Thursday, June 24, 2021

COVID Tale – The two Crows

Lokho M Sapriina

On the evening of March 24, 2020, Hon’ble Prime Minister, Narendra Modi addressed the Nation and announced a ‘sumproona’ nationwide lockdown for 21 days, with the objective of preventing further surge of COVID-19 pandemic. The lockdown was total and unprecedented in anyone’s living memory. Ironically, even as the majority stayed indoors, the lockdown triggered a massive exodus of migrant workers in the country. These were poor citizens who depended and survived on daily wages. Having lost their livelihood and seeing no alternative they set out for their distant native villages braving heat, thirst, hunger, exhaustion, ignominy, walking several hundred kilometers even at the peril of contracting the Virus and death. From the confines of our homes we watched the media beaming large scale misery of poor migrants and their families who descended on to our roads, clutching on to their precious meager belongings. They crammed into all manner of transport in a frantic dash for the safety of their homes. For those hundreds of thousands not fortunate enough to catch or afford a ride; a long arduous walk in the scorching sun. An experience to remember for a life time. The unraveling misery made us wonder if the sudden and absolute lockdown had become worse than the disease itself.
The lockdown meant different things to different people. It affected us all at many levels. For many, it was a time of rest, relaxation, reflection, healing, reconnection with family and the divine, but for some it meant loss of jobs and livelihood, isolation, desperation and even acquiring a taste of the fabled Police lathis. It affected human life in many ways. Regardless, the lockdown slowed down the pace of our lives and for several weeks we were holed up. Indoors, we re-imagined, reprioritized and did things we loved and cared about. The lockdown had slowed down time. However so briefly, it made us think and recall memories of long ago which otherwise had receded into distant realm, for want of time and leisure. Apart from several other evocations, I recalled a poem “Leisure” written by a well-known poet, William Henry Davies, which many of us I believe have read very long-long ago, and how appropriately so. It read…
“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.”

Weeks into the lockdown, we came across social media posts declaring that the Himalayas could be seen from Chandigarh as the Sky had cleared up due to reduction in pollution; about animals and plants reclaiming their spaces, strolling or sprouting on streets and neighbourhoods. Some commented that Nature was reclaiming its space and healing itself, while man who exploited it stayed locked up.


