With his glimmering studs and tracksuit bottoms, Awais doesn’t exactly strike you as a David Attenborough kind of guy. But that’s exactly who he is, except he’s the David Attenborough of the pigeon world.
Like his father, his grandfather, and his great grandfather before him, Awais has been tending and breeding pigeons he keeps in a pen in his back garden for the last fifteen years.
I watched him for a good ten minutes from a distance, as he sat on a low wall opposite a bird pen, wrapping what appeared to be a net around a long pole. After approaching him and asking him if he could explain to me what he was doing, he was only too happy to open the gates to his small bird sanctuary and allow a curious stranger into his world of pigeon breeding.
Awais was totally unfazed by the overhead missiles of bird poo dropping from above and the pigeons swooping down like eagles. Funnily enough, he was also totally unaware of the two feathers sticking out of his hair. But this was his environment, and he was in his element. Meanwhile, I was cowering in a corner of the pen trying to avoid the flurry of missiles dropping overhead.
He might be young, but Awais is quite practically a human encyclopaedia for pigeons. He passionately talked about the various species of pigeons he owned, some of which had hatched from eggs his father had brought all the way from Pakistan.
The pigeons of England are a mixture of grey and metallic hues of green and blue. But the Pakistani pigeons have beautiful white plumage, with some brown and silver flecked here and there.
He proudly showed me his Pakistani pigeons from Sialkot, Sindh, and other cities as well. The Sialkot breed in particular he told me, can be identified by its eyes which have a grey iris and red rim.
“Which ones are better: the Pakistani ones, or the British ones?”, I asked him. It’s the kind of question you hear about a cricket match rather than pigeon breeds. He responded with a slight smile and said: “They’re both intelligent.”
I was genuinely curious why a young guy was so dedicated to an army of pigeons he kept in his back garden, so I questioned him as to why he does what he does. He simply said: “It keeps me out of trouble”.
I asked him if he wouldn’t mind telling me what kind of trouble it kept him out of, to which he replied: “I got into some bad stuff when I was young. Burglary charges and drugs too. Doing this keeps me busy, away from trouble. My dad’s too old now to do it, so I’ve taken over.”
To any passer-by who didn’t know him, Awais looks almost like some eccentric bird-man. But he is anything but. To most of us, pigeons are gluttonous pests which feast on stale bread. But for this young man who tends to them with a quiet affection which is really quite touching, they might as well be feathered diamonds.
Even after six months away, these intelligent pigeons still return to the pen. Not only do they return home to Bradford, but to Awais as well, their keeper who has tended to them so faithfully.