Of War, Poultry and Pigeons * by Joseph A. Valu U.S.A.
*Copyright, 2012 by Joseph A. Valu. All Rights Reserved.
Published by Worldwar2BurmaDiaries.com
In Japanese occupied Maymyo, Burma we had no schools for the duration of the war years 1942-1945, and, to while away the time, it so happened that a pal, Terry John, (whose father was a surgeon associate of Dad's) and I would make up games, apparently of a very creative kind. One day when the Johns were visiting our home on Nyandaw Lane, and the whole family was seated on the porch, Terry and I began to Cock-a-Doodle-Doo in the garden and play at cock fighting, when to every ones' giggling surprise (and my eternal embarrassment) his little sister Patsy began to cluck cluck very loudly and call out to me "Joe! I've finished to lay the egg!" I, of course, never lived that one down, especially when Patsy's mother reminded me of that incident, in Patsy's presence, years later when she had become a beautiful young lady and I was in college, and visiting them in Bangalore. It so turned out later that Dr. John talked Terry into giving me a lovely, fluffy white hen with distinctive black feathers from his yard, and Dad bought me a Rhode Island Red rooster to begin a farm in Nawkangyi village we had moved to. She became "Mummy Hen" and he "Pop-a-Doodle". By the time the Allies recaptured Maymyo in 1945, I had some 100 chcikens and almost as many ducks--- so Mummy Hen, whose dedication and warmth brought most of the first generations of her broods, both chickens and ducks, to life (and who became a darling companion to me) really lived up to her name. Yes, I bet cousin Les, who apparently shared a genetic equivalence with me in his own boyhood interests in Bombay, would like to hear that every one of the chickens had a name: Chicky-licky, Yum Yum, Nanki Poo and PC Bug Doo come to mind these many years later. Commercially, I would sell the eggs and give the money to Mums, while keeping some for feed and upkeep of the farm, which was quite a hands-on liberal education for a city bred kid who was brought up on concrete. As for the eggs I sold to Dad, (for the family, to be repaid when “our boys” returned), he got hold of an old ledger book and had me inscribe every days' sale. At one pice (an Indian penny) two, they got a bargain; and I learned to write and add the tally at monthly intervals which helped my penmanship a little and my additions quite a bit. It further turned out that the ledger book conveniently became lost at war's end but I got the Old Man to buy me a rusty old Humber bicycle to make amends! And boy! Did I pedal that old bike all over the Maymyo countryside often with NiNi’s older sister Margo, a regular tomboy on her Brit Army bike, and lots of fun she was; and even downhill some forty miles to Mandalay as well with some buddies, a tale I’ll probably tell you later, but right now the very memory brings back some somatic memory of pain on my tail brought about not by that old bikes’ seat, but by Mom’s cuts with a cane for my misadventure. Yes, my chickens and ducks, who had their own distinctive personalities, were not for sale ( except to known Hindu farmers who would never kill and eat them, but who would rear them for their eggs) because I feared they would be eaten. What happened to them? As Kipling's story teller would have said: "Ah! but that's another story!"
But, I got ahead of myself. The pigeons came first, just before Mummy Hen entered into my life and times. And ah, yes! their memory comes back with the sound of their wings a-fluttering all over our home and block on Nyandaw Lane. At first, I little noticed their presence and considered them (if I ever considered them at all) as pests which, fortunately, were not too many to clean up after. But as I became an admirer of the free life of the pigeons who I learned to attract to the palms of my hands with grains of rice and lentils, and then by a special cooing which brought a hundred or more newly tamed birds to our roof and coop from all over the town. That didn’t sit very well with the family, especially by a young ‘uncle’( a brother-in-law of Dad's) and two of his friends. At about this time, I discovered the catapult, or sling-shot, which any Burma boy had to learn to make, and be a good shot at, if he were not to be called a ‘maymisa’ or effeminate. And in point of fact I became a very good shot, but we kids would target the stalks of desirable mangoes and tamarind pods on high trees but never birds which might have fit in with the predominant Burmese Buddhist ethic of not harming life or, closer to the fact, that life in our experience had been so cheapened by adults and their killing fields we personally experienced that we shied away from further violence. In that regard I must confess that I was once (but never again) tempted to try out my claimed accuracy on a bird. As the thought occurred to me, and without any ‘birdicidal’ (if you will) plan, I looked up at the sky, saw a bird flit by and shot at it on the spur of the moment. It fell in a feathery tumble and realizing my fault I ran to it and found that one of the small sparrow’s wings was damaged. I looked up and found my father looking at my distress and the plea in the bird’s eye. Without a word he took out his handkerchief, sopped off the blood, asked me to get a clean pipe cleaner from his pouch on the porch and by some wizardry wired the poor things’ wing snugly in place. He then let me hold the bird while he ambled off to the small room he converted into an office and returned with a small thimble of iodine which he doused the area of the wound, explaining the actions he took: especially the use of asepsis and disinfection. It was my first lesson in disinfection which I remembered only too well, and which helped me in my work as a disinfectant microbiologist, and in many an emergency I encountered in my work site (which would make you shudder) as a public health microbiologist in the New York City’s Bureau of Laboratories much later in life. The little bird was placed in straw in a shoe box, and I watched it all night and all the next day long. Would you believe it: its wing knitted and it flew off about three weeks later, leaving me to wonder anew how precariously Life touches you, and teaches you lessons you never would have learned in books. But Life does have a way to test you for action when a matter of hurting of another being comes to your notice. That is: up to a point. Matters came to a point, as they generally do, quite unexpectedly when I and a couple of pals returned home from a pleasant afternoon of catapult pellet making from clay from the local stream, followed by jostling in the shallows while the pellets hardened in the sun. On our return to my house we noticed that the ‘boys’ (i.e. said ‘uncle’ and buddies) were calling to my pigeons, and as they trustingly alighted on their arms they would grab hold of each bird and kill it with a twist of its’ neck! At first we did not believe what we were seeing but it soon came home to us that they were slaughtering my pets for a cook out they were planning. I do not know how our actions transpired and I can assure you there was never a plan of attack when we knelt by a culvert about fifty or so yards outside the house , and using the bag of pellets to good use we began to shoot them at the guys’ rumps as they bent in their nefarious tasks, and at a kerosene can (used for washing clothes) they were using to dump the dead birds in, which added quite a sound. Of course there were loud screams as the shots hit home but a" post-mortem” tally showed that only two shots were catapulted to good measure and no real damage was done to their rumps, but more so to their shame as they took off and ran inside the house for shelter! In point of fact more damage was done to our rumps with the caning delivered by our mothers. Dad was informed by Mom of our vengeful retaliation to the need the poor guys felt for a good pigeon barbeque cook-out. He, instead, quietly asked the house-hold help or ‘chokra boy’ to take the dead birds home for his family, thus neatly cutting the Gordian knot of the boys’ blatant needs over my own sensibilities. It was a small matter Dad, but I loved you all the more for it.
Copyright 2008 by Joseph Alwyn Valu. All Rights Reserved.