HYDERABAD: Walk down the colourful and raucous Lad Bazaar with shopkeepers shouting for customers, women haggling for bangles and negotiating the honking autowallahs and you will be in Mahbub Chowk aka Murgi Chowk. The smell of meat and the stench of chicken droppings can make you throw up and right beside the masjid is the lane that leads to the biggest market of exotic and domesticated birds in Telangana. Turtle doves, show pigeons, mynahs, crows, ducks, coloured chicken hatchlings, and hold your horses, an ostrich are part of this street menagerie.
The birds kept in cages of different sizes, quack, chirp, caw and make a racket. A racket of sounds that belong to the wild. Or at least that’s what the Delhi High Court has ruled recently, “Birds have the fundamental right to live with dignity and fly in the sky without being kept in cages or subjected to cruelty. And running their trade was a violation of their rights.”
But the shopkeepers seem to have not heard of the judgement and ply their trade with impunity. People complaining about the decline in sparrow population can find that they are wrong, as there are a good number of them here, caged. They hop around the filthy small cages, darting their heads, looking for a chance to fly and chirp with relief.
In the hot afternoon sun, to keep the birds alive, the shopkeepers keep spraying them with water, the way vegetable vendors sprinkle water on leafy vegetables to make them appear fresh.
The line of shops also follow a pattern of sorting these birds – according to their families. Certain shops have pigeons sharing their space with beautiful white doves. Love birds are placed according to their age. Small colourful chicken hatchlings – in pink, yellow, green, royal blue, purple and red are restless beside the ducklings. There is no guarantee about their life says the shopkeeper. “Abhi uska koi bharosa nai hain. Hum bhi ghar se nikalte. Vaapis jaaneka bharosa hain kya?” he counter questions when you ask him how you can keep them alive till they reach home. It also explains the reason why they are priced at just Rs 5.
The love birds come at Rs 250 a pair. If you want a colourful cage for them that lets you serve food and water, the whole package comes at Rs 500.
They come in beautiful colours, soothing for the eye. Lightened sky blue with stripes of white or light green blending with subtle shades of pink. The younger ones are caged separately from the parent birds. “The older ones cost Rs 300. You can buy these fresh ones. Ekdum first class,” recommends the shopkeeper while spraying water along the cages. The chirping gets louder, like the birds are suddenly excited and the love birds start kissing each other. Ask the shopkeeper if they will survive in the company of human beings and he responds, “You can keep them in the cage and keep refilling their food and water bowls. They will fly, eat, sleep and make love inside the cage. Absolutely safe!”
As the excited chirping reaches a low, you get to hear a faint, frustrated grunt. The smiling shopkeeper proudly says, “Yes, that is an ostrich. You can go closer and take a look.” The huge bird is caged inside a room with only a mesh for some air. You look at it and it lets out an unfriendly grunt. It is not for sale, it’s the shopkeeper’s muse.
Then there are untamable crows, with a confused expression, probably asking why they are sitting in that cage. But there is a reason. “Agar kisika bura time chalra, tho yeh khareedke, teen baar nazar nikaal ke uda dena. Sab theek hojata. Koi bhi pareshaani ho, bhaag jaata,” explains the shopkeeper.
Hopefully, with the Delhi High Court verdict the ‘bura time’ of crows is over and the birds will be freed to chirp, fly and live in the wild.