Two Little Sparrows: “Cheap-cheap!”
The shrill cries woke Nandita up. She switched on her bedside lamp. There was a fluttering. Wings whizzed past above her head.
“Oh, it is you!” Nandita called out to the two sparrows perched above the window curtain. “It is too early to chirp. Let me sleep!”
One of the sparrows blinked a mischievous eye. Then it flew over to the other window, followed by its fellow bird.
“Cheap-cheap! Pip-pip!” The two of them chirped defiantly at the sleepy girl, who had to get out of her cosy bed at last.
Two Little Sparrows: Nilima Sinha
“Shoo!” she cried running to open the windows and to chase the noisy twosome out. By the time she succeeded in her efforts, Nandita was wide awake. A pale light was creeping up outside her window. Dawn had broken.
There was no sense in going back to sleep, she decided. She might as well get ready for school, now that her sleep was spoilt. When Mother came to wake her up, She would be pleasantly surprised to find her already dressed.
Hours later, on her return from school, Nandita found her mother in her room. She looked most annoyed.
“What pests these sparrows are,” she grumbled. “I cleaned your room a short while ago. Look at the mess they have made again!”
A heap of dry grass, twigs and leaves lay below the window curtain. It was a nest the birds had been building.
“Where will they lay their eggs? Don’t destroy their nest!” Nandita cried impulsively.
“What do you mean?” Mother sounded irritated. “Do you want the house to get dirty?” She swept the litter away.
Mother was right, thought Nandita, but she could not help feeling sorry for the little sparrows.
At night, as she snuggled into her soft bed, Nandita looked up. Where were the sparrows? She found them huddled in a corner on the pelmet. Their chests were puffed out and heads sunk in slumber.
‘Poor creatures,’ Nandita thought again. ‘ Each time they build their home, we just sweep it away. Where will they live?’
As she lay on her bed and stared at the two sparrows, an idea struck her.
The old doll’s house, of course!
She had stopped playing with doll since the previous summer. For, cousins Chintu and Lila, who had come to visit them, had laughed at her.
“Look at Nandita!” Chintu had scoffed pointing at the doll’s which stood proudly on her table. “Nine years old and still playing with dolls! Imagine owning a doll’s house!” He had put such scorn into those words that Nandita had felt quite ashamed.
“I never play with them!” Lila had said, her nose up in the air. “We play only grown-up games, don’t we, Chintu? Like carrom, ludo, cards!”
Nandita had kept quite. She did not tell her cousins that there was no one at home to play with her. She had no brothers or sisters and she could not very well play these games all by herself! But instead of explaining, She had quickly run off to hide her toys.
“Oh! I only took the house out to show you!” she had covered up. “I never play with it, either!” and she had given a scornful laugh too, just like Chintu’s. Then she had stashed away the doll’s house in a corner of the cupboard, where it had gathered dust all these days.
As the idea struck her now, Nandita jumped down from her bed. She switched on the light and pulled out the doll’s house. She dusted and wiped the house and stood it on her tables again. How pretty it looked with its red-tiled roof and cream walls. It was indeed a shame to put such a toy away.
She opened the doors and peeped into the rooms. The upstairs bedroom would make a good home for the birds. But first the rooms must be cleared of furniture. The tiny beds, dressing table, and the sofa must be removed. The frilly curtains would have to go, too.
“There! It is ready now!” Nandita called out the sparrows. “You are my guests. Do build your nest here!” The sparrows blinked back sleepily and did not move. “Wake up, you sleepy things. Come and inspect your new home.”
When they still did not come, Nandita ran to bring the tall bamboo on which her mother had fixed a broom for cleaning the cobwebs on the ceiling, She flapped the broom at the birds.
The sparrows flew away, only to go and sit on the other pelmet.
“Not there! Here, you foolish birds!” Nandita began to chase the birds, trying to force them into their new home.
The sparrows flew around the room, From the top of the cupboard they dived to the table. From the table to the window to the door, back to the window again, round they flew. After them ran Nandita with her broom. Up over the bed she jumped, knocked a chair down, and crashed into the cupboard!
Thump! Crash! Slam-bang!
The noise brought her mother running to the room in alarm. She banged at the closed door. “Thief! thief!” she shouted. “Open! What is happening here?”
Nandita stopped chasing the birds to open the door. Her mother stared at the mess in the room. “Whatever are you doing, Nandita? At this time of the night”
The girl explained.
“What ridiculous idea! A nest in a doll’s house! Impossible!” exclaimed Mother.
“It is not. Wait and see, I will do it,” said Nandita.
“Well, try in the morning then. This is hardly the time for foolish experiments,” scolded Mother, straightening the fallen chair.
In the morning Nandita sprinkled some dal (lentils) and rice grains on the floor of the doll’s house. She hoped it would induce the birds to enter the house. The sparrows discovered the grain soon enough. They hopped in and out of the doll’s house, pecking eagerly.
Nandita spread an old newspaper on the table.
“Now it won’t get dirty,” she told birds. “I hope to see you settled inside when I return from school!.”
It was not so easy, however, to get the birds to build their nest in the doll’s house. Nandita tried hard. She spread tidbits every day in the house. The birds ate happily. But they continued to build their nest over the curtain rod. Daily mother would remove a big pile of building material consisting of leaves, twigs, straw and other odds and ends which the two birds brought. She pitied the foolish birds who continued to refuse her invitation to occupy the pretty house.
