As they gaze at the sky expectantly, the minds of my friends in Lucknow are full of thoughts. Their favourite pastime, kabootarbazi, has been taken over by those who have never held a pigeon in their hands. My friends have braved many years of ridicule, having been called idlers and wastrels. Their social standing did suffer somewhat with the Shyam Benegal film Junoon identifying them as a peculiar group — although with Shashi Kapoor playing Javed, they also got a poetic licence of sorts.
However, their reputation has now dipped to an all-time low as many people believe that the kabootarbazi practised by an MP arrested recently is a derivative of their craft. What perplexes them endlessly is the question how human trafficking came to be called kabootarbazi. The netherworld does borrow the language of the world it can’t and perhaps does not wish to become. Euphemisms and slang do draw on the language of ordinary life, but as they struggle to understand the similarity between kabootarbazi and human trafficking, they run over the details of their esoteric craft.
Kabootarbazi requires deftness. Pigeons are flown in contest with an opponent who flies his own pigeons from his rooftop. The mission always is to lure the opponents’ pigeons. The birds fly in their own flocks till the magical moment arrives when they mingle with each other. For a while there is confusion. As they come apart, one flock has gained pigeons from the other. The defection is often engineered by the rare hawabaz pigeon which has the ability to somersault mid-air while flying. Not a moment is lost after this as the kabootarbaz tries to consolidate his gain by capturing the pigeon from the neighbour’s flock. All proponents of kabootarbazi follow simple rules. What could be the similarities between our kabootarbazi and theirs, they discuss. A flash of imagination strikes one of them: could it be a comparison with the hawabaz? Suddenly, heads that had kept their cool are aflame. Yes, the elegant hawabaz is perhaps being compared with the cadaverous politicians who have neither elegance nor dexterity — just loads of VIP privileges to help them in their underhand dealings.
A voice of reason is heard from within the group. There are worse instances of politicians and bureaucrats directly causing suffering to the common people since they have the privilege of wasting people’s time and energy as they run around completing formalities. A mere loss of reputation is nothing, says the voice. When did we have dignity that could not be taken away by a politician, a bureaucrat or for that matter a window clerk or a policeman?
A silence follows. With not much left to discuss my friends return to kabootarbazi — determined not to lose their trajectory like the hawabaz.