Amin H. Karim
For those not familiar with the area, Raja Mansion area is located in the heart of Old Karachi. It is situated north of Civil Hospital Karachi and Dow
Medical College and is bounded by M.A. Jinnah Road (Old Bunder Road) to the east and Chand Bibi Street (old Princess Street) to the west It is predominantly a lower middle class neighborhood with 4-5 story residential buildings with retain at the ground level. The ethnicity is thoroughly mixed with indigent Hindus and Christians, new immigrants from North India and Gujarat. The streets serve for traffic as well as cricket and football field, not to mention a variety of local games such as soor pala, gilli-danda, and lattu. We street urchins ruled the streets barricading the two ends whenever we felt like playing. Raja Mansion itself is a group of 5 brick buildings on the corner of Bejanji Street and Yakoob Khan Road which housed the local Police Station and their families.
The Kabootar Baazi show would start daily between Asr and Maghrib. He would come to this roof, presumably after a hard day at work and an escape from his you-know-who. He would ascend up a safe wooden ladder that took him to the flat roof of the building.
Here he had a small cabin in which all his pigeons were housed. The pigeons knew it was time for them to come out of their dwelling and get some exercise. He would carefully unlock the door to his pigeon coop; A bunch of hungry ferre cats perched on top of the water tank looked longingly with their mouth watering at the sight of juicy kabootar tikkas! But they dare not come near the pigeons unless they wanted to be socked by the Kabotar Baaz’s stick. Luckily there were no falcons in Karachi to attack them, the Karachi eagles being of the small variety and surviving on scooped up pieces of meat.
He would release them and they would all fly in one direction as if in a parade. They would go high and and then head north. He would watch them as they kept flying in a nice formation till they reached the populated limits of old Karachi, probably
all the way to Gora Kabrastan. From here they would start their circle flying west towards Lyari River area, then towards Native Jetty Bridge and then east towards Queens Road and Bath Island, over Clifton and then back to Nursery area and repeat the round. ( I am just guessing these locations since I had no way of knowing where they were flying.)
In the meantime The Kabootar Baaz would be watching patiently and after a few rounds would get nervous and start his call back routine, waving his stick with a white cloth at the end accompanied by whistling loudly. The pigeons knew it was time to head back home and would heed to his call. They would start reducing their radius till they came nearer the building and then they would descend in a flock to the roof, to be greeted by the Master and rewarded with a ample sprinkling of millet seeds which they would start picking with guttar goo gratitude.
All this was simply amazing! But at that time never gave a second thought as to how on earth do pigeons home in to their dwelling from that far. Even today, scientists are baffled as to how pigeons navigate. Several theories including the sun, the horizon, the earth magnetic field. One British study suggested that pigeons in the flock breakup into subgroups and follow a leader who is more experienced while staying with the crowd!
Similarly amazing is the journey of the sea turtles from the wide ocean to the place they were born and salmon as they return after roaming and growing in the Pacific Ocean to their place of birth in the small rivers inland where they were born.
As for the Kabootar Baaz, he had his fix for the evening having watched his pets get their daily jog; having fed and watered them he would tuck them in for the night and walk back to his flat. Me, I was just a interested spectator with neither the resources nor the desire to become a daddy catering to a bunch of kabootarz.
Amin H. Karim
Published on FaceBook group Karachi Past and Present. 2018