Dog and Parrot

Chotu or Montu or Monster had just recently died. He, of the angelic face, and the devilish temperament. Even though Delhi was relatively safe in those days, and we rarely locked the front door in the day, with the kind of reputation he had garnered, there were unlikely to be any burglars foolhardy enough to risk breaking into the house.

The worst hit was Papa. Chotu had been his baby. The little pup that he had brought into the house, and spoilt and petted till the dog became the Alpha, and the rest of us trailed behind – the Betas, the Gammas and in my case, the Omega. His reign of terror notwithstanding, all in the family missed him desperately.

So, after several months of pining, we finally invested in another Himalayan Terrier. Where Chotu had been black, Chiku was white. Where Chotu had had a fearsome temper and a bite worse than his bark, Chiku only ventured out if one of us preceded him, and that too, with his tail tucked between his legs. One was a lion, and the other…well…just a ‘fraidy dog. They were like chalk and cheese, and it could not have been more of a relief. Chiku became my baby, and I played all sorts of silly tricks on him, things I wouldn’t have dared with Chotu. While he slept, I would tickle his paws by gently pulling on his paw hair, or I would tie all colours of hair bands in his hair till he resembled a canine hippie rastafarian. He bore it all with a gentle fortitude, and my moniker of ‘dumb dog’ was more of an endearment than an admonishment.

Enter Misty.

Chiku must have been about two, and just past the jean ripping, Kolhapuri chappal tearing stage, when Papa found the parrot. It was about to become a cat’s dinner, except that fortuitously, my father scooped it out of the gutter it had fallen into. Wings clipped by previous owners, it was obviously trying to make its escape via foot before it had encountered the feline. Papa brought it home and found a dusty old cage he deposited it into.

Clint Eastwood was my favourite actor at the time, and I had just finished watching ‘Play Misty for me’. The parrot was duly christened Misty.

The first two days it clung to the top of the cage, refusing to be lured down by grain or water. Terrified for its life, and obviously traumatised by its treatment by the former owners, Misty’s chequered past blighted its slightly sunnier present. On the third day, finally realising that we meant him no harm, he cautiously lowered himself down, and ate and drank his fill. Then he let out a most delightful little whistle, signalling his happiness.

At first Chiku wasn’t sure what to make of this feathered interloper. After all, birds resided in trees, not in his home. So who was this funny looking thing, getting all the attention? Yet where Chotu would have undoubtedly demolished any unwelcome guests in his fiefdom, Chiku was more tolerant, and more than a little curious.

Misty on his part was having none of it, in the beginning. All large, furry things reminded him of his close call with the Grim Reaper. A big, sniffing, snuffling nose near his cage sent him scuttling to the top again.

Slowly, tenuously, an unlikely friendship sprung up between the two.

We started to leave the cage door open, and Misty started to explore his surroundings. Chiku would follow him at a safe distance, sensing perhaps that it was wise not to rush things. Things finally thawed when Chiku allowed him to partake his food and his water. From then on, neither of them was far apart from one another for too long.

My childish pranks were soon taken over by Misty. When Chiku napped, Misty would tease him by pulling on his paw hair, or go right next to his ear and let out a shrill whistle that would make him jump. Chiku would let out a low growl that would do little to frighten the pesky parrot.

Both dog and parrot had their own mind altering experiences too.

Our ayah at the time had the unfortunate habit of chewing tobacco. One evening she forgot to stash it away safely, and Chiku decided to chomp down on it for dessert. By the time we returned from our evening out, our dog was decidedly worse for the wear. Barely able to walk straight, he kept bumping into the furniture. Misty’s perplexed whistles explained little. Just as we were about to rush him to the vet, he brought it all up in a huge, greyish brown lumpy vomit and all was well again.

Misty, on the other hand, had the habit of clambering up people’s clothes, and parking himself on the right shoulder. This not only gave him a vantage point, but also afforded him the opportunity of nibbling on whatever the person was eating, or sipping on whatever the person happened to be drinking. A particular favourite was Mummy’s early morning cuppa. Why a parrot would enjoy sweetened chai is anybody’s guess, but that was how it was.

On this particular occasion though, Misty got more than he had bargained for. Mummy had been suffering from kidney stones, and had been advised to drink beer to allow the stones to pass. She tried her best to keep the mug away from the greedy parrot, but each time she took a sip, he deposited a peck on her ear to remind her that he was waiting. Exasperated, she finally let him have his sip….s.

