Come fly with me

Although losing popularity, pigeon flying or Kabootar Baazi  is still an obsession for some. Aliya Bashir reports about  the hobby believed to be centuries old.
Qounsar Ahmed, 40, lives at Court Road in Srinagar. His hobby of pigeon flying, takes a lot of his time. Fortunately, he can rear pigeon on the roof of his Gulfam Hotel. The hobby, some of them like to call it a sport, knows as  Kabootar Baazi was popularized by Mughals. Qounsar was hooked to the ‘sport’ in his early teens.
“Pigeons have brought good fortune to me,” says Qounsar with a giggle. “Whenever I try to keep aloof from them (pigeons), the feeling of misfortune creeps in me. My children are not interested in this, but I will continue till I am alive.”
Qounsar, whose father and grandfather also reared pigeons, has around 200 pigeons in his loft.
“I have inherited two things from my ancestors’—hotel business and pigeon-flying,” he chuckles.
Every day Qounsar wakes up early to let his pigeons out of the cages to fly in the skies at sunrise and wait for their return after sunset. “Once I sent one of my pigeons for fly and it did not return for three days. Till then I remained very tense,” he says.
Pigeon flying and rearing, however, is losing popularity in Kashmir. Qounsar says that nowadays it is difficult to get good breed pigeons. “It is extremely expensive to rear and train them especially when everyone is so busy,” says Qoansar.
Qounsar also rears pigeons in his home. “Most of the times, I don’t sleep up to 1 a.m. till I feel satisfied after watching them for hours. During extreme summer heat and chilling winters these demand extra care,” he says.
“Many pigeon-flyers are clueless about the feeding and the kind of vaccine these need,” says the veteran pigeon flyer.
Qounsar has built spacious wooden cages for his feathered friends where the birds can move freely.
As the pigeons soar up in the sky, so do Qounsar’s spirits. His aim is to train the pigeons capable of long flight.
“The longer a pigeon can remain airborne, the more worthy it is,” he says.
Pigeon flyers are notorious sky gazers. For hours they would walk around staring at the sky, appearing as if they are possessed.
“My five thousand pigeons have fallen prey to different predators. While coming back from 16 hour of flight, one of my six-year pet had fallen prey to a predator. It was very depressing time for me as it was very dear to me,” recalls Qounsar.
Noted Kashmiri poet and environmentalist Zareef Amed Zareef, says that in old times pigeon-flying was taken as a profession in almost every locality of Srinagar city.
“Many people believed that keeping pigeons at home, kept diseases like paralysis besides thieves away and besides keeping the members of the family blessed,” he says.
The pigeons were mostly known by their appearances such as “yahoo kotar” with crown (Taj- phong) and feathered-feet (teer-e-khor).
Zareef says that people used to exchange pigeons especially on every Friday morning in pigeon market (kotur-gudder) in Mallkha area of Rainawari. “Due to the caging of innocent birds and drawing their money out of their imprisonment, pigeon flyers were always looked down upon,” he says.
The different types of pigeons are classified on the basis of their texture, types and kinds of beaks, nails and eye color whichincludes China-type, Moesur (dotted), Chot (full white), Zug (black), Zawdogh (white and black) and Kal-wozul in local parlance. Few among them, used to fly 24 hours (Kal-wozul) and others accordingly for 12 and 6 hours.
The pigeon flyers have devised signals, which alert their birds to impending danger.
“A pigeon flyer would whistle from his perch (kotar-ada in local parlance) and pigeons would recognise the call and return to their destinations (homes),” says Abdul Yusuf Magray, 65, a former pigeon-flyer.
It is easy to notice Ashiq Ahmed wearing a white striped shirt and black cap, as he darts along the rooftop of his Bohri Kadal residence.
Inspired by the song of movie Delhi 6, Matakali, Ashiq enjoys feeding his big flock of pigeons.
A small wooden ladder leads to the tinned roof of their five-storey house.
While sticking his head out towards the morning sunshine, Ashiq hears a lot of flutter. His flock is taking off for the skies.
“See how they start their day with singing and flying against the wind, cutting through it,” says the 37-year-old avid pigeon flyer. “They’ll go and sit around the top of Jamia Masjid where they join others and few of them go beyond, but will come back to the same terrace once tired.” After flying from Ashiq’s terrace, at least four joyous male-female pairs of pigeons glide and swirl merrily and responding to their masters’ whistles with loud calls of “aao”.
Ashiq says that he spends Rs 200 every day to feed his pigeons. These pigeon flyers, with the help of their pets entice others’ pigeons in joining his flock.
“Whenever we catch someone else’s pigeon, we tie a knot on his neck and keep him under the open sun,” Ashiq shares with a hesitance.
“For few days when the pigeon doesn’t fly, he would automatically understand that now he has to be loyal to his new master and come back to the new perch,” says Ashiq.
However the hobby comes at a cost. Ashiq does not do any work besides pigeon flying.
“My mother always asks me to give up this hobby and take up some work,” says Ashiq, who took up pigeon flying after quitting studies.

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