Gay Neck: The Story of a Pigeon
by Dhan Gopal Mukerji
E. P. Dutton, 1927
Source: public library
1928 Newbery Award winner
This is such a peculiar book. I like birds, but I’ve never been terribly impressed with pigeons. Maybe it’s because their tiny heads seem out of proportion with their large, round bodies, or because I associate them with filthy city streets. I’m not really sure. But with the exception of Mo Willems’ pigeon, (who is fictional), I’ve never met a pigeon I liked. In fact, I don’t think I know anyone who does like them.
It was very difficult, then, to relate to a narrator who adores pigeons the way some people adore their dogs. (He actually asserts that no creature possesses more love and loyalty to their owners than pigeons and elephants, an argument which, I imagine, might annoy some dog lovers.) I tried to be open-minded about his pigeon-love, but I was still continually amazed by the devotion this unnamed narrator has for Gay-Neck. For example, he undertakes a great journey to search for Gay-Neck when he is lost and then later goes completely out his way to help Gay-Neck heal his emotional wounds from the war. (In case you’re curious, he takes him to a lamasery to be healed by prayer and meditation. They live in India, by the way.)
This isn’t just a tale about Gay-Neck, however. Somehow, in the midst of this story, Dhan Gopal Mukerji tries to deliver a message of peace. Snippets of this message are sprinkled throughout the book, but it is during Gay-Neck’s visit to the lamasery that Mukerji really drives his point home:
. . . the holy man said: “Here in the monastery we have prayed to Infinite Compassion twice every day for the healing of the nations of the earth. Yet the war goes on, infecting even birds and beasts with fear and hate. Diseases of the emotions spread faster than the ills of the body. Mankind is going to be so loaded with fear, hate, suspicion and malice that it will take a whole generation before a new set of people can be reared completely free from them.”
Infinite sadness furrowed the lama’s hitherto unwrinkled brow, and the corners of his mouth drooped from sheer fatigue. Though he lived above the battle in his eagle’s eyrie, he felt the burden of men’s sins more grievously than those who had plunged the world into war. (171-172)
Up until this point, I hadn’t felt anything except detached amusement. But while reading this passage I felt profoundly sad. It seems that nothing has changed in eighty-three years.
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