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Image by Sandy Millar
My Childhood Coterie
The writer's childhood had all the magic of an Alice in Wonderland.

I’M sure we all look back upon our childhood with pleasure and reminisce about the magical times. My childhood also had all the magic of an Alice in wonderland.


My first memory as a child is of helping my father apply ointment to the broken wing of a dove and feed her medicine and rice. I can still feel the thrill of satisfaction when the dove soared into the sky with her mended wing. I can still remember the overwhelming joy when the dove kept coming back to our house every day as if to express her gratitude for our help.


After this episode everyone in the vicinity, be it the milkman or the dhobi or the vegetable vendor, brought birds with broken legs or wings to our house for recovery. So at times we had a mélange of parrots, sparrows, blackbirds, doves in the house squawking, twittering or cooing for attention.


As I grew up, depending upon the local animal populace, my motley crowd kept changing its profile. Sometimes it was made up of squirrels, kittens and guinea pigs whom I guarded fiercely against predators. At other times it constituted caterpillars that I would bring home just for the pleasure of seeing them miraculously transform into beautiful butterflies.


Once I was lucky to have a tank full of turtles in the backyard. At another time a white rabbit strayed into our garden. It had been ravaged by a jackal and trembled with fear at the slightest noise. But slowly it recovered and we became inseparable like Mary and her little lamb.


Perhaps the dearest member of my animal coterie was a Neelgai. There was a forest fire in the area we stayed in and the ‘jawans’ rescued a Neelgai calf from the fire. The poor grief-stricken motherless calf gave up eating and drinking. Upon me fell the onerous task of cajoling the calf to drink milk from a bottle.


I would patiently pet the neelgai and feed it milk every day before going to school. A strong bond developed between us but there was grief ahead as the fully recovered calf had to be sent back to her own habitat. I missed her but my dad would drive me down the forested area once in a while and the fully grown neelgai would leave her herd and stand in the path of the jeep as if to greet us.


These childhood friends were not like the spruced up pedigreed pets of today but they made my life magical with their raw spontaneity. My animal coterie is lost in the mists of time but even after several decades brings a happy smile to my face.


A doctorate in English literature and a former bureaucrat, Rachna Singh has authored Penny Panache (2016) Myriad Musings (2016) Financial Felicity (2017) & The Bitcoin Saga: A Mixed Montage (2019). She writes regularly for National Dailies and has also been reviewing books for the The Tribune for more than a decade. She runs a YouTube Channel, Kuch Tum Kaho Kuch Hum Kahein, which brings to the viewers poetry of established poets of Hindi & Urdu. She loves music and is learning to play the piano.

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