But I put my foot down and declared that I wouldn’t have a dog in the house, as there was no one to take care of an animal, leave alone training it. She cried and cried and left it at that. A week passed and one afternoon she came home from her nursery school carrying a parrot in a small cage.
Her face was glowing with triumph.“ Amma, see what I have! Ammini chechi and her family have gifted me this nice bird! They have one for themselves. This is going to be my pet, a real living parrot! What do you think? It is not an animal, it is a bird!”
I looked at the teeny weenie bird with its feathers trimmed off so that it could not fly. It was trembling a bit and wouldn’t allow us to touch it. Though my heart was inclined to keeping it, I wanted to play it safe in case some untoward things happened to it. So I told her,- “Look, parrots are likely to live only for a short period as there are a lot of predators around and they don’t like living in a cage. We have a number of stray cats in our neighbourhood. You should not feel bad if it dies.”
She screamed “ How dare you call my parrot dead? See Amma, it is moving and flapping its wings”.
I said, “Ok, we will bring it up and you have to help us to take care of it”. She jumped for joy and promptly named it “SANKARAN”, a male name, even though we didn’t know the bird’s gender.
We also presumed the parrot to be a male considering the ring around its neck to be its sex indicator. (By the way, how does one determine the sex of a bird?). Anyway, till today we consider him a ‘he’. Sankaran’s feathers grew in due course and we got him a bigger cage. It was an ordeal making him move to the new cage! The cage was hung from the ceiling in the work area where the walls were just made of wire-mesh so that he could see the outside world and feel more comfortable.
Sankaran loved to eat paddy grains, apples, guavas, mangoes, jackfruit, country beans, ladies finger and sweets. He hated cooked rice and bananas. N was happy to visit the parrot morning and evening. It was a sort of ritual for her. All of us tried to teach Sankaran to utter a few words, but in vain. Slowly he developed his own way of communicating with us. We, as in the case of a newborn baby, decipher his unique types of noise! With his distinctive noises, he attracted other parrots to our enclosure that was constantly closed for fear of cats.
Seven years after Sankaran joined our family, N wrote a short story based on Sankaran and it was published in a children’s magazine, Gokulam with lovely illustrations. She was proud to receive 50 rupees for her contribution. Sankaran made her a budding writer indeed!
The year was 2000 and our Sankaran survived and was happy to be with us. N left our home for college while Sankaran remained with us.
Sankaran is now 19 years old keeping company to my husband and me. He had my elder daughter to take care of him till she got married and then, the younger one left home to take up a job in another city.
The parrot, which I thought would not survive for more than a year or two, is still with us (Touch wood!). We got him a bigger cage in which he could fly a bit or flap his wings at ease. He still refuses to come out of the cage and does not allow us to touch him. The only concession we get is to put our hands inside the cage for cleaning and placing his food and water. He recognizes our daughters whenever they visit us. Our grand children love to talk to him and feed him during their visits.
Sankaran is a good watchman. Any new comer to our backyard will be announced by his screeches. We in fact got rid of some intruders at night on two occasions by his screeches. Sankaran is surely an asset, though he is not an accomplished bird with other talents.
(Note from Sujatha: I found out that Sankaran is actually a Rose-ringed parakeet (see here for a photo of this type of bird) a widespread species found all over South Asia, parts of Africa and even in feral populations in the United States and Europe. More information on this species at this link.)