It has made Delhi so much more easy to navigate and even if you have to put up with temperamental rickshaw wallahs at the end of your journey, the system is fabulous in terms of its reach and efficiency. And I sneer at all those who tell me that the metro can get crowded during peak hours! Obviously they haven’t travelled at peak hours in a Mumbai suburban local which can squeeze you into a human puree of sorts.

And one is so used to the women’s compartment in Mumbai and the fight to keep the men out. Here the men often enter the women’s car and most of the time, no one tells them they can’t travel there. Some men look surprised, others pretend they can’t see the women around and during those mythical peak hours, they do tend to stand in the women’s section till they are ticked off. I used to take pictures of them so they get embarrassed and go away but it is still a novel idea for many that women can have their own space. There are CCTV cameras in trains and at stations and a lot of security and vigilance, unlike the Mumbai trains which despite the serial blasts in 2006 have nothing really in terms of security except for defunct metal detectors at some stations.

The only major crib I have is the weather – it’s supposed to be monsoon time and yet every day the papers keep saying this was the hottest day in August in the last two decades. A brief spell of rain is all you get after days of scorching heat. That’s enough to flood the roads outside the metro though and give autos an excuse not to go anywhere! But the metro is not good enough for a lot of people and the number of cars parked on the roads is astounding. You can barely squeeze through on some roads and traffic jams are legion. Obviously the desire to drive around has not diminished and people own at least five cars per family from what I can see. There have been several incidents of fights over parking and some have ended in deaths! Yes, you can kill for parking space in the capital. People think nothing of it, it seems!

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 4:46:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/blogs/blog-free-for-all/article6362706.ece

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