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The Boy with a Catapult

By Bhisham Sahni; Translated by Bhisham Sahni; Illustrations by Kusum Chamoli

The only exception was Bodh Raj. He found it good hunting ground. The trees had many nests, monkeys roamed about, and under the bushes lived a pair of mongooses. Behind the house there was a big room, where my mother stored our extra luggage. This room had become a haunt of pigeons. You could hear their cooing all day. Near the broken glass of the ventilator there was also a myna's nest. The floor of the room was littered with feathers, bird droppings, broken eggs, and bits of straw from the nests.

Once, Bodh Raj brought a hedgehog with him. The sight of the black mouth and sharp bristles gave me quite a turn. My mother did not approve of my friendship with Bodh Raj, but she realised that I was lonely and needed company. My mother called him a devil and often told him not to torment birds.

One day my mother said to me, "If your friend is so fond of destroying nests tell him to clean our store-room. The birds have made it very filthy."

I protested, "You said it's cruel to destroy nests."

I didn't suggest he should kill the birds. He can remove the nests without harming them."

The next time Bodh Raj came I took him to the godown. It was dark and smelly as though we had entered an animal's lair.

I confess I was somewhat apprehensive. What if Bodh Raj acted true to form and destroyed the nests, pulled out the birds' feathers and broke their eggs. I couldn't understand why my mother who discouraged our friendship should have asked me to get Bodh Raj to clear the godown.

Bodh Raj had brought his catapult. He carefully studies the position of the nests under the roof. The two side of the roof sloped downward with a long supporting beam across. At one end of the beam, near the ventilator, was a myna's nest. I could see bits of cottonwool and rag hinging out. Some pigeons strutted up and down the beam cooing to one another.

"The myna's little ones are up there," said Bodh Raj aiming with his catapult.

I noticed two tiny yellow beaks peeping out of the nest.

"Look!" Bodh Raj exclaimed, "This is a Ganga myna. It isn't usually found in these areas. The parents must have got separated from their flock and come here."

"Where are the parents?" I asked."Must have gone in search of food. They should be back soon." Bodh Raj raised his catapult.

I wanted to stop him but before I could open my mouth there was whizzing sound, and then a loud clang as the pebble hit the corrugated iron-sheet on the roof.

The tiny beaks vanished. The cooing and tittering ceased. It seemed as if all the birds had been frightened into silence.

Bodh Raj let fly another pebble. This time it struck the rafter. Bodh Raj was proud of his aim; he had missed his target twice and was very angry with himself. When the chicks peeped over the rim of the nest, Bodh Raj has a third try. This time the pebble hit the side of the nest, a few straws and bits of cottonwool fell - but the nest was not dislodged.

Bodh Raj lifted his catapult again. Suddenly a large shadow flitted across the room, blocking the light from the ventilator. Startled we looked up. Gazing down at us menacingly was a large kite with its wings outstretched.

"This must be the kite's nest," I said.

"No, how can a kite have its nest here? A kite always makes its nest in a tree. This is a myna's nest."

The chicks began fluttering their wings and shrieking loudly. We held our breath. What would the kite do?

The kite left the ventilator and perched on the rafter. It had folded back its wings. It shook its scraggy neck, and peered to the right, and the left.

The birds' frightened cries filled the air.

"The kite has been coming here every day," said Bodh Raj.

I realised why broken wings, straw and bits of bird flesh littered the floor. The kite must have ravaged the nest often.

Bodh Raj had not taken his eyes off the kite which was slowly edging its way towards the nest. The cries rose to a crescendo.

I was bundle of nerves. What difference did it make whether the kite or Bodh Raj killed the myna's young? If the kite had not come Bodh Raj would certainly have made short work of the nest.

Bodh Raj raised his catapult and aimed at the kite.

"Don't hit the kite. It will attack you," I shouted. But Bodh Raj paid no attention. The pebble missed the kite and hit the ceiling. The kite spread its wings wide and peered down.

"Let's get out of here," I said, frightened.

"The kite will eat up the little ones." This sounded rather strange coming from him.Bodh Raj aimed again. The kite left the rafter and spreading its wings, flew in a semi-circle and alighted on the beam. The chicks continued to scream.

Bodh Raj handed me the catapult and some pebbles from his pocket.

"Aim at the kite. Go on hitting it. Don't let it sit down," it instructed. Then he ran and pulled up a table standing against the wall to the middle of the room.

I didn't know how to use the catapult. I tried once, but the kite had left the beam and flown to another.

Bodh Raj brought the table right under the myna's nest. Then he picked up a broken chair and placed it on the table. He climbed on the chair, gently lifted the nest and slowly stepped down.

"Let's get out of here," he said, and ran towards the door. I followed.

We went onto the garage. It had only one door and a small window in the back wall. A beam ran across its width.

"The kite can't get in here," he said, and climbing on to a box, placed the nest on the beam.

The myna's young had quietened down. Standing on the box, Bodh Raj had his first peep into the nest. I thought that he would pick them both up and put them in his pocket, as he usually did. But after looking at them for a long time he said, "Bring some water, the chicks are thirsty. We'll put it, drop by drop, into their mouths."

I brought a glass of water. Both the chicks, beaks open, were panting. Bodh Raj fed them with drops of water. He told me not to touch them, nor did he touch them himself.

"How will their parents know they are here?" I asked.

"They will look for them."

We stayed in the garage for a long time. Bodh Raj discussed plans to close the ventilator, so that the kite would not be able to enter the godown again. That evening he talked of nothing else.

When Bodh Raj came the next day, he had neither catapult nor pebbles. He carried a bag of seeds. We fed the myna's young and spent hours watching their antics.

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The Boy with a Catapult [Stories for kids]
By Bhisham Sahni; Translated by Bhisham Sahni; Illustrations by Kusum Chamoli


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