When I killed a Hoopoe
It was summer of 1965. I had nothing to do. I was roaming in the orchard in front of our house. It was not a well maintained or well managed orchard but it was good enough for an idle boy to keep himself engaged. There were a large number of apple and cherry trees, a huge walnut tree and of course one plum tree. But first I must tell you about where this orchard was.
If you have been to Kashmir and if you have visited the Mughal Gardens, you may have seen some villages located between Shalimar Garden and Harwan (Harwan, of course, is not a Mughal Garden). Midway between these two famous landmarks, there is village named Chandpura; you would not have heard of it. My grandfather had purchased a piece of land, with a good number fruit bearing trees, in that village. The orchard was almost next to a stream of ice cold water coming from Harwan. He had built a two storeyed house in that orchard.
Grandfather rarely stayed in that house. But it was a beautiful place to live in. In 1965 my father decided to shift there for a few months. There was no electricity till we ‘managed’ a connection. For water we relied on a spring which was just outside the boundary wall of our orchard. Spring water was crystal clear and ice cold. There was fish too; but traditionally in Kashmir no one catches fish from a spring; they only use spring water for drinking and cooking.
Life was slow and lazy; the minutes and hours were unusually long in that peaceful and serene place. I always had plenty of time to while away. So it was on that one summer day in 1965. I was whiling away my time in the orchard doing nothing. I kept drifting and roaming among the trees and stones; I climbed a tree; I crossed and re-crossed the boundary wall. There was a pencil-thin stream of fresh water flowing through the orchard; I waded through it for some time; I criss-crossed it a few times. And yet, not even an hour had passed.
It was then that I saw this hoopoe which I eventually killed. It was full of energy; it was cheerful and lively; it was a beautiful bundle of unrestrained movements; it was mesmerizing.
A wild thought came to my idle mind, ‘what if I hit it with a stone?’
And even before any answer could come from anywhere, I picked up a stone and threw it at the bird. What followed thereafter is itched on my memory and for ever.
The moment the stone left my hand, the bird flew; not because it had sensed the imminent death; but because of the destiny which was about to intertwine two of us. The stone hit the bird when it had just taken off. It fell on the ground like a dead stone. For a few seconds I was stunned. I could not believe what I had seen. Even in my wildest imagination I had not expected to hit the bird. I stood rooted to the ground, not knowing what I should or could do.
Then with trepidation I approached the bird lying on the ground. Anxiety and fear were over powering. I felt as if I was approaching an injured wild animal. But it was only a little bird and it lay helpless and dying. I was scared to touch it. I was scared to even look at it.
Then very carefully I picked the injured bird and brought it to the water. I dipped its beak in water. But the bird did not react. Perhaps it needed something more than a sip of cold water to revive and overcome the injuries. Guilt and frustration were raging in my disquieted mind.
I left the bird near the stream hoping that somehow it would survive the injuries that I had inflicted on it. But it died; perhaps it died a painful death.
Even fifty years later I still suffer the remorse and guilt of foolishly killing an innocent bird. It met premature and unnatural death just because I had nothing worthwhile to do to while away my idle time.