Whenever I am working on some problem I never think about beauty. But when I finish if result is not beautiful I know its wrong.

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Wednesday, 15 June 2011

A Boy’s Love for a Sparrow

High above the earth on its giant lattic towers, the power line strode across the flat and unchanging countryside until it dis-appeared. One of the great pylons was near his father’s hut in a square patch fenced off with barbed wire. Warning plates in red paint said in two languages. ‘Danger!’ And there was a huge figure of volts, thousands of volts. Hira Lal was eleven and he knew volts were electricity and the line took power far across the country.

Hira Lal filled the empty spaces in his life by imagining things and the power line took his thoughts away into a magical distance, far off among tall buildings and bustling towns. That was where the world opened up. Hira Lal loved the power line dearly. It made a door through the distance for his thoughts.

On clear evenings when the sparrows gathered he would see the wires like necklaces of glass beads. He loved to hear the birds making excited twittering sounds; he loved to see how they fell off the aluminium wire into space. The birds could fly anywhere they wanted and they opened another door for him. He liked them too, very much.

He watched the sparrows one morning taking off and occasionally coming back on the power lines. One of the sparrows, however got entrapped, hanging there flapping its wings. Hira Lal saw it was caught by its leg. He wondered how it could have got caught, may be in the wire binding or at a joint. He wanted to rush and tell his mother, but she would scold him for being late for school. So he climbed on his bicycle and rode off to school.

Coming back from school he felt anxious but did not look up until he was quite near. The sparrow was still there, its wings spread but not moving. It was dead, he guessed. Then he saw it flutter and fold its wings. He felt awful to think it had hung there all day.

The boy went in and called his mother and they stood below the power line and looked at the bird. The mother shaded her eyes with her hand. It is a pity, she said, but she was sure it would free itself somehow.

“Couldn’t...” he began.

“Couldn’t nothing,” she said quite firmly in the way he knew she meant business.

His father came home in the evening. Hira Lal followed him and soon got round to the sparrow.

“I know”, his father said. “Your mother told me.”

”It’s still there.”

“Well,” his father said and looked at him hard with his sharp black eyes. “Well, we can’t do anything about it, can we?”

“No father, but .......”

“But what?”

He kicked at a stone and said nothing more. He could see his father was kind of stiff about it : that meant he did not want to hear any more.

At dinner none of them talked about the sparrow but Hira Lal felt as if it were hanging above their heads. Going to bed his mother said he must not worry about the bird.

“God will look after it.”

“It’s going to hang there all night by its foot,” he said. His mother sighed and put out the light. The next day was Sunday and he did not have to go to school. First thing, he looked out and the bird was still there. He would rather have been at school instead of knowing all day that it was hanging up there on the cruel wire.

The morning was very long though he did forget about the sparrow quite often. He was building a mud house under a tree and he had to carry water and dig up the earth and mix it into a stiff clay.

When he was coming in at midday, he had one more look and what he saw kept him standing there a long time with his mouth open. Other sparrows were hovering around the trapped bird, trying to help it. He rushed inside and dragged his mother out and she stood shading her eyes again.

“Yes, they’re trying to help the entangled bird. Isn’t that strange?” she said.

In the afternoon Hira Lal lay in the grass and felt choked thinking how they helped it and nobody else would do anything. His parents would not even talk about it. With his keen eyes he traced the way a climber could get up the tower. But if you did get up, what then? How could you touch the sparrow? Just putting your hand near the wire, wouldn’t those thousands of volts jump at you?

The only thing was to get somebody to turn off the power for a minute, then he could climb the tower like a monkey. At dinner that night he suggested it and his father was as grim and angry as he’d ever seen.

“Listen son,” his father said. “I don’t want you to get all worked up about that bird. You leave it alone”.

Turning to his mother for support he said : “It’s only the other birds that’s keeping him alive. They were all trying to help today”.

“Yes, I know. I saw them,” replied his mother.

“He can’t live much longer, 1ma. Why can’t father get them to switch off the electricity?”

“They wouldn’t do it for a bird, son”.

Leaving for school the next morning, Hira Lal tried not to look up. But he couldn’t help it and there was the sparrow spreading and closing its wings. He got on his bicycle and rode as fast as he could. He could not think of anything but the trapped bird on the power line.

After school, Hira Lal drove his bicycle to the nearest trans¬mission station near his village, a good 5 kms away. When he got there he was faced with an enormous high fence of iron staves with spike tops and a tall locked steel gate.

Hira Lal peered through the gate and saw some men off duty sitting in the sun playing cards. He called to them and a thin man in white shirt came over. Hira Lal explained what he wanted. If they would switch off the current then he could go up and save the sparrow.

The man smiled broadly and clicked his tongue. His name, he said was Ram Bharose. He was just a maintenance man and he couldn’t switch off the current. But he unlocked the gate and let Hira Lal in. “Ask them in there,” he said, grinning.

Inside, a junior engineer led Hira Lal to a room where a balding man with glasses was sitting at a desk. Hira Lal did not say five words before his lips began trembling and two tears rolled out of his eyes.

The man said : “Sit down, son, and don’t be frightened”.

Then the man tried to explain. How could they cut off the power? The factories would stop, hospitals would go dark in the middle of an operation. Hira Lal was concerned about the sparrow but things like that just happened and that was life.

‘Life?’ Hira Lal said thinking. ‘It was more like death.’

The balding man smiled. He took down Hira Lal’s name and address and he said, “You’ve done your best, Hira Lal. I’m sorry, I can’t promise you anything.”

Hira Lal got home hours later and his mother was frantic. He lied to her saying he had been detained after school. He did not have the stomach to look for the sparrow. He felt so bad about it because they were all letting it die. And that was life, the man said.

It must have been the middle of the night when he woke up. His mother was next to him and the light was on. “There’s a man come to see you,” she said.

He went out and saw his father and the back of a man in white shirt. It was Ram Bharose!

“Ram Bharoseji” he shouted “Are they going to do it?”

“They’re doing it,” Ram Bharose said.

A linesman and a truck driver came up. The linesman explained to Hira Lal’s father that a maintenance switch-down had been ordered at minimum load hour. He wanted to be shown where the bird was. Hira Lal glanced, frightened, at his father who nodded and said, “show him”.

Hira Lal went in the truck with the man, the driver and Ram Bharose. It took them only five minutes to get the truck in position under the tower and run up the extension ladder. Ram Bharose hooked a chain in his belt and switched on his flash¬light. He swung out on the ladder and began running up it as if he had no weight at all. Up level with the pylon insulators, his flashlight picked out the sparrow hanging on the dead wire. He leaned over and carefully worked the bird’s tiny claw loose from the wire binding, and then he put the sparrow in the breast pocket of his shirt.

In a minute he was down and he took the bird out and handed it to the boy. Hira Lal was almost speechless holding the sparrow and feeling its slight quiver. In the light of the flashlight he could see its pale brown throat, and that meant it was a young bird.

“Thanks,” he said. “Thanks, Ram Bharoseji. Once again thanks, Ram Bharoseji”.

Hira Lal held the sparrow in his cupped hands and it lay there quietly with the tips of its wings crossed. Suddenly it took two little jumps and spread its slender wings. Frantically its wings beat the air and it seemed to be dropping to the ground. Then it skimmed forward just above the grass and Hira Lal remembered long afterwards how, when it really took wing and gained height, that it gave a little shiver of happiness.

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