A Sri Lankan Tamil girl who braved choppy seas for five long hours to flee to India is making waves with her two parrots, but cats at the refugee camp are posing fresh threats to her pets and giving her sleepless nights.
Like thousands of others before her, Nishanthini Lombert, 15, came to Tamil Nadu, crossing the rough sea dividing the two countries in a fishing vessel that was packed with 18 people and battered suitcases with their life belongings.
The group included her parents and three brothers and the birds, which were put into a cardboard box to keep them from flying away during the five-hour journey.
But the birds - which her father B Lombert bought for her about 18 months ago for Rs.50 each - got drenched when the boat was repeatedly lapped by huge waves.
Consequently, when they reached the shores of Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu, the birds came perched on the shoulders of Nishanthani, who her parents said adores the birds more than anything else.
"When the (Indian) officials saw my daughter and the parrots, they were pleasantly surprised," B Lombert said over telephone from near the refugee camp in Tamil Nadu. "Everyone started talking to us about the birds. There was real excitement," he said.
Like most of the 4,000 Tamils who have fled to India since January to escape rising violence in Sri Lanka, the Lomberts are poor. They lived in the Pesalai area of Mannar.
Pesalai has in recent times seen some bitter violence, for which Sri Lankan security forces are blamed. Lombert said he paid the boatman 1,000 Sri Lankan rupees and a pair of earrings and a ring, all made of gold, to sail to India.
"Sometimes these boatmen charge as much as 10,000-12,000 rupees. But we did not have that kind of money," he said.
Lombert said his daughter Nishanthini had dropped out of school some time ago "due to some earlier trouble". One day, he saw a man selling parrots at Pesalai. Promptly, he bought a pair for his daughter.
"I cannot tell you how fond of the birds my daughter is," the father said. "She cannot live without them."
His wife, who also spoke to reporters, added: "The parrots were really small when we got them. My daughter is in love with them. She would never leave home without the birds.
When we decided to leave for India, she made it clear that the parrots would come with her.
"We are very happy to be in India. We did not even have food to eat in Pesalai. We could not live in our own homes. We used to spend the evenings and nights in a (Hindu) temple, fearing violence.
"Here (in Tamil Nadu) we feel safe. We get food. The officials are taking good care of us. But there is one problem.
"There are cats in our refugee camp. Naturally Nishanthani is very worried for her birds. She doesn't sleep at night fearing the cats would attack her parrots. We hope the birds remain safe. My daughter really loves them."