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My Owlish Encounter, Submitted by S.K. Saksena
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All of us in school learnt collective nouns like, a ‘bunch’ of kids, a ‘pack’ of wolves, an ‘army’ of ants, a ‘gaggle of geese’, a ‘troop’ of monkeys, a ‘pride’ of lions, etc. These appear to be quite commonplace. Then there are some amazing ones like, a ‘coalition’ of cheetahs. I did not know that even cheetahs do not have majority rule in their territories and have to make do with coalition politics, like the practice in our country, India. Or a ‘congregation’ of alligators, which makes me visualize the alligators wending their way to church every Sunday! But nothing has caught my fancy, as much as – a ‘parliament’ of owls! Whichever worthy coined the connection between the two must have had a great sense of humour. Was he or she paying a compliment to the supposed wisdom of the owls or leering at the spooky behaviour of parliamentarians? Whatever it be, my humble abode in Powai, Mumbai, was duly honoured by the visit of one such parliamentarian.
It was my lazy Saturday afternoon siesta time, when I heard my wife shouting excitedly, to wake up and come to the kitchen. I thought there was some problem with the cooking gas. But when I reached the kitchen, she asked me to look out of the kitchen window. I could only see a neighbour drying her hair in her balcony. Did I need to be woken up, just for this? After a lot of gesturing, it dawned on me that she was pointing towards our own kitchen ledge. Sure enough, a creature I had never seen before was sitting still on the perch, as unflappable as a Yogi. It was an owl and not an ordinary one at that. A white owl, with a heart-shaped brown rim on the face. I grabbed my camera and clicked. Even the flash of the camera failed to disturb the distinguished parliamentarian, in any way. Then I realized, that we were hosting during daytime, a nocturnal creature. Blind during the day and a beast of prey at night!
My wife rang up the neighbours, and soon we had a ‘brood’ of excited children clicking away with their cameras or mobiles (citizen journalists!) and their equally excited mothers. Through all this excitement, fuss and noise the distinguished visitor stayed as still as a stuffed bird in a museum of Natural History, were it not for an occasional wink! The last of our inquisitive neighbours left and as we also turned in for the day, but the visitor just stayed put on the ledge. Come early morning and we found that our honoured guest must have flown away at nightfall for its daily nocturnal repast. This owlish encounter made me dig into my encyclopedias, and it turned out that the parliamentarian we had hosted the other day is known as ‘barn owl’. While the owls are generally caricatured with a graduation cap, possibly signifying their supposed wisdom, most cultures regard the presence of an owl as an evil omen, belonging more to Harry Potter’s world. Any way, not to give up so easily, I have consoled myself, that we had a visitation from no one less than the very avian steed of Lakshmi, goddess of wealth. So a lottery windfall is very much in order!
After leaving our perch, our honoured guest hit the headlines in Times of India. It appears that our parliamentarian ran into some trouble and got trapped in a fourth-floor flat nearby. But the kindly members of the NGO- PAWS rescued the beast and handed it over to the officials of Forest department. I wonder, whether our visitor is right now enjoying the freedom of the wild, or the perks of being a parliamentarian!





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