Rosy ringed Parakeets are most common illegally traded birds in India. Every other week scores of beautiful Indian parakeets are rescued by People For Animals volunteers and brought to Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre. They are taken off trains and tops of buses, hundreds cramped into square cane boxes with split levels. The bottom layer is barely 6 inches tall and the birds are squatting, many of them with broken legs and wings covered with the faeces of the top layer birds. The boxes are covered by gunny bags and many die from suffocation. Many will never fly again – if they recover. 

Every month lakhs of parakeets are taken from their nests and transported all over India. Only 10 % remain alive after a month. This is a vicious and illegal trade and within a few years there will be no parakeets left in India. When the parakeet goes, so will much of our Indian heritage.

Today’s children have no idea what a sparrow is, so the word “chidiya” evokes no images. The wild boar, once considered a scourge, is gone: I have not seen one for ten years though state government keep bringing out illegal fiats asking people to kill them. The vulture is as legendary as the dinosaur.  And now it is the turn of the Rosy ringed and the Alexandrine Parakeet. In Hindu mythology, Kama is the god of love, a beautiful youth riding on a parakeet. Its green feathers represent fertility. Its red beak represents the earth before the rain and the green feathers represent the green earth after the rains. Red represents unfulfilled desire and green represents joy and fulfilment. 

In Uttar Pradesh, the village love songs call the parakeet Sua or Suganva and request them to carry message from distant lovers. In many folk songs, girls request their lovers to bring them Sua pankhi  (parrot green) odhni (veil/chunni). In many South Indian temples, the Goddess holds a parakeet in her hand. This is the gentle form of Devi, a contrast from her more fierce form where she is associated with tigers and lions. Both Kamakshi of Kanchi and Meenakshi of Madurai, forms of Parvati, hold parakeets.  In this form she is the love-goddess or enchantress who charms Shiva and transforms the hermit-god into a householder, thus ensuring a participation of god in worldly life. The parakeet has strong romantic connotations. Small wonder then, that one of the earliest collections of erotic stories in India is known as Suka-Saptati or 70 tales of the parakeet.  

Like the one thousand and one Arabian Nights of Scheherazade, spent in telling stories to the sultan Shahayar to save her life, Suka Saptati are the tales told by a parakeet to a lonely wife.   Before leaving on a trading expedition across the seas, a merchant asked his wise mynah to take care of his wife. The wife, Padmavati, lonely and influenced by a wanton woman, decides to take a lover. As she prepares to leave the house, her pet mynah admonishes her for behaving so. Enraged, the wife wrings the mynah's neck. 

The parakeet uses a different tactic. He begins by approving her intention, saying that pleasure is indeed a goal of life and in the absence of her husband she should take a lover.  But he asks, should she be caught with her lover, does she have the brains to get out of the situation?  Intrigued, Padmavati asks the parakeet what she should do.  The parakeet tells her a story about adulteresses and Padmavati stays home.  This continues over 70 nights, until the merchant returns.  Prompted by the parrot, Padmavati confesses to her husband, who forgives her and the parakeet extols the virtue of understanding and forgiveness. 

The story Suka-saptati has been translated in many languages. In Persian, it is called Tuti-nama or parrot-tales. In one version, the husband returns after being informed of her adultery by the self-righteous and vengeful mynah. He kills his wife, not realising that, thanks to the parakeet, she has never cheated on him. In despair, he becomes an ascetic. The stories even reached Europe. In one Italian version it is said that the parrot turns into a prince and seduces the merchant's wife.

For me, the soul of India is the monsoon, the mango tree, the shimmery green parakeet and the rice field, the call of the koel, the mud of the river Ganges in full spate. Take any of these away and I will feel widowed again, lost in an alien land. Please don’t buy the parakeet. Report all sellers to the police and free the birds after beating up the illegal sellers as you would an anti-national terrorist caught setting fire to your area.

Maneka Gandhi

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