Although the hunchback of Notre Dame was a character that wrung my heart,the Quasimodo that caught my fancy at a tender age, was the pet pigeon young Gerald (Durrell) adopted from the Rose Beetle Man in " My Family and Other Animals". Those in the know, would probably remember the repulsive, waltzing Quasimodo who thought it was human until it laid an egg one fine morning and rediscovered the joys of being a pigeon.
The story of Quasimodo fascinated me as a young child...So much so that one of the greatest regrets of my adolescent years was the lack of an ugly, fat, pouffy chested pigeon that waddled after me, cooing frantically to be carried along. In vain did my mother did point out that our three killer mutts - Scott, Sasha and Liza- would have gleefully gobbled him up and probably burped their satisfaction in the face of my indignation...But nothing, absolutely nothing, would deter my juvenile fantasies. Little did I realise that this was to become a dream come true, albeit many years later.
Late last evening, I staggered back into my pad after yet another rough day at work. I had been at the printing press all day, to watch the first prints of our Annual Report come gliding out...But instead, the machine broke down and, despite hours of tinkering by the red-faced, sweaty service engineer, it showed no signs of coming back to life.
I was disheartened, stressed and exhausted...And all I needed was a hot shower, some scalding soup in a giant mug and my bed. As I ran the water to the right temperature, I was startled by a loud crash right next to me followed by an eerie "kuurrrrrrrr". Half expecting the wicked snake beastie of my dreams, I wheeled in fear and anger, only to discover that the metal service window in the bathroom had opened out. Rather surprising since I had always assumed it to be jammed tight. As I stood on tip toes and tried to shove it shut, I was accosted by yet another eerie "kurrrrr"...Only this time, I could discern an enquiry in it as well...As if to say " oh hello, there you are...I have been looking for you". Intrigued, I clambered on to the WC to check who my rude caller was and was rather surprised to meet eyes with a pair of unblinking, luminous brown ringed eyes set in an iridescent face.
Once more a gentle "kurrr", only this time it sounded a lot more loving and as if he was indeed very pleased to see me. I try shooing him away so that I can get back to my scalding hot bath but Quasimodo was a pigeon with a mission and was not leaving in a hurry...How incredibly inconvenient. This is why one needs to be very very careful when wishing for things - Especially when the object so desired is a character in a book!!! You never know when such fervent wishes can assume life and can come back to bite you on your backside!!!
It wasn't that Quasimodo was ugly. On the contrary, I found him to be quite the average pigeon except for that manic look of grim determination in his bloodshot eyes which for some reason made me very nervous!!! I wondered if he would fly at me and peck my pert nose off my face if I shooed him with greater enthusiasm. But even so, I could not for the life of me imagine showering under the watchful eyes of a crooning pigeon with manic eyes. To be honest, Quasimodo's rather long drawn out "kuuuuuurrrrrr's brought to my mind a picture of old Gollum, of LOTR fame, on the rock by the water side looking for his "preciousssss". And so, I shut the window in the face of violent protests and much agitated wing flapping from Quasimodo's side.
Now, did I mention that Quasimodo was a bird on a mission??? Well, when QM realised that the window into the bathroom was off limits, especially when I was engaged in my ablutions, he decided to seek alternate routes into my room and my heart. Just as I was mopping up the last of my soup with a hunk of freshly baked bread, I was once again startled out of my skin by the sight of the manic red brown eyes peering at me through the windows that overlooked my bed. This time, the pigeon was not to be fobbed off. He pranced about on the ledge cooing in a rich contralto and when that failed to melt my flint heart, he pouffed his feathers in sheer indignation and cooed harsh abuse at me. I remained impervious to his demands for long, as I huddled under my covers and buried my nose in Shashi Taroor's 5$ Smile. I even tried faking sleep but Quasimodo was implacable and went on with his part coaxing-part scolding routine on the ledge, just a few feet away.
When it seemed that Quasimodo was here to stay, I had no choice but to open the window and initiate dialogue.
" ok, listen, I know I wanted a fat, ugly pigeon following me around like Mary's little lamb but that was over 20 years ago....For chrisakes, I was just a dumb kid in school who was carried away by Gerald Durrell & James Herriot ... "
" kurrrrrrrr" * his loving look caresses me*
" No, no...what do I do with you??? I don't even live in Bangalore....And you cannot come back to Chennai with me...Besides, you've arrived too late to be considered for adoption....there are no vacancies for the part of the ugly, noisy bird in my life now!!!"
It would seem that nothing I said was getting through to Quasimodo!!!
" All right, I will leave the window open and you can stay just one night...ok?..Just one night!!!....You will not come inside the room or mess it in any way...ok?"
Surprise of surprises, it seemed that Quasimodo didn't want to come inside as yet, for the offer was all that was needed to put an end to his cacophony on the window. He perched atop the window, which granted him a vantage view of my supine form under the covers and cooed himself to sleep.
In the morning, Quasimodo was still atop the window... cooing to me from the moment he sensed movement under my covers .
Despite my stern resolve, my heart is touched by this feisty little pigeon who so obviously wears his heart on his wing!!! I crush some crumbs on to the window sill for him as I munch on my toast, a gesture which Quasimodo acknowledges with a little nod before joining me at breakfast all through which, he listens gravely to me about my day ahead.
Despite all my growls and protests, I have a sneaky feeling that Quasimodo is not to be turned away..Like it or not, this is one little dream come true which I will need to live with...everytime I am in Bangalore....
And guess what? In the cold light of morning, it doesn't seem to be a terrible proposition at all....