In this story, which is written in the first person, the author’s aunt decides to keep a parrot as a pet. She also decides to teach it how to talk. How successful is she in her efforts? Read this humorous story by the well-known author Ruskin Bond to find out.
‘You are no beauty! Can’t talk, can’t sing, can’t dance!’
With these words Aunt Ruby would taunt the unfortunate parakeet, who glared morosely at everyone from his ornamental cage at one end of the long veranda of Granny’s bungalow in north India.
In those distant days, almost everyone – Indian or European – kept a pet parrot or parakeet, or ‘lovebird’ as some of the smaller ones were called. Sometimes these birds became great talkers, or rather mimics, and would learn to recite entire mantras (religious chants) or admonitions to the children of the house, such as ‘Padho, beta, padho!’ (‘Study child study!’) or for the benefit of boys like me, ‘Don’t be greedy, don’t be greedy!’
These expressions were, of course, picked by the parrot over a period of time, after many repetitions by some member of the household who had taken on the task of teaching the bird to talk.
But our parrot refused to talk.
He’d been bought by Aunt Ruby from a bird-catcher who’d visited all the houses on our road, selling caged birds ranging from colourful budgerigars to chirpy little munnias and even common sparrows that had been dabbed with paint and passed off as some exotic species. Neither Granny nor Grandfather were keen on keeping caged birds as pets, but Aunt Ruby threatened to throw a tantrum if she did not get her way–and Aunt Ruby’s tantrums were dreadful to behold!
Anyway, she insisted on keeping the parrot and teaching it to talk. But the bird took an instant dislike to my aunt and resisted all her blandishments.
‘Kiss, kiss!’ Aunt Ruby would coo, putting her face close to the bars of the cage. But the parrot would back away, its beady little eyes getting even smaller with anger at the prospect of being kissed by Aunt Ruby. And on one occasion it lunged forward without warning and knocked my aunt’s spectacles off her nose.
After that Aunt Ruby gave up her endearments and became quite hostile towards the poor bird, making faces at it and calling out ‘can’t talk, can’t talk, can’t sing, can’t dance!’ and other nasty comments.
It fell upon me, then ten years old, to feed the parrot, and it seemed quite happy to receive green chillies and ripe tomatoes from my hands, these delicacies being supplemented by slices of mango, for it was then the mango season. This also gave me an opportunity to consume a couple of mangoes while feeding the parrot!
One afternoon, while everyone was indoors enjoying a siesta, I gave the parrot its lunch and then deliberately left the cage door open. Seconds later, the bird was winging its way to the freedom of the mango orchard.
At the same time Grandfather came to the veranda and remarked, ‘I see your aunt’s parrot has escaped!’
‘The door was quite loose,’ I said with a shrug. ‘Well, I don’t suppose we’ll see it again.’
Aunt Ruby was upset at first, and threatened to buy another bird. We put her off by promising to buy her a bowl of goldfish.
‘But goldfish don’t talk!’ she protested.
‘Well, neither did your bird,’ said Grandfather. ‘So we’ll get you a gramophone. You can listen to Clara Cluck all day. They say she sings like a nightingale.’
I thought we’d never see the parrot again, but it probably missed its green chillies, because a few days later I found the bird sitting on the veranda railing, looking expectantly at me with its head cocked to one side. Unselfishly I gave the parrot half of my mango.
While the bird was enjoying the mango, Aunt Ruby emerged from her room and, with a cry of surprise, called out, ‘Look, it’s my parrot come back! He must have missed me!’
With a loud squawk, the parrot flew out of her reach and, perching on the nearest rose bush, glared at her and shrieked in my aunt’s familiar tones: ‘You’re no beauty! Can’t talk, can’t sing, can’t dance!’
Aunt Ruby went ruby-red and dashed indoors.
But that wasn’t the end of the affair. The parrot became a frequent visitor to the garden and veranda, and whenever it saw Aunt Ruby it would call out, ‘You’re no beauty, you’re no beauty! Can’t talk, can’t sing, can’t dance!’
The parrot had learnt to talk after all!
It is a humorous short story about a parrot kept as a pet by the author’s aunt, Ruby. The aunt bought a parrot and kept it in an ornamental cage. She tried hard to teach the parrot to talk but it would not talk. In fact, the parrot disliked the aunt from the very beginning.
One day, when the aunt asked the parrot for a kiss and put her face close to the cage, the parrot in anger knocked her specs off her nose. She felt humiliated. She stopped feeding the parrot, started making faces at it and saying nasty things to it.
The author, who was then 10 years old, was given the duty to feed the parrot. He lovingly executed his duty. The parrot seemed to like him. One day, he deliberately left the door of the cage open. The parrot flew away. After a few days, it started visiting them frequently, perhaps, to have its favourite food (chilies and mangoes) from the author. Whenever it happened to see aunt Ruby it would repeat the same nasty things to her which she used to utter. This made aunt feel embarrassed.