'A Flight of Pigeons' is a story about Ruth Labadoor, a thirteen year old British girl who being innocent and nothing to do with the war, had to suffer the consequences of the dreadful events that the fate brought upon her, the only mistake on her part being that she belonged to a family of 'Firangis'. Set against the backdrop of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the story is narrated by the young girl who gains a mixture of new, unexpected, scary and good experiences as the timeline of the story progresses.
The base of the story is focused on the sufferings of the people who have nothing to do with war and are merely silent observers. They may not be the direct targets of the guns and the cannons, but they are dragged into the vortex of dreadful circumstances because the war snatches away their loved once, crushes their very own beautiful life that they had constructed and forces them to start from the ground level again. These ruthless sufferings come to people irrespective of their caste, race or religion. Ruth's father was the lowest ranking officer in the cantonment still he was killed on the very day he went to the church with his daughter. The 'Padri', 'Assistant sahib' etc., all innocent men were the victim of the outrage that had broken out. The story also brings out that the revolt was not a one day affair but a chain of continuous and planned events which took place every day. The Sepoy weren't the only ones involved in the mutiny, but different classes of people including the civilians of towns, peasants, labourers etc. were also a part of the violent revolution. The conflicts between the British and Indians were anticipated but it was also very fascinating to observe the tension between the members of the local communities as the story also mentions about the sense of loss of trust of the indigenous people on their fellow mates, jealousy etc.
Now, one can deduce that the theme of the story is to portray that even during times of despair, there are always a few good persons who stand up and defend the ones who are not able to do so themselves. Ruskin Bond brings out the sympathetic nature in persons who come across such helpless people and help them by going out of way. This is supported by the popular saying that 'Humanity triumphs all hatred and differences.' In the story, Lalaji, who was a close friend of the Labadoor family, gave shelter to Ruth's family even after knowing that he could have been killed by the rebellious forces if they found about it. He gave them food, took good care of them and he guarded them and kept a close watch on his own house only for their safety. He did all these even after knowing that the stakes were too high and his actions could land him and his family into danger. Amidst all the chaos and feeling of insecurity, the only breeze of relief that Ruth and her family got was from the bonding they had with women of the houses they had taken shelter in.
Ruskin Bond is also very successful in showcasing basic survivalist instincts of a person as well as the protective nature of a mother through Mariam Labadoor, who is one of the main characters in the story and the mother of the narrator. The story throws light on how persons adapt to different situations and how important it is to not lose hope and be patient. In the end, it is evident that the young girl had been emotionally scarred for the rest of her life as she was missing her father a lot and couldn't imagine a life without him.
The story begins with the death of Ruth's father in front of her own eyes and the burning of their house. They take shelter in Lala Ramjilal's house for few weeks after which they were forcefully taken away by a Pathan leader named Javed Khan to his own house after having spared their lives. They are also welcomed by Javed's various family members into their own house. The Kothiwali who is the chachi of Javed, becomes a good friend to them. Meanwhile, it is revealed that Javed Khan had the intention of marrying Ruth. Mariam is very protective about her daughter and she evades the issue by giving various excuses. When they come to know that the British are regaining control, they fled to a nearby area. They started off together but the cart in which Ruth's family was travelling left behind Javed Khan and treaded off in another direction and that was the last time Ruth and her family ever saw him. After much help of close friends and having faced many obstacles on way, their family is united with Mariam's brother and they were safe. Ruth assumed that Javed Khan had fled to Nepal and started off a new life there.
Further, the accuracy of the story could be questioned because of the reason that Ruskin Bond had heard the story from his father who in turn had got it from his father who was a soldier stationed in Shahjahanpur. But still it gives a good account of the situation prevailing during the Sepoy mutiny and aids in visualising the violence that took place like burning of houses and factories, ransacking properties of the innocent etc. The author has done a wonderful job while choosing the words to describe the situations in the story scape because the reader can vividly imagine every single detail regarding the surroundings and the mental state of the narrator as the story progresses.
In a nutshell, it is a good book to read. It grabs the attention of the reader in the beginning but then it loses energy midway which gives it a bit of a drag. It gives a crisp picture of the scenario of the lives of people who were directly or indirectly in a way affected by the revolution. It is a must read for persons who want a sneak-peak into the lives of the people who lived through the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857.
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