This has been with me for as long as I can remember. As a child, I would clamour for my grandmother to tell me stories. It could be a bedtime story, or a story after lunch when sleep came to me on jet plane or a story for Sunday when hours were leisurely and friends were away. My grandmother told me stories from her childhood, stories of her life as a young woman and a wife and a mother. She also told me stories of kings and queens and mendicants with magical powers. Each of these stories had a beautiful structure to it - a beginning, middle and an end, a plot that wove the story together. In that sense, as I grew up and read a lot of authors, I retained my love for the traditional way of story telling. I like clearly fleshed out characters, I want a strong narrative, I also wanted a beginning, a middle and end. It comes as no surprise to me then that though I waited eagerly to graduate to being taught Virginia Woolf during my graduation in English literature, I really didn't enjoy her. I loved Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, D H Lawrence but I couldn't bring myself to appreciate the stream of consciousness technique that Virginia Woolf is so famous for.
Most of the stories that my grandmother told me had an element of magic in them. The mystic fakir she met as a young girl, the village (in a fictitious story) that had a well that spoke to women and so on. I can't really pin point when and how, but I started wishing for some magic that would change me into a sparrow. The ordinary, brown Indian sparrow that we see in most cities and more often and more in number in villages. I fancied my mother pulling off the chadar from my bed to reveal a small, sparrow! That sparrow is me. Overnight, by a magic charm, I have transformed into a sparrow.
I have always thought that sparrows live an extremely charmed, content and happy life. Since they are ordinary and so much in abundance, no body enslaves them in a cage or tries to keep them as a pet. Food is available in plenty: food grains scattered at a grocery story, leftover cooked rice grains on a vessel left out to be washed, bread crumbs from a picnic basket... Plus, sparrows don't need to go to school, get jobs, build a fancy bungalow or be drowned in the peer pressure that dictates so much of what we do as human beings. What are a sparrow's biggest fears? I guess, being eaten up by a cat. Or to get drenched in a sudden shower perhaps? To me, these fears seem far more tolerable than the ones that stalk us humans.
Is there a magic somewhere out there? Do you know a secret charm or a chant? Can I turn into a sparrow? I promise, you mum and dad, I will come every day in the evening to see you. I will sip a little tea from dad's cup (Do sparrows like tea?) and sit by mom's feet to nibble at the biscuit crumbs that fall as she eats. And ah, yes, please don't keep a cat as a pet.