Monday, July 06, 2009

Mumbai Birds - The Crow

The baby crow sat in my hand and clutched onto to me. His disproportionate huge head to his little body did not take away his defense mechanism in opening his big beak wide open, every time I petted him on the head. After a while he got used to me and sat quietly in the taxi-ride from opposite Mani Bhavan at Gamdevi to Fort.

I was attending one of the hundreds of calls in the year that WSD receives to rescue city-birds….mostly crows, pigeons, cuckoos, owls and kites, sometimes parrots, sparrows, egrets and herons. I am not a bird-enthusiast and cannot distinguish a heron from a magpie …but yes I love our everyday city birds.

The Indian House Crows are a subject onto themselves. You will see them all over Mumbai…. cawing away, sitting coolly on top of BEST buses - single and double-deckers, following garbage trucks and riding on top of the fisher folks baskets. Look around, especially before the rains and you will see them toiling away gathering twigs, wires and anything they can get their hands… err … beaks on to build that little nests on top of trees right in the middle of traffic and busy streets. You will also of course see them gnawing at all kinds of stuff including dead rats flattened by cars in the middle of the street and hovering around dust-bins clearing up a huge amount of garbage that we have created. Come evening and you wonder where they all disappear.

It is said that if a crow sits and caws at your door or window then you will be getting a visitor at home. Well, with the boom of crows cawing all over, all of us should be getting a regular flow of visitors. But myths apart, I had encountered a bizarre story many years back revolving around a particular crow which I too had difficulty in believing. This was maybe more than seventeen years ago when my grandmother was alive. One day she told my mom that she has been hearing a crow come everyday, sit on the window and call out ‘Abodh’ Abodh’. My mother pretended to believe this till she heard the crow letting out an ‘Abodh’ Abodh’. She related this to me and I laughed and thought it was a figment of their imagination. Till one day I heard him. It was definitely not a normal caw. It was something that sounded like Abodh and maybe it made us believe that it was Abodh. I made a friend hear it and he too was shocked. Even bizarre was the fact that I would hear him all the way through the Parsi colony short-cut I used to take to the railway station which was five hundred meters from my home. He used to be hopping on various windows on the way making this ‘Abodh’ sound. He used to sit by the window sill and eat out of my hand. I saw and heard him for around five six years till he stopped coming one day. This fellow used to love chakli just like my paternal grandfather who loved me a lot and there were suggestions that it must be his soul come, in the form of the crow! This comes from the Hindu belief that the spirits or one of the spirits of the dead pass into crows.

After that we had a stream of crows coming and sitting by the sill and eating the food. Some scared to eat out our hands and some bold .They still come and sit at my dining table window sill and eat out of my hand. Some have seen have preferences. Some love fruits, some farsan, some dal- rice, some will eat the middle of the bread and leave the sides. After this it is a joy to see them clean their beaks. They would take some time off and just concentrate on rubbing their beaks and cleaning them against any object for minutes together and then fly away.

Crows can also be mean to other creatures including sparrows, kittens, cuckoos and monkeys WSD gets rescue calls about other birds and the person many a times adds, “The crows are trying to attack the owl”. A recent story blamed the crows for the disappearing sparrows. Unfortunately nobody seems to be blaming us, humans and our garbage creation for the increase in the crow population. Only the koels(cuckoos) seem to have outsmarted the crows. They lay their eggs in crow nests , the crow hatches them and feeds them till I guess she realizes that they are not ‘crow’lings.

They say crows don’t forget. I remember a story reported in the newspapers years ago of a lady at Khar who had pulled down a crows nest on the tree near her window. The crows teamed up and did not allow her to leave her building for almost a year! Every time she stepped out she was swooped down upon by the crows and attacked. Another story reported by CNN-IBN was about a gentleman named Treekambji who is known as the Pied Piper of Crows. He lives in Mulund in Mumbai’s eastern suburbs and has been feeding these crows for nearly thirty years. When asked how this all started, he said “I used to whistle out to stray dogs so I could give them food every day. A friend challenged me to try it on crows. When I started, nearly five hundred of them responded to my call."

Many people have found crows a very interesting subject to draw or write about. Mark Twain has written about them when he stayed at Watson’s Hotel at Kala Ghoda in 1896. In his book “Following The Equator”, he calls them Birds of Birds and four pages of this book are dedicated to the Bombay crows. They also find a mention in all Mumbai centric books including in the chapter “ Arriving in Bombay” by Aldous Huxley from the book, Mumbai Meri Jaan edited by Naresh Fernandes and Jerry Pinto and in other books like The Maximum City by Suketu Mehta , Anita Desai’s Baumgartner's Bombay‎ and Thirty Umrigar’s Bombay Time.

R K Laxman’s fascination for crows is also very well known. He told this to Gowri Ramnarayan in the book Past Forward by Oxford University Press, “At age three I began to sketch crows. I tried to draw their antics. My mother saw this and encouraged me. She told me that Lord Shanisvara used the crow for his mount. He was a very powerful God, she added, "If you draw His crow, surely He will send you good luck." I have never grown out of this childhood fascination for the crow. I have painted hundreds of crows, singly and in groups, from near and far, and in many moods. Sometimes I put crows into my cartoons. My crow paintings have gone to many countries -- one of them hangs in faraway Iceland now! He also thinks that crows are “immensely intelligent and are unfairly dismissed by fretting people as a nuisance”.

I am sure all of you have a story to ‘crow’ about. Do share yours.

Will continue this series with posts on other Mumbai birds and her birdman.


Anonymous said...

Well done Abodh! An excellent theme, which is not being discussed by many!!!
Dear Abodh, shall THE VERDICT reprint the article in the 2nd ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL ISSUE during first week of AUGUST 2009 print edition? Please confirm.

Anonymous said...

what is the age of a crow ?????