The story begins with the murder Ruth Labadoor’s father before her eyes in a church. The Indian
rebels of the Rebellion of 1857 plotted to kill all the Britishers of Shahjahanpur including Ruth’s
First port of help
Ruth’s mother Mariam Labadoor, amidst the turmoil, decides to take their family to their friend
Lala Ramjimal’s house. Lala Ramjimal provides them shelter. However, Javed Khan, a
commander under the Nawab, learns about Lala’s refugees and drags Ruth and Mariam
Labadoor to his home.
The reluctant house-guests
The Labadoor family is warmly welcomed by family of Javed Khan. However, Javed is smitten
with Ruth’s beauty and wants to marry her even though he already has a wife. He knows he
cannot marry a woman without her family’s permission. So he pleads his case for Ruth’s hand in
marriage from her Mariam. Interestingly, Mariam has Muslim roots. Soon, they have a visitor in
Kothiwali, an aunt of Javed. Mariam and Kothiwali kindle a flame of camaraderie and
compassion as Mariam shares her grief. Kothiwali tries to discourage Javed from stoking marital
designs with a defenseless and fatherless girl. They are well taken care of.
Ruth and her mother Mariam remain in constant fear at Javed Khan’s house. Ruth is wise to his
designs and tries to postpone and evade the possibility by giving various excuses. She does not
want her daughter, a thirteen year old girl, to marry Javed. She demands that she would have to
consult her brothers regarding her daughter Ruth’s marriage. That was possible only after the
mutiny in Delhi had been concluded.
She proposes a precondition to the marriage. If the British were able to crush the rebellion, there
would be no marriage. But if the rebels won then she would agree to let Javed marry Ruth. The
future of Delhi should decide the future of this alliance.
A welcome refuge
The brother-in-law Sarfraz Khan of Javed’s wife attempts to kill the English ladies but the
fearless Mariam and the fear of Allah dissuades him from doing so. Then Javed’s wife visits
another sister Qamran’s place and takes Mariam, Ruth and Anet (Ruth’s grandmother) with her.
The English ladies melt their host’s hearts with their plight. They even find noble defenders in
Qamran’s family when they are demonized by some implacable neighbor.
Soon the rainy season gets over. Javed Khan becomes more restless with each passing day. His
frustration boils over when he brutalizes his half-brother, terrorizes the maid and even kills a
pigeon on a hunt.
He is psychologically at his seems broken. The ladies return to Javed Khan’s house only to go to
Kothiwali’s place after returning from Qamran’s place.
Finally the winter arrives and brings some good news. They hear that the tables were turning and
the British were assuming control of the rebellion. By the April 1858, the Nawab of
Shahjahanpur is defeated and so is the last stand of the Indian rebels. Kothiwali decides to escape
to a nearby area and takes the English ladies with her. They are able to leave behind Javed as the
cart in which Mariam and her family are going veers off in a separate direction away from the
clutches of Javed. That was the last they ever see of him. After a long journey full of ordeals and
obstacles, Mariam’s family finally reaches her brother in Bharatpur and is reunited at last. On
their way they are helped by their friends throughout the struggle. Ruth hopefully muses that
Javed Khan must have escaped to Nepal and settled there. Even though he was a ruffian she
considers him gallant and handsome.
In reality, as the British are able to regain control of the country, Javed Khan is killed in one of
the scuffles with the British troops.
A Flight of Pigeons is historical fiction which narrates the escapades of Ruth Labadoor and her
family, British colonists, set against the background and chaos of the 1857 rebellion. Ruth’s
family is Christian but Muslim roots and Muslim relatives. This relevance gives a tint of political
interest due to the current global atmosphere of intolerance and hate.
The main theme is the defense of an English family by Hindu and Muslim families from the
Indian rebels as they are transported from one house to another. It conveys a message of inter-
religious harmony. Bond is able to portray that love and friendship wins over religious bigotry in
the end. Even in desperate and harsh times, there are always a handful of people who are
prepared to defend hunted and defenseless.
The suspense and unpredictability of the characters’ lives keeps the story gripping. It also
highlights how the political developments can ruin the personal lives of many individuals. It
depicts a memorable legacy of survival. It adorns two stoic women who are able to brave the
hostile odds and survive by using their guts, brains and composure.