Canadian Geese flew in today by the hundreds. Calling and chortling southward bound, they rested their wings for bit in my lake.
They stood like soldiers in a line on one foot as if saluting. Wary of putting both down and resting for too long, they needed to move on, they said.
The birds told me their tales. I told them of my favorite short story “Kabuliwala” written by Rabindranath Tagore (Nobel Prize, 1913). Rehmat, a middle-aged fruit seller from Afghanistan (owes money to the lender) comes to Calcutta to hawk his merchandise and befriends a small Bengali girl called Minnie and her father, who is the storyteller. Minnie is the same age as his own daughter who he has had to leave behind and he misses so dearly.
As soon as the father sees this man Rehmat from Kabul (thus the name Kabuliwala), he "imagines the mountains, the glens, and the forests of distant Afghanistan, with a cottage in its setting, and the free and independent life of far-away wilds. In the presence of this Kabuliwala, the father is transported to the foot of arid mountain peaks, with narrow little defiles twisting in and out amongst their towering heights. He sees the string of camels bearing the merchandise, and the company of turbaned merchants, carrying some of their queer old firearms, and some of their spears, journeying downward towards the plains." (from translation)
The story goes on to tell about the character of Afghani men such as Rehmat who are free of spirit, strong, fiercely honest, and loving fathers. He gets sent to jail for assaulting a thief who tries to con him and falsely accuse him. He takes his punishment of hard labor for 10 years and when he comes out of jail he visits Minnie one last time before returning home to Kabul. It is Minnie’s wedding day and he realizes that his own daughter must have grown up too in the ten years and would perhaps not recognize him anymore, just as Minnie does not rememeber him at all.
Minnie’s father urges Kabuliwala to return home to Afghanistan and rejoices in the end
I flirted with the geese for a bit with my lens and told them of a war we were fighting in far away Afghanistan, the land of Kabuliwala. I told them of thirty thousand of my brothers and sisters who would be flying eastward soon. The birds perhaps would not be meeting them in their southward path.
They were stumped at the human reasons I detailed. Responding to survival instincts, they could not fathom any other reason for traveling such distances. They did not understand the term "war". They shook their heads and went their way with a flurry of feathers and wings…and I wondered how many would I see again?