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Author: Anupam Srivastava
The tall eucalyptus tree before my house was always full of crows. And what a ruckus they made. Whether in the morning before they set out to gather food, or evening before they settled down for the night, the tree was full of noise. Some of them kept coming back to the tree during the day, crowing loudly as though their arrivals and departures mattered to everyone. I sometimes noticed them at early hours, before the first light of dawn began to colour the sky. No other bird but a crow would crow at that time as it impatiently demanded to be joined by others of its brood.
Crows! Hideous, black, scary creatures! Their large wing spans with unappealing grey and black, their long, black beaks make them look so ugly. Crow is the cousin of raven, the evil bird that accompanied Damien Thorn, the antichrist who destroyed his human family. I have always been wary of crows and ravens even though Hindus believe they are our forefathers. I don’t have such weird beliefs.
During the summer break of 2014, I spent much time in the park near my house or playing in the verandah from where I could observe the tree. One day, my sister came running to me. “Come out immediately,” she cried. “What’s the matter?” I asked, anticipating something may have gone wrong. “First do as I tell you,” she said.
I followed her to the verandah. She pointed to the tree and said, “Can you see something?” I looked carefully. There was a crow alright but what else? I looked harder and something small and strange appeared before my eyes. It was an object in shining pink shutting and opening repeatedly. When I realized what it was, I was amazed. I was looking at the young one of a crow. The little crow was eagerly expecting its mother to drop a piece of food into his mouth. The pink was the inside of its beak. I had never realized that a crow had any other colour but black or grey even inside its beak.
But I was curious. So was my sister Mona. That day onwards, we would both watch the little fledgling in its nest several times in the day. Its antics were mostly about making a fuss about food. It would flap its little wings so hard that the grown-up crow-probably its mother-could stand it no more and would drop the bit into its mouth and fly away. The little crow would settle down in its nest. Sometimes, if the mother did not return for a while, it would grow all anxious and stick its head out and look for her.
Slowly, I grew a little more tolerant of the crow. Mona and I would report to each other what we saw. We were interested in the flapping of wings, the feeding time, and sometimes, if the mother crow did not return for long, would stay in the verandah watching the nest until she came.
Over the next few weeks, I watched the inside of the beak turn dark and the wings become larger. Mona and I were now waiting anxiously for the day of the flight. We had sworn to each other that we would not watch the scene by ourselves but go and call the other one even at the risk of missing the action. Many days passed but our crow- almost as big as the mother who fed him-seemed reluctant to leave the nest. But he was certainly flapping his wings with more confidence and power. I noticed that the inner side of his wings became more feathery and much darker. He was becoming a grown-up crow.
I was having a hearty breakfast when Mona called me. “Come quickly. The crow is about to fly,” she said. I left it instantly and rushed to the verandah.
An incredible sight awaited me. The crow had left its nest and was sitting on a branch. It was surrounded by a few crows who were crowing around him. It sat still, unperturbed, but clearly thinking about its next move. We stood and watched it with bated breath. An hour passed, then two. The crows kept crowing, perhaps talking to him, but he did nothing.
All of a sudden, it pushed itself off the branch, flapped its wings and glided in the air. It was almost miraculous to see a bird in its first flight. The others crows flew with him, crowing all the time. It was like a community event.
And then, the crow-our crow-suddenly lost its power and started losing height. It flapped its wings hard but could not lift itself and landed on the ground. Mona and I were stricken by fear. The street dogs of our locality never spared a bird that was unable to fly. We had rescued so many birds from Blacky, Jhabra and other dogs, but also had not been able to save many others. I saw Jhabra sit up. Next moment, he broke into a run.
Mona and I did what we sometimes do. We picked up pebbles that we could find and threw at Jhabra. He stopped for a moment but the sight of a bird sitting on the ground was irresistible to him. He growled at us and ran towards our crow. He would soon have it in its jaws. All those weeks of nursing, feeding, flapping of wings would end in a moment.
Then, I saw something which I still don’t believe happened. At that moment, tens of crows-not only from our neighbourhood but also from elsewhere it seems-appeared. Many of them swooped towards the advancing dog, threatening him and even giving him a nudge on the back and head, while a few other crows circled around the little crow. They crowed so loudly that our neighbours came into their balconies to witness the scene.
Jhabra tried to snap at the flying crows but he could not move. I think they scared him. He perhaps knew that the crows were fearless and would give up their lives to protect the little one sitting on the ground. The dog began to retreat. Encouraged, the other crows circled around the little crow, even touching him at times. The ruckus was deafening. The sky was full of crows. Some of them were sitting on the overhead electricity wire. The entire crow community had descended to protect its junior member.
Then I witnessed the miracle-among the few I have until now-the little crow flapped its wings, flew at a low height, and then it could elevate itself so well that it crossed the building and the trees that were ahead and was gone. I was filled with deep respect for crows. Although I still am wary of them, I do think they are far ahead of us in caring for the weak and the vulnerable among them.
(Anupam Srivastava is the author of The Brown Sahebs, a novel)