Nostalgia: Songbirds and Mystics

After consuming a full chillum of cannabis and filling the room, he often told us that he talks to Kastoors in cages as one talks to humans.
Nostalgia: Songbirds and Mystics
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That pretty little bird Kettijj (swallows) excited me the most. I loved chasing the bird in wee morning hours as it flew like a fighter plane on the deserted streets – gliding and soaring – then perching on the eaves for a song. I loved watching the bird dipping dextrously a straw or a twig in a muddy puddle and like a craftsman artistically weaving a nest underneath a 'Dub' – cantilevered wooden balcony or on the wooden trusses of the top floor.  The bird making nests inside the houses boded well with the people and was accepted as a harbinger of a good fortune. Parents warned Children against damaging the nest, spoiling the eggs and harming the chicks. In spite of producing many different songs and musical twittering and the bird carrying a mystical aura around it was not put into a cage like many other songbirds. Neither my siblings nor I, despite our admiration for the swiftness of the bird with a forked tail, aimed our catapult at it as we did for a sparrow or a crow.  At no point in time did we ever use a Wall-i-Vash horsetail-hair-noose-trap to catch the bird. Laying a Wall-i-Vash for snaring a  bill-bucher Bulbul, a sataut hoopoe or dove was our best pastimes during early springs. 

On remembering our fascination for swallows and other songs birds, many a time I start believing that children in our generation as a poet says were "born nature mystic." It was not only the swallows with their 'songs coming from heaven' that took our elders on a spiritual odyssey- with children in tow, but many songbirds carried a mystic aura around them. The songbirds and mysticism had become so much entwined with each other that it had become unimaginable to think of abode of a saint or a mystic without songbirds in cages. 

In our childhood, the dwellings of saints were not the caves in thick forests or at secluded places as we often heard stories from elders about our native saints- Rishis.  Instead, these hummed with devotees visiting in big numbers and organizing meals for the poor and needy. On many a Thursdays, long queues gathered outside the door of a top Faqir in our neighborhood. A good number of mystics chose Taqis – hashish parlors as their abodes. These hashish parlors, with songsters and folk singers and musicians singing Sufi songs under the canopy of large grapevines, had their mystical aura about them.  The word Taqi in Arabic means piety and fear of God. I have no idea why these abodes of hashish lovers were named as Taqi. And instead of being denounced as abominable places had received social sanction as places of devoutness. No one ever told us if this tradition had its roots in our Buddhist or Hindu past or like many other spiritual practices it had come along with caravans from Persia and Central Asia into our land.

Nonetheless, we were taught not to harm Shodas (Hashish Lovers) but to look at them as lovers of God. Many, a time my elder sibling and I accompanied our domestic help carrying a cauldron of rice cooked with sheep-skull-meat and trotters to a Taqi at ten minutes' walk from our home. It was not bunches of grapes hanging like damsels earrings or the melodious songs that attracted my attention but it more than six birdcages hooked to the central beam of a massive shed of the Taqi that fascinated me the most. The songbirds that chirped at regular intervals in this cage were Jall (pipit), Kastoor (thrush bird), Kumier (ground thrush) and  Kukul (turtle dove). I don't remember having seen other singing birds like Dedhar (Skylark), Poshnool (Golden Oriole) and a couple of others in Taqis and dwellings of other Faqirs that I would see in a bird shop in our Mohalla. There was rarely an abode of mystic were one would not find singing birds in a cage. Iqbal, one of the devotees of the Faqir in our neighborhood and a great lover of hashish, who visited our house many times told me that in wee morning hours when everybody sleeps the birds in the cage sing hymns, naits, and devotional songs and take us on a spiritual journey. After consuming a full chillum of cannabis and filling the room, he often told us that he talks to Kastoors in cages as one talks to humans. 

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