In the late 1990s, when i was staying at Godavari in the eastern corner of the Kathmandu Valley, it was not at all unusual to come into the garden compound of Chadral Rinpoche's retreat centre and find several cages with varieties of birds that had been bought from the markets and then gifted to the Lama in order that he would bless and then release them back into the wild. Often these birds were in bad shape and could not be released right away. They needed care and good feeding for some days before they could face the rigours of freedom. Many never made it to the point where they could even be released.
It was a sad business to see this kind of trade going on and yet it was rife throughout the valley and although people meant well when they bought the birds from the markets, in many ways, this practise just encouraged and perpetuated the trade.
One day my friend and i took a path through a nearby botanical garden which passed through a lovely piece of forest on its way to the neighbouring village. We had come to know of a very skilled tailor living in that place and we both had a number of items on order and ready to pick up.
Coming back however, we decided to take another route that skirted a village we had not been through before and passing by some small, mud dwellings Sherab, the Lama who was with me, suddenly turned and began to speak to a small group of boys.
He would often stop to banter with the locals as he passed by, so i didn't take much notice at the time and just kept slowly making my way along the cobbled path. After a few moments, he joined me again, but bade me stop and opening his bag, pointed to a little ball of feathers sitting on the bottom. I could just make out two very large and shinny, sad eyes peering out at me. Even though i could not quite make out what it was, i immediately fell in love with the look in those eyes.
It turned out that the boys had somehow captured this little fellow from his nest, (he was a spotted baby owlet) and were trying to rear it in their home as a pet. The boys had told Sherab that they were trying to feed it, but the little fellow had not taken any food since they had captured it two days before.
With some clever persuasion Sherab had managed to get them to hand it over to his care and thus it was sitting on the bottom of his bag, looking very weak and bereft.
My mothering instincts kicked in as soon as those large eyes looked up into my face. Anxious to get home now, we picked up our pace and soon arrived back at my apartment, which consisted of the upper floor of a private house. As it turned out, this was to be rather ideal for the feathered friend who had just entered our lives.
I found a safe and sheltered corner for him, spread out some news papers and put a small cage down with large stick tied onto the top of it, this would make it easy for him to perch, and somewhat easy for me to clean. I had absolutely no idea what baby owls would eat.
It was all improvisation and i simply prepared a mixture of oats and water with some honey mixed in and tried to spoon it into his little beak. But unless i forced him to open, so a little would slip in, that beak remained firmly closed and i found myself trying to repeat the process every few hours, without much success.
This went on until the around midnight the following day, when i had taken up the spoon yet again. However this time, to my surprise and joy the wee fellow opened his beak and let me tip the mixture right in, gulp, gulp...
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