A year-old empty nester, the constant advice dished out to me is to keep a pet. More specifically, a dog. The virtues of having a dog in the house are extolled continuously, especially by my daughter. Never having been much of an animal lover, I mostly ignored the suggestions.
These days it is so easy to intrude into the mind space of another. All that is needed is sending GIFs, messages, and/or videos of whatever it is that the person should think about. It can be about pet dogs or matters of much greater importance – the ability to capture someone else’s mind is now in all our palms! However, seeing cute dog videos overtime did me make me wonder what is so special about pets. Considering being only ‘pet parents’ is now a serious choice of many young people! In New York more people live with dogs than other humans, and in France dogs are carried in open purses slung across the shoulders!
Pets are good for health, especially mental health. They beat loneliness, provide unconditional love, and in case of dogs even security to the household. The persuasion was logical and the arguments solid. However, I managed to ward off the insistence. The recent freedom from responsibility of the kid was not going to be sacrificed to a pet. It was not on my agenda!
While this to and fro was going on, we shifted to a house in New Delhi that providentially had a patch of green around it. The day we shifted, around dusk a beautiful, blue peacock came literally knocking at the kitchen door. He was a sight to behold, obviously young, since his colorful feathers were slowly emerging on his back.
At close quarters a peacock is like a vision of celestial beauty. The vibrant color and grace of its neck, the small crest on its head, bright eyes, curved beak, and in the case of our visitor the feathers that were like a narrow palette on its brown back – it was simply breathtaking.
Soon enough, it became clear that two young peacocks were the original inhabitants of the green patch. As we settled in, observing the antics of the two became a constant engagement. They roamed the garden with a sense of complete ownership, and came to the kitchen door at our mealtimes, demanding their share. While one came and ate out of the hand without an iota of fear, the other was shy and lurked at a distance. Living with them for a week and one could distinguish them easily. We even named them ‘Blue’, the shy one and ‘Runi, the older, bolder one! Often a peacock with a sleek emerald neck came and visited our two resident friends.
The garden has a tall blooming Scholar tree popularly called ‘Saptparni’ in Hindi. It had dense growth of creepers and shrubs at its base. After a few days, when it was time to bring the garden into order, I asked the gardener to clear the base of the tree. After a while he came to me and whispered that we would have to wait for a while.
‘Madam a peahen is roosting on her eggs in the growth. We should not disturb her.’
Sure enough, from some angles between the shrubs the small head of a peahen was visible. She sat there on her eggs, motionless. For my husband and me, looking up the expectant mother morning and evening, albeit from a distance, became a daily ritual. The internet told me that eggs of peacocks take 27-30 days to hatch, and the mother sits on them without moving or eating! We waited having no idea when the eggs would hatch.
Blue, Runi and the mother peahen occupied us constantly. My husband incessantly put pictures of the peacocks on the family group. Occasionally, we found beautiful peacock feathers strewn around the garden.
On a lazy Sunday morning, I opened the front door to pick up the newspaper and saw the mother. She was tottering around the tree, weak and emaciated, and five struggling chicks were floundering around her. I yelled to my husband, and awestruck we watched the dawn of life in our garden. I suddenly realized that witnessing renewal of life is a positive and elevating experience. It was an uplifting moment, like there had been an addition to the family.
Since the chicks arrived, Blue and Runi became secondary attractions. Spotting the family became the main goal. Within days the peahen had regained her strength and the chicks also began to walk around steadily. When she sat, the chicks would be under her wings, and they walked together in a close group. Soon, the chicks started to fly short distances horizontally and then vertically too.
One morning I found my husband running, clapping and shouting at a crow. Something dropped in the garden, and my husband started running towards it. The peahen also came running, and my husband backed off. A crow had picked up one of the chicks, and my husband had managed to thwart its attempt. He was happy and elated as he watched the mother escort her stumbling chick to the corner of the garden.
However, the next morning there were only four chicks. We waited for the fifth to appear, but as the day progressed it was clear that it had gone. When we sat for dinner, it was like we were in mourning. My husband’s constant refrain was ‘how will we protect them from the predators, we cannot watch them all day!’ As I lay in bed that night and thought about the missing chick, I realized that it was nature playing out in our garden. The fight for survival, and the food chain of mother earth was at work, and it was not our domain to get into it. A few days later another chick also disappeared!
As I narrated the events to my daughter across oceans, she declared that we were ready to keep a dog. Since we were so engrossed in the peacocks, and they provided us such pleasure and engagement, the time for keeping a pet had arrived.
While Blue pranced in the small garden I wondered if what she said was true. The peacocks were in their own environment, and we in our own. Actually, we were the guests in their habitat, because I had read that peacock live for 40-50 years. We respected each other’s boundaries and benefitted from each other’s presence. While their beauty, antics and life patterns kept us engaged and enthralled, they received some food and an undisturbed existence from us. This is how species coexist in natural surroundings!
For now, living with Blue and Runi, and watching the mother and her chicks survive and grow was enough for me. When we eventually move to a regular urban living space, maybe, I might think of keeping a pet.