She even put the house up on top of her cupboard, close to the pelmet where the birds usually perched.
“Look, I have brought your home close to you.”
But this too did not have any effect. The birds still foolishly brought the straw to lace it over the curtain rod, from where Mother pulled it down again.
‘Idea!’ thought Nandita as her eyes fell on the dry grass lying in her waste-paper basket. She picked up the rubbish her mother had just thrown in it and arranged it prettily in the upstairs bedroom of the doll’s house. What a cosy nest it made!
“She, I have built your nest for you. Now will you sleep here?”
The birds looked at her with disdain. Nandita gave them time to think it over. Two days later she found them still preferring the curtain rod. The doll’s house remained empty.
“All right, I give up. It is your own fault if you don’t have a home when the family comes!” Nandita told the sparrows sternly.
School and reading occupied her days, and she ignored the two sparrows.
Once, when she returned from school, she saw the boy next door throwing stones at a black crow perched on top of the mango tree.
“Hey, Deepak!! What are you doing?” she asked. “You must not throw stones like that. It almost hit me!”
Deepak laughed, “Don’t come in the way then. I am practising at taking aim.”
“Then hit something else. Why that poor crow?”
“It snatched away Minna’s biscuit.” Minna was Deepak’s baby sister.
The next day Nandita found Deepak chasing away a dog. He picked up a stone and aimed it at the dog.
“Deepak! Don’t Why do you have to hit the poor thing? asked Nandita.
“It scared Minna,” answered Deepak, “and must I practise taking aim. Anyway, what is to you?”
Nandita did not answer, but she hated to see Deepak practise his aim on the poor animals and birds. Did he not know that they would get hurt?
The next day, as she played outside, she heard a loud yell of triumph, followed by shrill cheep-cheeps. She looked over the wall and found Deepak rushing towards something in the far corner.
“Look! What a shot! cried Deepak as he saw her peep at him.
“That was perfect! Boy, I just hit bang on target!”
“What….what did you hit” asked Nandita in a soft voice.
“That sparrow!” Deepak shouted triumphantly. “It sat on the branch there. Quite a small target, but I managed to get it. Wow, my shots are improving. I say!”
He ran and picked up the fallen bird. “Hey! I do think I have killed it! Now I know what hunters feels! Great!”
Nandita did not wait to hear more. She ran out of the gate of her house and ran screaming into Deepak’s house.
“You…you beast! she cried with fury. “It is just a game for you! Poor bird! Give it to me!”
Deepak was so surprised that he let go the bird. Nandita caressed the little thing tenderly as she held it in her hand. It was not dead. only a little stunned. Perhaps it had received some injury, too. She brought the bird to her room and examined it all over. No, there did not seem to be any injury. But the bird was in a state of shock and did not fly off.
As she clasped the soft, feathery ball in her hand, Nandita’s eyes fell on the doll’s house on top of her cupboard. Bits of straw hung out of its upstairs bedroom. The nest that Nandita had made inside was still there.
The girl climbed a stool to reach the doll’s house. Carefully she put the injured bird inside, on top of the straw.
“You can rest there till you are better, “said Nandita, as she climbed down and took out a book to read.
“Cheep-cheep!” she soon heard. She looked up and found a sparrow chirping from top of the curtain rod. He was answered by the injured bird from inside the doll’s house.
“Oh, so you are the same pair!” cried Nandita in delight. She threw down her book to observe the two birds, who were chirping and trilling away, obviously glad to find each other again.
The injured bird was not well enough to fly for some days. She remained where she had been put by Nandita, while the other bird now decided to bring the bits of straw into the doll’s house.
Nandita had succeeded at last.
From then on, it was smooth sailing. The two sparrows had at last ‘discovered’ that it was a good place to build their home. They flitted in and out of the doll’s house all day. No longer did the discarded straw dirty her room.
And one day when Nandita peeped into the nest, she saw three eggs nestling cosily in the centre of the straw heap.
She was so excited she ran into the drawing room to call her mother to see it too. Then she stopped. her mother had visitors. Deepak and his mother had come for a visit!
“What is it, Nandita?” asked Mother.
“Oh…oh nothing!” Nandita tried to run away but was caught by her mother.
“Do take Deepak to your room. he is getting bored sitting here!”
So Deepak had to be brought in. The chirp-chirp of the birds made him look up.
“What is that? Birds in that house up there?” he asked and Nandita had to tell him about the eggs.
Deepak wanted to see the eggs, too.
“All right. But promise you won’t touch them or break them.”
Nandita felt worried. How surprised she was when Deepak looked with wonder at the eggs in the nest.
“Aren’t they pretty?” he said softly. “May I come to see them again?”
Nandita nodded. Deepak came often, to see the little sparrow sit contentedly there while her mate served all her meals in ‘bed’. Nandita entertained him by taking out a brand new ludo set her aunt had given her on her last birthday. She had not used it yet, for there was no one to play with.
“Have the eggs hatched yet?” Deepak would ask every day as soon as he arrived.
“No. But they will any day, Mother said,” she would tell him. “Come, let us play.”
Early one morning, Nandita heard soft, shrill cries from the nest. “Tweet – tweet.”
She scrambled up a chair to peep into the little bedroom. Three scrawny necks were raised upwards. Three small beaks, wide open, shrieked hungrily for food.
Nandita jumped down hastily, to make way for the parents carrying in the food. She gave a happy laugh.
“I must tell Deepak!” she shouted and rushed off to find her new friend.