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Sher-di-Bacchi:
Freedom Don't Come Easy

T. SHER SINGH

 

 

 

 

 

It was our third day in Fez, a medieval city in central Morocco.

It was Christmas Eve. My daughter - then in her early teens - and I were on a holiday.

This morning, we were back in the medina to once again explore its miles and miles of ancient bazaars and to take in its sounds, its colours, its smells.

We entered from the southeastern gate to the walled city. Gathered next to the spot where we parked our car was a crowd. Our guide explained: it was a weekly souk - a market - this one of birds.

We dove into the melee.

There were birds on sale everywhere - a myriad of exotic species, as well as the run-of-the-mill, table variety.

Four categories in all, our guide explained: Birds which would be cooked and eaten; song birds, bought for their melody, or plumed ones - as pets; birds of prey, such as falcons, for hunting purposes; and those merely used as bait to lure other birds or animals into traps and snares.

We were saddened to see these lovely creatures crowded into terribly small cages, often so cramped that they could barely move.

There were hundreds of birds, but virtually no chirping. As if the birds could sense that they were in dire straits.

My daughter was particularly distressed. She muttered under her breath as we struggled from one spot to another, from one cage to the next.

"How rude!" she would exclaim, over and over again. "Don't these owners have any feelings?"

At one point she leaned over and, to my utter shock, whispered: "I want to kick this man. How can he treat his birds like this?"

She wanted to free all the birds.

So, I signalled to our guide and we left very quickly, entering the medina from the closest gate, and proceeded to explore its labyrinthine laneways.

My daughter remained pensive all morning.

But, at one point, when our guide reminded us that it was Friday - Jumma, the Muslim Sabbath - and the markets would all close for the day at 1.00 pm, she seemed to have arrived at a decision.

She announced that she wanted to return to the bird market. She wanted to buy a bird and set it free.

Why, I asked.

"I want to free them all. Their faces haunt me. If I can't afford to do that, I can buy one and make it free."

We had barely forty minutes left, so we ran all the way back to the ancient walled gate. Once we got there, we made a bee-line for a cluster of cages in the thick of the chaos, and zeroed in on a stack of doves piled atop each other in layers in one of them.

It took her an age to choose the one she wanted to buy - they all looked so much in need of freedom.

Finally, a sad looking one. Spotlessly white.

She paid. The vendor pulled it out of its cage. Its wings were scotch-taped down to prevent it from flying. Before we could say a word, he began to rip the tape off. The dove screeched as its feathers were torn from its wings.

My daughter snatched the bird from him, giving him a scowl.

We fled to the fringe of the crowd. She carefully took off the rest of the tape. She comforted the bird, and gently stroked its feathers back into place.

By this time, we had attracted some attention. Word had got around that a bird was going to be set free. Dozens followed us wherever we went, many coaxing us to give it to them.

She was oblivious to them all.

She walked to the edge of the plateau and, facing the descending slope of the valley below, set the dove free by propelling it into the air.

The poor bird floundered and, in seconds, was back on the ground only a few feet away, unable to take off again.

Then, all hell broke loose.

A dozen figures immediately pounced on the bird. The bird hopped around a bit. They fumbled around in a storm of dust. One of them got it. Another snatched it from him. He, the victor - a twenty-year-old or so - emerged with the bird held high. He sneered at us and waved it back and forth in triumph.

Now what do we do, I asked myself.

I didn't have time to answer.

The next thing I knew, my fifteen-year-old daughter had dived onto him, thrown him to the ground, pushed him, shoved him, grabbed him, shook him, pelted him ... until he let the bird go.

She had it back in her hand.

In an instant, she was back on her feet. She launched the terrified creature again into the air. "Fly! Fly!" she screamed after it.

The bird faltered. And then, somehow sensed it was now or never. It suddenly seemed to regain strength, and to remember that it had to spread out its wings and flap them. It did a perfect arc into the air. Flew around us once and then disappeared into the valley below.

There was pin-drop silence for a few seconds.

I stood there stunned, gearing up for a riot. The urchins were frozen in motion, assessing the situation, I'm sure.

My daughter beamed from ear to ear. "Yes! Yes! Yes!" was all she could say.

The other fellow was now back on his feet. He taunted us from a safe distance: "You Arabi! You, you Sahara!" he yelled, as if in insult. Moroccans had considerable difficulty figuring out my turban and our nationality.

"Non," a voice from the crowd corrected him, "Indien!"

My daughter swung around, the triumphant smile still on her face. Her expression seemed to read: You misjudged this one too, buddy.

But all she said was: "No-o-n! Je suis Sikh - et Canadien!"

No! I'm a Sikh ... and a Canadian

"Aaahh," responded the crowd, almost in chorus, as if that explained it all.

My sher-di-bacchi dusted her coat.

I stared at her for a long moment. I recognized in her something that had always been there, except I hadn't noticed it before.

I smiled. We walked away.

 

First published here on April 24, 2009. Republished on June 27, 2018.

 

Conversation about this article

1: Pritam Singh Grewal (Canada), April 24, 2009, 3:32 PM.

Well done, sher-di-bacchi!

2: Tejwant (U.S.A.), April 25, 2009, 10:51 AM.

What a gallant deed! Now, let us learn from this wonderful bravura and free our own inner birds, one bird at a time, the ones that have been encaged within because of some dogmatic rituals and practices borrowed from other religions and sometimes cherished by us just because they are traditions without even filtering them through the Gurmat thought process. And we know that the only key to open the door of our inner cages to free our birds within, is The Guru Granth, which keeps on reminding us that we are all sher-de-bacchey.

3: Dharamveer Singh (Mumbai, India), July 15, 2009, 7:39 AM.

Sherni Kaur!

4: Simran (Oceanside, U.S.A.), July 30, 2009, 5:07 PM.

Thank you! A big hug to you for sharing the story.

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Freedom Don't Come Easy"









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