When I lived in Delhi from 2010-2014, in addition to a very intelligent cat I also had two geese, who were charming, intelligent, and the most alert home guards you could ever wish for. Having grown up with dogs all my life, I know exactly what to expect from a guard dog and my standards are pretty high – first of all, I believe in large dogs, even just for the sake of scaring potential criminals. Second, they have to be loud, and third, they should be intelligent enough to recognize who are the strangers, because your life may depend on it.
It all started when my staff asked if they could buy a couple of ducks for the terrace, since there was plenty of space and it would be nice to have some sort of pet up there. So off they went to Old Delhi with the cat’s pet carrier and I didn’t think much of it. A couple of hours later, I looked up from my desk, suddenly distracted by obnoxiously loud honking in the garage, which turned out to be two large and extremely opinionated “ducks”. Once they were out of the carrier, I took a closer look and exclaimed happily that they were indeed geese, much to the dismay of my staff. For me it was a childhood dream come true, but my cat did not share the same opinion.
Bill and Hillary were raised in a small dark cage along with hundreds of other birds for sale. Their journey to freedom began with a disconcerting relocation into the pet carrier that required a good deal of contortion and flexibility, followed by an exciting tricycle ride clear across Delhi. Naturally, they honked the daylights out at everyone, and anyone stopping at a red light next to them could easily surmise they had teleported into a Stephen King horror story. Even the dogs on our street who were peacefully taking their afternoon naps jumped up in fright when they heard the extra-terrestrial honking. It was quite a commotion and the two geese were quite nervous, which made them honk even louder.
So how did I end up with geese instead of ducks? Simple: in Hindi the word for duck and goose is one and the same – batak. There is no linguistic differentiation and if the buyer doesn’t know the difference to begin with, it may seem like the deal of the century to buy a larger duck… As to the names, it was a source of much amusement, except for my immediate neighbors who were with the US Embassy. They often looked down into our terrace and asked what the names of the noisy chatterboxes were. With much hesitation and embarrassment I had to make proper introductions, and the best reaction I received from one of them was “let me guess, the smaller noisier one is Hillary!”
Of the two, Hillary was the less glamorous and clumsier one, but a much better guard goose than Bill. She would not back down from an attack and could pack a nasty bite if need be. Sure, she chattered away incessantly with her bird friends, but she was always on the job. Bill was content to go into his goose yoga position and completely ignore the world, jumping into action only if Hillary commanded him to do so! It broke my heart to have to leave them behind when I moved away, but the family that adopted them had a marvelous one-acre farm house with a pool. The moment they set foot on the new grounds, they waddled away without turning back.
Talents and cuteness aside, these two lovable characters taught me some very valuable lessons over the four years that I had them:
If you can’t outrun them, talk your way out – my martial arts teacher would probably tell me otherwise, but the geese had a point. They are usually smaller than their opponents, or even two legs short, and because Bill and Hillary couldn’t fly, they had no choice but to honk their way out of danger. Same as in life: don’t run away from the problems, work your way out of them. Reach out to those who can help or support you, seek encouragement and enlightenment from those that matter to you, and take a moment to discern and seek wisdom before charging towards the problem head on.
Let the annoying drops simply roll off your back – this is something I only learned to do after 40, and I honestly don’t know whether it is the influence of my pilgrimage, midlife transformation, or simply the incorporation of Zen into my daily routine, but I learned not to stress over the little things. Save your energy for the bigger things – good or bad – life is too short to waste your time and saliva on the superficial and routine matters. Invest your energy in family, friends, and your soul instead.
Try everything once; if you like it, ask for seconds! – Bill taught me this. He visited each and every pot in the garden and took a bite out of every leaf – much to the chagrin of the gardener, who was ready to throw him into the next pot of boiling water. If Bill liked it, he returned for seconds or thirds, sometimes even mow the entire pot. Enjoy each moment to the fullest, there is no point in procrastinating fun for another time, the rains might come down or the pot might be moved.
Good friends come in different feathers – this is one is from Hillary. She may have been the world’s snappiest and most over-protective guard goose, but she did put her money where her beak was and invested in friendships with other species. I have no idea how the communication system worked between her and the crows, parrots, mynas, bulbuls, jungle babblers (commonly known in India as the seven sisters because they always travel in groups of seven), and pigeons, but she chattered with all and sundry. There is wealth in diversity, and we learn so much from others by just opening up and letting them into our lives.
Don’t get mad, get even – Bill and Hillary were generous geese. They did not chase a squirrel or mouse away from their own food but they did bide their time for a better opportunity to scare the living daylights out of them by flapping their wings wildly or honking in their tiny ears. They were a constant reminder of what a Jesuit professor drilled into my head in my first year of college. Violence will destroy structures, but strategy will win the war.
Fancy feet don’t count, a strong beak does – fancy footwear are not as important as skills. Adaptability, talent, and trusting your instincts are not just survival skills but also the pathway to personal fulfillment. Our inherent talents are meant to be used to the best of our ability, showcasing our willpower, perseverance, and tenacity to overcome obstacles and make our dreams come true. It is not the fancy degrees or job titles that will get you far in life, it is how you treat people and earn their respect. It isn’t the outward appearance that matters, but the beauty of the heart and depth of the soul that matter most.
NB: this trip down memory lane was inspired by a recent conversation with a young law student. It is an updated composite of two previous blogs originally published my old blog.