free bird - devi poojari


photo: parker shatkin


It’s funny to me how I’ve written this the morning following a dream where I was locked up while my death waited outside a door to the room I couldn’t possibly identify, in the form of a few expert assassins. When I first came about death as a 12 or 13-year-old under-confident, admittedly weird kid, it became one of the first things I held on to as a sense of loss. I look back at it as a fleeting moment of loving and losing an injured sparrow that my brother happened to find in our parking lot. The bird, a crumpled piece of parchment in his hands, shivered slightly out of fear and pain. We brought him home and placed the tiny creature in my mother’s old velvet padded jewelry box.


Three of us including my mom took turns trying to feed him tiny bits of grain and water. In an attempt to keep him alive and safe until the next morning, we stayed up through the night trying to do whatever we could to try and ease his pain. My mom told us that he would never be able to fly again, which, to my small mind translated as ‘Well at least he’ll be able to walk!’. In hindsight, it was my way of coping with the pain I knew but couldn’t feel.


Death was inevitable for the little bird because his condition deteriorated as we got closer to dawn. It was the first time I felt love for someone who wasn’t my mother or my brother or someone I was obligated to love. It was the first time I understood what it felt like to instantly give your heart out to another soul when they came to you with no expectations whatsoever. Yet, here I was hiding my face in my pillow and weeping when he breathed his last in his tiny, feathery chest.


On the morning of his death, we cradled him in our palms and dug a pit as tiny as him for him to rest in the garden overlooking our apartment. Every year, as the 16th of August approaches, I always look outside the window to glance at the corner he was laid in only to wonder if there was someone out there in his species that thought of his absence as a void; or if they wondered why he didn’t come home the night his wing was hurt.


A few years down, I read about how children from Kashmiri families disappear without a trace suspected for being militants and my mind screeches to a halt at this very moment as a child that wondered how the bird’s family could be informed of this tragic accident. The awareness of death and the deprivation it brings across different forms of life instilled in me the respect I needed to give everything that lived, breathed and moved. Suddenly, even the most ordinary sights seemed to become a thing of significance.


- devi poojari