Aug 2, 2009

As the crow flies...

I am terribly attracted to a crow these days, a one-eyed, one-legged black fowl which visits our window-sill on the dot at noon during our daily lunch. It is probably some sort of modified conditioned reflex, just that its my mother who had stimulated the trigger instead of good old Pavlov, and that it is the crow, instead of the standard fat guinea pig or the poor pretty white mouse.

It all began on a customary note. It is an ancient practice with South Indian families to feed a crow with the daily delicacies (even a simple delicacy like white rice). The passed-down reason quoted is that the crow symbolizes the ancestors ("pithrukkal") and that feeding the "pithrukkal" was as pivotal as feeding the existing mortals in the family. There is usually no dearth of crows in this part of the world, so it wasn't any surprise when a bunch of crows lunged at the pithrukkal-feed on the first day. They pecked at a few morsels, ingested the food, exchanged deja-vu looks and flew to the other window-sills to sample the neighboring feeds. The major portion of our feed lay on the window-sill, unfinished. Maybe the pithrukkal didnt devour the modern-day rice and vegetables, I'd rather blame it on the fertilizers!

And then,one day, after the usual bunch were done with their routine, the one-legged crow flew in, alone. He (or she, not sure which one) was a little too wary of humans, maybe because of the handicap. He (lets assume so) first nibbled at a sample, looked up at me and my mother who were witnessing the act from a distance with great expectations, sort of winked at us (I swear I saw the one eye wink) and eagerly gobbled large portions of the feed. Encouraged that the offerings have been gracefully accepted, my mother added a couple of complimentary starters like vadas and special rice to the intial feed , which were also ardently feasted on. He nodded to us (slightly though) before flying away. Some polite ancestor!!

Since then, he flies in everyday, and is now an inspiration for my mother to try speciality food. He dosen't seem to mind delays or breaks (when we are traveling out of the city) and can patiently wait for half an hour , perched on a nearby tree branch. His favorite dish, my mother has gathered , seems to be well-prepared curd rice, especially with the green chillies. It was also recently discovered that he prefers plain rice to basmati rice.

I had not particulary noticed crows until then , probably because of their abundance in my neighborhood. They weren't remarkably good-looking birds, nor did they have sweet vocal chords deep down those beaks. And I wasn't an ornithologist or a birder. Crows reminded me of "Sani Bhagwan" (his "vahana" was supposedly the crow) , mythological tales (when it actually lost its one-eye to a curse from Lord Rama, when Indra's son Jayanth impersonated the poor crow and tried to play tricks with Sita)and the proverbial fables (Aesop's fable when a resourceful crow manages to drink water from a deep pitcher) and the South Indian "paati sutta vada" fable, where an unthinking selfish crow loses its stolen vada to a shrewd fox giving in to a plot-praise. Interestingly, the crow is portrayed as an intelligent creature in one fable (Aesop's fable) and as a sort of dumb one in another. It is rather difficult for humans to arbitrate on the intelligence quotient of the bird, especially considering Darwin's evolutionary complexities. And am not sure if the crow is actually one-eyed since the days of Rama's curse. Hopefully the crow knows better.

Things changed after I met the one-legged friend. I notice crows keenly these days. I look forward to meeting my friend (and that eye-encounter) whenever I am in Chennai. Not sure if the feeling is mutual though, for when I was taking an evening stroll today on the terrace, I saw him perched on a branch which looked like a rendezvous in the trees, with another crow, oriented rather closely. Good Luck, dear friend!!