A drunk parrot is a funny sight. He swayed back into his cage, his whistle was slow and long, and dare I say it, slurred? With a glazed look upon his face, Misty proceeded to sleep the day away. I didn’t envy him his hangover either.

So it was that we were a happy family of assorted characters, human, animal and fowl, chugging along in a strange, discordant harmony.

All good things must come to an end.

Chiku died at the age of three. Parvovirus struck him down and took him within 24 hours.

Distraught, Misty would go from room to room, looking for his playmate. His whistle sounded melancholy now, and he was thinner and sadder in appearance. His wings had grown back, and we didn’t have the heart to clip them again. His attempts to fly away became more persistent and frequent. We worried that a bird that had been captive almost all its adult life would not be able to survive outside.

One day, upon spying a carelessly left open door, Misty took his chance and flew out into freedom.

Day after day, Mummy would stand on the balcony and call out, “Misty….Misty….”, in the vain hope that he would return. Of course he never did.

We had no more pets after Chiku and Misty. Life would change dramatically in the subsequent years. I would leave for a job abroad, and my mother’s health would fail till in a few years she would be no more.

Yet those crazy, sunny, love filled years would become an indelible part of the past I would look upon fondly. Chiku and Misty, and their unlikely friendship, a story I would tell my daughters every time we went back to Delhi.


The appeal of the Bake Off

What is it about a small baking show that started life on BBC2 that has captured the imagination of a nation? Season 6 ended yesterday in an emotional finale that saw the most deserving candidate win because of her originality, flair and flawless bakes rather than her colour, appearance or ethnicity. But more on that later.

In the beginning there was Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood and ten home bakers. The format was a simple pitting of these bakers against each other in increasingly complicated challenges that displayed their technical skills, their baking know how and their grace under fire. As they were whittled from ten to four to three, the viewers were taken through a baking journey that encompassed the history and the origin of a lot of the breads, cakes and pastries prepared on screen. There was an innocence and a sweetness to it all. No cut throat rivals that tried sabotaging each other in an attempt to further themselves. This was no Apprentice. It was good, wholesome family viewing and Britain promptly fell in love with it.

As GBBO gathered pace and viewers, some of that early innocence fell away. Sue and Mel went from gently bickering hosts to lacing nearly every sentence with sexual innuendo, Paul went from being mildly snarky to positively vitriolic at times, and even gentle Mary (the surprise fashionista) had her grumpy moments. Despite all this and a few lack lustre seasons, GBBO went from strength to strength.

Some of the participants went on to have stellar careers in the food industry, making it an entirely viable entry point for people who harboured dreams but didn’t quite know how to get a foot in the door. Others went back to their day jobs with an extra feather in their caps, and some pretty impressive skills honed to competition level. Sugar, flour and eggs made minor celebrities of most.

Which brings us to this year’s season- my favourite thus far. It started in its usual fashion, introducing us to a cross section of bakers from different regions and different walks of life, with one overriding passion- Baking. One by one they fell. Either their signature bakes didn’t translate, or they were stumped by the technical challenge or their show stopper didn’t elicit enough ‘wows’. Soufflés that didn’t rise, biscuits that crumbled, a ganache that didn’t shine were veritable tragedies that produced tears from the manliest of men. A gentle rebuke from Mary could deflate the over confident, while the famous Hollywood handshake could bolster the shakiest.

Of the three finalists, Ian emerged an early front runner. His experimental flavour combinations and use of herbs, had him win star baker three times. Tamal seemed the coolest of them all. This trainee anaesthetist let little ruffle his feathers. His aplomb saw him show case a variety of fine bakes. Nadiya, on the other hand, was all over the place. Here was the classic ‘little woman’, a wife and a mother who loved baking, and did daily, for her three children. Passionate, emotional, vociferous. It was easy to dismiss her early on as a fluke who had little self belief, and who would probably not make the quarter finals, let alone the finals. Well.

A hijab wearing, Bangladeshi woman who could bake?

Even as she sobbed, incoherently joyous in her victory, Nadiya embodied the best of the British. Her quirkiness, her self deprecating humour, her willingness to learn, her readiness to help,her sense of fair play, her slowly strengthening resolve, her steadily increasing confidence were all indicative of this melting pot of a nation that recognises and rewards hard work and perseverance. That embraces and absorbs and makes its own the various cultures, languages and foods that immigrants bring along, when they leave their own lands in search of economic security or personal safety.

A hijab wearing, Bangladeshi woman won GBBO season 6. What a fitting finale to something so uniquely British.