The Parrot Who Would Not Talk


Often we hear someone say, “Don't parrot me." What they mean to say is “Don't copy what I'm saying." Now read the following story written by Ruskin Bond about a parrot who wouldn't talk.

“You are no beauty! Can't talk, can't dance!" With these words, Aunt Ruby would tease the unfortunate parakeet who stared sourly at everyone from his ornamental cage at one end of the long verandah of granny's bungalow in North India.

In those distant days, almost everyone, Indian or European, kept a pet parrot or parakeet, or a lovebird, as some of the smaller ones were called. Sometimes these birds became great talkers, or rather imitators, and would learn to recite mantras (religious chants), or scoldings to the children of the house, such as "Parho beta, parho." (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 up by the parrot over a period of time, after many repetitions by whichever member of the household 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 had visited all the houses on our road, selling caged birds ranging from colourful budgerigars to happy little mynas and even common sparrows that had been patted with paint and passed off as some rare species. Neither granny nor grandfather were keen on keeping caged birds as pets, but Aunt Ruby showed signs of throwing a tantrum if she did not get her way and Aunt Ruby's tantrums were dreadful to watch.

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 the pleasant things she said.

“Kiss, kiss," Aunt Ruby would coo, putting her face close to the bars of the cage. But the parrot would back away, its shady little eyes getting even smaller with anger at the prospect of being kissed by Aunt Ruby. And on one occasion, it suddenly dived forward without warning and knocked Aunt Ruby's spectacles off her nose.

After that, Aunt Ruby gave up her efforts to show her love for the parrot and became quite unfriendly towards the poor bird, making faces at it and calling out, "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 the green chillies and ripe tomatoes from my hands. These delicacies were supplemented by slices of mango, for it was then the mango season. It also gave me an opportunity to consume a couple of mangoes while feeding the parrot.

One afternoon, while everyone was indoors enjoying a short nap, I gave the parrot his lunch and then purposely left the cage door open. Seconds later, the bird was winging its way into the freedom of the mango orchard.

At the same time, grandfather came onto the verandah and remarked, "l 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 Buck 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 verandah 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! There'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 Aunt Ruby and screamed at her 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 regular visitor to the garden and verandah, and whenever it saw Aunt Ruby, it would call out, “You're no beauty! Can't talk, can't sing, and can't dance!"

The parrot had learnt to talk after all.

Ruskin Bond


Additional Info