On the banks of a pristine lake somewhere in the vastness of Mongolia, the Gaggles, a family of bar-headed geese, were preparing their brood of four for the biggest, most dangerous adventure of their young lives: the annual 8,000 km flight to India. Being next-gen goslings, the brood was not entirely happy with their parents’ decision.
“Get up. Begin your breathing exercises — in-out, in-out,” Papa Gaggle said, poking his sleeping brood.
— “Papa, don’t be such a pain! We want to sleep!”
— “Wing exercises next. Then fly around the lake 100 times. You’ve got to be fit!’
“I’m fit!” Gobble Gaggle mumbled, through a beak full of grass. “You’re not fit — you’re fat. You’re not going to be able to get off the ground with all that weight!” his kid sister Giggle Gaggle retorted. “What?” Guggle Gaggle, the prettier of the two girls, said, incredulously. “You mean we’re not going to spend Christmas and New Year here?”
“Darling, we’ll be far, far away,” Mama Gaggle said, “You’ll just love where we’re taking you!” “Oh, I know! A third-world country with dirty air and diarrhoeic water… India right?” Gobble Gaggle grumbled. He read a lot.
— “Darling, India has a 5,000-year civilisation and a history of treating guests like god…” “Mama, I have been reading about how they treated all those poor migrants!”
“Well, you all go if you want: I’m not going and that’s that!” Gibble Gaggle, the first hatched son, said. “Mama, that’s because he wants to make out with that Greylag chick — Pinky Legs!” little Guggle Gaggle said excitedly. “He was showing off his flying skills to her.”
— “What? You can’t see her! Hai, what will people say? She’s not in our class: Greylags fly much lower — they’re scared to go above 20,000 ft! Besides, we’ll be in India for Diwali, the wonderful festival of lights!”
All around them, the mass of excited bar-headed geese, maybe 5,000-strong, swirled and thronged. Very soon, they’d be off!
“Give me one good reason why we have to go!” Gibble Gabble said, folding his wings and settling down. “Because, in a month’s time, this whole place will be one big block of ice and there’ll be nothing to eat. It’ll be like that for the next five or six months!” replied his father. “Nothing to eat?” Gobble Gaggle said incredulously, “I’m in!” But Gibble wouldn’t budge.
At last, the evening of departure dawned. They preferred flying at night and in early mornings — it was safer. One by one the Gaggles (excepting Gibble) took off. “Okay kids, get behind us!” said Papa Gaggle.
“Papa, how do you know in which direction to fly?” Giggle Gaggle asked. She was her father’s favourite. “Darling, we have built-in GPS. We check out star patterns and follow major landmarks: rivers, mountain passes, even expressways these days, coastlines… All right team, climb to 18,000 ft, maintain airspeed of 100 kmph, set a steady south-west course, over!”
— “Dear, I don’t like leaving Gibble behind!” “Don’t worry, he’ll learn!”said Papa Gaggle.
Out on the lake, Gibble was learning — fast. Every goose in sight, even Pinky Legs had taken off. What had seemed to be a busy air terminal was now deserted. A fox trotted up, eyeing him speculatively. “Hah, you sick or something? Can’t fly? Is that why they left you?” it asked. “Stay away from me!” Gibble squawked. He’d better get out of this benighted place, and fast!
Cruising comfortably at 18,000 ft, the Gaggles were making good progress, flying amongst a large V-shaped echelon of friends and relatives. “Wow!” Guggle Gaggle said, “Papa’s leading the flock!” “Yes, dear. We do it in turns. The bird in the front has to fly the hardest. We fly in a V, taking advantage of the airwaves generated by the bird ahead. That’s why you can fly so well…”
Within days, they approached the mighty Himalayas. “Climb to 20,000 ft! We fly over and through the high passes,” Papa Gaggle ordered. “Gobble, can you breathe okay?” Giggle asked her brother. “Yeah, we’ve got special respiratory systems: we get oxygen into our lungs even while breathing out. You see it’s like this…” he began. “Okay, I don’t want a lecture! I get the picture!”
One morning, as they circled a large field to feed, Papa Gaggle suddenly shouted, “Pull up! Hunters!” Flashes and flat reports broke out as the geese frantically gained height. Some, alas, tumbled to the ground, but the Gaggles were safe! At last, they landed in the misty marshes of Bharatpur’s Keoladeo National Park. “Well, kids, welcome to your winter home! I just wish Gibble were with us,” Mama Gaggle said, a little sadly. Suddenly, the kids heard a frantic honking from above. A goose whiffled down, feathers awry. “Didn’t you guys hear me yell?” Gibble said, splashing down. “I’ve been following you all the way! Idiots!”
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