If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Murder of crows!

Crow on a branch -  Maruyama Okyo 
Often, the innocent and helpful are also the most unloved. Crows, for example. No creature is more helpful to humans than the crow. In my city, they clean up more garbage than the municipality does, although unlike the municipality, they do not make you pay taxes.

Contrary to popular belief, crows are non-aggressive and even friendly. If you host a buffet dinner for a mixed crowd of birds, you will see other birds clean up the grains much faster than the crows. Crows don’t have binocular vision. They look at each grain carefully with one eye, then turn their head and observe it again with the other eye, and by the time they are about to peck, the grain has been eaten up by some other bird.

My dear friend Wiki says: “Recent research has found some crow species capable not only of tool use but of tool construction as well. Crows are now considered to be among the world's most intelligent animals.” What Wikipedia doesn’t mention is: crows are democratic too. They practise a form of direct democracy that was in vogue in the ancient Greek city states. At the end of the day, they sit around on the parapet walls of a large terrace to discuss the day’s happenings. In a way, they are similar to our parliamentarians, all of them speak at the same time. It might turn a bit noisy at times but it also shows that freedom of speech is enshrined in the crow constitution too. Since childhood, I have seen with admiration these meetings taking place in the evenings. I watch them even now, in the evening of my life.

Indian Crow
Contrast crows with parrots. In spring, when the peepul tree outside my window blossoms, large flights of noisy parrots arrive from nowhere, drive away all other birds, polish off the fruits in no time, and fly away. They aren’t seen till the next spring. God knows where they spend the rest of the year.

Yet, poets, who are by definition illogical blokes, routinely compose paeans about parrots. The Bangla rhymes for children are full of loving references to them. Crows are absent in literature, except as symbols of death and other miscellaneous dark forces. In Bangla children’s rhymes, so far as I can remember, the only reference to crows is in: Saatta kaake daanr baye / khokonre tui ghare aye. Seven crows row ahoy! Come home, little boy.

Have you noticed, Dear Reader, the crow has been assigned a subaltern role in these lines? It is not surprising; in the caste-ridden mindset of the so-called upper crust of our society, a dark-complexioned person is instinctively associated with “Dalits”. In Cyrus Broacha’s TV show The week that wasn’t,  which is intended to be funny but end up being disgusting most of the time, the person representing Mayawati always has a blackened face! What chance do crows have? “Kaua” is an epithet in Hindi used for the inelegant and the supposedly ugly. The collective noun for owls in English is, surprisingly, a parliament of owls. And for crows? A murder of crows! To cut a long story short, crows are the most unjustly treated living beings.

Since our children grew up and flew away, and particularly since our cantankerous but lovable dog Chorki went to meet his Maker last year, my wife and me live in an empty nest.  Alongside crows, mynahs and sparrows give us company. They too are non-aggressive and friendly, and when some food is on offer, they all come down to our kitchen windowsill. They wait for their turn and never fight. The crow is the shiest of them and the sparrow is the most chipper.

Of all our avian visitors, the most timid and defenceless individual was a mynah. His feathers were unkempt and he had a tired air about him. He would fly on to the windowsill of our kitchen at lunchtime – morning is the lunchtime for birds – and almost lie down. Other birds would eat much faster, leaving him without any nourishment. But he would wait patiently. When everyone else had had their meal and flown away, my wife would offer him something special, which he would accept with an obvious expression of gratitude. If no one paid attention, he would call out loudly and demand food. Over time, he would hop into the kitchen and admonish us if he wasn’t served promptly. My wife concluded he was a senior citizen and deserved to be treated with respect. He too would reciprocate the affection and would eat out of her hand, literally.

Since last month, he has stopped visiting us. A Dios, my feathered friend!

Kolkata, 5 October, 2011

A phrase used by my friend Christopher Hickman in a message worked as a trigger for this piece. Thanks, CH.

The last photograph was clicked by me. The remaining pictures are all courtesy The Wikipedia. Thank you, Wikipedia.

Sunday, 25 December 2011


  1. That made interesting reading, Santanu. My wife and I love birds. Crows are certainly quite intelligent.We have two species of crows. One is smaller and has grayish neck feathers while the other one is larger and has jet black shiny plumage. I toss bread pieces every morning and I've observed something strange. The presence of the larger jet black crows causes their smaller cousins to stay at a respectable distance. They get to partake of the feast only after the bullies have flown away!

  2. Thanks, M, for sharing your thoughts. Might seems to be right for crows too!

  3. Crows are considered one of the brainiest of birds. But are they? How is it that the wily cuckoo always manages to hoodwink the crows into laying its egg in a crow's nest? It's fun to watch the elaborate ritual played out by the cuckoo and its mate when she's ready to lay an egg. The male cuckoo lets out some most unmusical ear piercing shrieks and leads the crows on a....well.. wild goose chase. The dumb crows always fall for this, hook line and sinker, and chase the male cuckoo all over the place. With the crows' nest left unattended, the female cuckoo lays her egg in it. She and her mate fly into the golden sunset, leaving behind an extra mouth for the mathematically challenged crows to feed in a few days....

  4. I'm sure your feathered friend is smiling from his avian heaven! And thanking you and your wife for providing him with delicious food....

  5. While we're on the topic of birds, I've noticed something shocking here in Chennai. We came here in 1994. Sparrows were a common sight then. But sadly, over the years, they seemed to have virtually disappeared from Chennai! I miss them so much......

  6. Thanks for the anonymous comments, particularly the one about the vanishing house sparrows. It is indeed shocking and happening not only in Chennai, but in all big cities. We must do something to save the sparrows.

    I would like to ask you to read my post "Homeless house sparrows" on the subject. I would urge you to read, more than my post, a beautiful story told by George under comments.


I will be happy to read your views, approving or otherwise. Please feel free to speak your mind. Let me add that it might take a day or two for your comments to get published.