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The Flying Wanderer by Sreelekha Chatterjee

A fluttering noise interrupted Vishal’s deep slumber. His half-closed, sleepy eyes

followed the sound from where it originated and was astonished to find a winged visitor

comfortably perched on the window sill. It was a beautiful yellow wagtail. On seeing

Vishal, the bird hopped around a bit taking short, uncomfortable steps, flaunting its bright

yellow–olive body color in the soft rays of the morning sunlight. It kept staring at him

with its watchful, but surprised, blinking eyes till it was convinced that he wouldn’t cause

any harm.

It was one of those migratory birds that aggregated in flocks and travelled in

groups from their cold nestling grounds of Europe to his small village in Uttarakhand,

North India. But this bird seemed to have been left all alone. Vishal noticed the bird

deliberating over something with eyes lowered, chest throbbing with anxiety and

excitement, while it adjusted the fluffy feathers intermittently, balancing on its trembling,

agitated legs.

The bird’s solitary existence reminded him of his own journey. He recalled those

days—several months ago—when he had moved along with a group of young villagers to

UAE, a land of brimming migrants. It wasn’t his decision and not of his parents’ either,

but induced by a social pressure of villagers. Several of them suggested to his parents

about sending their 25-year-old son to a foreign land to avail better prospects under the

preconceived notion that the galloping economies of the Middle East readily awaited to

share a slice with these young men who dreamed about getting rich.

“What’s left in this village other than poverty and erratic weather conditions—a

land inundated by floods during the monsoons and tormented by drought during

summers—jeopardizing the lives of the farmers? It’s a different world altogether over

there.” One of them had said, almost convincing Vishal’s parents about a grand life

abroad.

Initially, he didn’t like the idea but later agreed, thinking that he’d build a fortune,

return home after a few years with a fabulous wealth that would put an end to all their

sufferings.

On reaching there, the struggle of the exile began as he felt the pangs of

separation from his family and his homeland, battling with the inequities of life in a

foreign land, and dealing with the gap between his expectations and the reality that

existed. A sense of alienation prevailed as he observed the vast difference in culture,

food, and perspective of people over there. But he adjusted for the sake of a reasonably-

paid job, accepted the requirements of physiological adaptations and behavioral changes,

and became one of the many Indian expatriates. Seldom did he know that his attempts to

be content were short-lived.

He tried to be happy till the time he fell ill, afflicted with typhoid. Then the stroke

of recession swept all of them off their feet, snatching away their employment, dissolving

the very reason of their stay. Shortly after that, his fellow villagers decided to return to

India as there was nothing that could be done but to exit quietly. They left without taking

him along. They were like migratory birds that stayed at one place for a brief period till

the weather was convenient and food wasn’t denied to them. But they didn’t follow the

norms of migration and deserted him, unlike the migratory birds. One of the birds

accompanied a sick one till it was fit enough to undertake the flight back to their abode.

But his companions raised the issue of their survival and abandoned him under the

pretext that he was too feeble to travel, still dependent on medicines and good care, and

had to spend some more time over there till he recovered fully.

Gradually, all his money was gone and he ended up being a vagrant in a foreign

land, perishing like a fruit detached from its tree. Ultimately, after much difficulties he

somehow managed to come back home to his native village in India.


The bird on the window sill whistled out breaking into his thoughts. The vagaries

of solitude that existed in the world of birds were unknown to him. But he could visualize

the anxiety that the lonely bird was experiencing as he had gone through the same feeling

of restlessness—a kind of helplessness to which he had succumbed when his fellow

villagers were gone, leaving him all alone in the land of disturbances.

He gazed intently at the bird, perceived a void in his heart—a sense of loss, a

sudden realization that the bird had to get back to its original land, followed by an

oppressive dread of what would happen next. Also, the village wouldn’t be the same

anymore—at least not the right place for the beautiful birds to spend the winters. A few

days ago, the news spread that the government had declared the settlement of inhabitants

in that area to be illegal and had asked all villagers to evacuate within the next few

months, as the construction of a planned town would begin soon. Vishal never knew that

they were migrants who had come over from a distant land to build a nest over there,

nobody ever mentioned that to him. He wondered whether his forefathers knew that they

were illegal immigrants in their own country. But the migratory bird was aware that it

was the beginning of summer and it had no other option but to leave as the village could

no longer furnish it with proper food and natural environment.

Vishal heaved a long, heavy sigh as it was time for another migration but for

altogether different reasons.

He felt as if he’d developed wings and could fly like a yellow wagtail,

experiencing an inert ecstasy. His body started responding like a migratory bird to the

change in the day length, conscious about the imminent destruction of his habitat, a

village moulding into a busy hub of city life where his existence was nil, nonessential.

But he had prepared himself for the long voyage to an unknown land he knew not where.

He flew higher and higher almost touching the vastness of the clear blue sky, with eyes

fixed on the land below, searching for greener pastures once again.


Originally published by Aagaman - The Arrival Magazine 2015


Sreelekha Chatterjee’s short stories have been published in various magazines and journals like Borderless, The Green Shoe Sanctuary, Storizen, Five Minutes, 101 Words, BUBBLE, Indian Periodical, The Chakkar, The Hooghly Review, Bulb Culture Collective, Prachya Review, Creative Flight, Literary Cocktail Magazine, and have been included in numerous print and online anthologies such as Fate (Bitterleaf Books, UK), Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul series (Westland Ltd, India), Wisdom of Our Mothers (Familia Books, USA), and several others. She lives in New Delhi, India.

You can connect with her on Facebook at facebook.com/sreelekha.chatterjee.1/, on Twitter @sreelekha001, and Instagram @sreelekha2023.

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