pigeon papers

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Monday, June 13, 2005

Pigeons in India.....a little respite from the craziness....



The Pigeons of Rush-Hour DadarWhile the city's green spaces and heritage buildings fade away, itskabutarkhanas survive, man and bird feeding each other in a beautiful moment of poetry

Shibu JagadevanMumbai, June 12:

IT WAS picturesque when they put it up on the bigscreen, songs and all. Amrish Puri feeding pigeons in lush greenfields. And Shah Rukh Khan trying the same thing and failing miserably.

Khan would've done much better, if he had simply come over to thekabootar khana near Dadar railway station—a 70-year-old traffic island that is home to more than 10,000 pigeons.

The kabootarkhana, a heritage structure, is a circle of about 1,000-odd square feet of open space with a water fountain that once ran perennially and some wooden crates that serve as pigeon holes.

Its residents perch on windows, rooftops and trees, feed inside the circle, drink at the fountain and, when they're not doing anythingelse, paint the lamp posts and rooftops white. The Jain temple in front has an idol of Shantinath Bhagvan—a Jaindiety associated with the pigeon.

The Jains have traditionally offered grain to pigeons as part of their prayers. In the days when grain sellers lined these streets, traders made offerings to the Bird of Peace before the start of business. Whilemost of those grain stores are gone today, there is one hawker who deals exclusively in pigeon food.

His wares—sacks containing channa, jwari and corn and about 20 empty tin cans. Passersby can buy Rs 5 worth of grains in a can, throw themto the birds and see a heap of husk remain within a few seconds of thegrain hitting the tiled floor.

Given that the birds eat up about 800 kg of grain everyday, this manmust be doing pretty well for himself. While the city protests all the time it spends commuting, Matungaresident Ramesh Mallik (28), takes an extra 20 minutes everyday to come here and feed the birds before setting off to Santacruz, where he works.

The rest found a convenient alternative. ``People who can't personally feed the birds pay us to feed them a certain amount of grain everyday. Our store alone offers 100-150 kg of grain on behalf of ourcustomers,'' says Dilesh Hiralal Satra, owner of the Dhanji Naiyagrain store and a fourth-generation resident of the area. Satra's father is a trustee of the Dadar Kabootarkhana Trust—the association that pitches in during food shortfalls, arranges medical camps for the birds and removes the 25 or so birds that die everyday.

"Some days, very few people turn up—like when there's a transport strike—and we have to dig deep into the gow downs to ensure the birdsdon't starve,'' says Ketan Vora, grandson of Valamje Ratanshi Vora, who founded the trust in 1935.

The light is fading now, and in one of those moments we'll probably never understand, the birds suddenly fly off in a burst of grey in that softly violent way they have. And you're in the middle of traffic again.


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