Twice every decade, on average, intelligence officers on the border with Pakistan interrogate a flighty suspect and try to make it sing. But it can only coo, because it is a homing pigeon. The last time a Pakistani pigeon was caught in the Indian dragnet was in 2015, when a bird with nashtaliq markings was apprehended. The writing referred to a district and town in Pakistan, and was probably the pre-modern equivalent of the courier company’s standard message: “If undelivered, please return to sender.” However, amid rampant attempts by some custodians of Indian culture to purge it of Urdu, the lettering was found to be suspicious and the pigeon was interrogated mercilessly. The contents of its debriefing were never revealed. Presumably, the bird had cooed soothingly.
But it had lied. All is not well. The nashtaliq pigeon’s successor in the service has been apprehended in Kathua, the border district in Jammu & Kashmir, as it flew in from Pakistani airspace, under the radar. This miscreant is inscrutable, but features radical heraldry. Its left wing is marked bright red, and so is a ring fixed to its leg, which bears a string of code. A dated signal from the communist movement, which has a largely forgotten history in Pakistan?
Having left behind that history, no one has the key to read that message any more. And anyway, the only apparent ground for suspecting the pigeon is its nationality. Maybe the “code” is just the bird’s membership number in a pigeon racing club in Sialkot. Maybe it is the Swiss bank account number of its owner, which is the internal affair of Pakistan. Maybe it’s a string of gibberish designed to keep the National Security Advisor on edge. Maybe we should wait five years for the next Pakistani pigeon to violate our airspace, bearing a more sensible message.
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