In my own backyard, the resilience of nature was palpably visible. The Aravali Biodiversity Park, located about 500 meters from my residence as the crow flies, is home to several wild animals and birds ~ Fox, Squirrel, Nilgai, Hare, Mongoose, Peacocks, Babblers, etc. One would run into them while tracking in the Park. Peacocks leisurely foraging along the footpath and bushes; nibbling Nilgais steadying their gaits to distance themselves; foxes hurriedly scoring for cover ~ turning back with an enquiring glance before disappearing into the bushes and crowd of restless Babblers noisily calling at each other going about their business. With diminishing human and vehicular movement in the aftermath the ‘sumproona’ lockdown, cries of Peacocks became audible every evening and at night, from my flat. Following the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic, on April 19, 2021 a similar lockdown has been imposed, but till date one is yet to hear them. Perhaps, our friends in the Park sensed that lockdown 2021 is not as absolute, with much more vehicular and human activity plying around, despite the viciousness of the second wave.
For more than a decade I have called Delhi home. The Crow (Corvus splendens), I noticed is one of the most common birds in the city of Delhi. It’s black and unattractive. Their loud “caw” sound doesn’t help its image either and to top it, many cultures and mythologies see the Crow as a bird of bad omen or a message from the divine. The Crow therefore, has a certain aura of mystery about it. Nevertheless, I observed that they are rather useful creatures and has a reputation of being intelligent. It is generally disliked and we don’t give Crows their due for its role in waste management in our eco-system. It is said that Crows consume tonnes of waste every year, preventing the spread of diseases and bad odour particularly in the urban.
My second floor flat is located in a Government enclave in South West Delhi, overlooking a green patch with several trees and shrubs. To the northern flank of my flat, for a neighbor: is a row of Neem (Azadirachta indica) trees, some standing a couple of meters from my bed-room window. Two crows started showing up in one of these trees.
Every night at about 10 p.m. as my wife and I moved to the bed room to settle down, I noticed two Crows perched together on a branch of the nearest Neem tree. They had apparently found themselves a comfortable loft to roost. They would return every night to the same branch to rest themselves. The lockdown had greatly curbed human movement in my colony too, even the post dinner night-walk ritual. The pandemic and lockdown had affected our psyche. People seen outside of homes for whatever reasons, bona fide or otherwise were frowned upon. Steeping out of home became guilt ridden. It was discouraged and one could feel those penetrating gazes whenever we stepped out. It was considered wanton and irresponsible.
The sighting of these two Crows from the window was in plain line of sight and easy. One need not crane, stoop or peer. Even after positioning me into bed the view of these two would still be in sight. They presented themselves on the same branch every night. The sight of them would throw up questions. Well, I couldn’t tell when the two would move in at night, whether they come together or not and the like. I couldn’t even tell which places they hangout or went in the morning or at what time they left, for they were long gone before we were up the next day. But, does it matter? The two would show up every evening and it continued for about two weeks. I was enthralled. I had never seen two Crows roosting up close for nights together, until this episode. I could tell they were partners and I had no intention of disturbing them. They seem to be in love and I did share this exciting little discovery with my own “little bird”.
The novelty of this exciting encounter was writ large, but at some point the notion that Crows are and could be bad omen did cross my mind. However, better sense prevailed. All such notions were dismissed and we continued to enjoy their company, observing them discreetly mindful not to disturb the two. On occasions when the wind was high and strong I would see them perched steady as they swayed up and down, left and right together with the branches and the trees. From this, all sorts of questions about how they slept on the teetering and sometimes frenzied branch would materialize? Did they sleep at all or get a wink out therein the rough? Did they enjoy it? Or were they riding out the storm with a prayer on their beaks? Later, it dawned that what apparently looked like an ordeal to me was akin to a human roller coaster ride for them and that these were avid riders for whom it wasn’t a big deal. Even so, the picture of me positioned as a bird, holding on to a branch with both hands and feet, riding one of those roller coasters would conjure up and it felt exceedingly amusing and funny. Many a times this fanciful visualization of ‘human-crow’ roller coaster would take over my mind and its rendering with the resonation of howling wind, became a source of good hearty laughs.
One particular night as was the routine, while easing myself to bed I noticed that these two Crows were pecking each other, parched together on the same old branch. This was curious for they had never displayed such disaffection earlier, pecking at each other. At least I hadn’t noticed it till then. I didn’t give much thought to the two bickering. I said this is what birds do, nothing more and set off to sleep.
Next night i.e. the night following the bickering the two Crows were back again. This time though, the two were perched on two separate branches. This set me wondering. I thought, if the disagreement between them was serious? Anyways, I said these were birds and set off to sleep. The same picture presented itself again the following night and I said “something is on”. But what could I do? Could I cajole them to their senses as humans do in such circumstances? Could I bind and tie the two together wishing them to patch up? Or was it a common and accepted norm in Crow-world? Then, I realized that these were just birds not humans and resigned not knowing if it could be helped. I said, it was a passing phase and that in no time they will be cuddling happily again.
But no! To my utter surprise the next night I was looking at just one Crow. Immediately, my mind was racing, trying to fathom if I had been witnessing a pattern here. The unfolding of a mutual discord between two birds! No, two Crows. I wondered if an ardent bird-watcher had ever noticed it or the ornithologist ever studied this phenomenon. I also wondered where the other Crow could be, but to no avail. I said who knows? For some reason, I concluded that the Crow who showed up was the male. I don’t know why I am saying it’s a male – Patriarchy! some would scream.
All along my “little bird” and I had been watching the Crow story unfold every night, as though it were a serial, one of those familiar television shows. I reasoned that this was indeed a love story between Crows which had turned sour. This notion however felt ridiculous and was brushed aside. After all, these were birds not humans and they were incapable of exhibiting such subtle and complex behavior. Then lo! One day the lone Crow who had been roosting on the branch also disappeared. It essentially signaled the end of the exquisite tale of the two Crows.
The Crows disappeared but it left an impression. It kindled an interest. I wanted to know about them. So, I looked up the inter-net and to my surprise it said; ‘Crows are intelligent birds; they are capable of solving basic problems and possess excellent communication skills. They have a good memory and can identify a person with bad intentions from a group of people. Crows are social birds; they live in extended families and look out for each other.’
Another web-page said; ‘Crows spend most of their years living in pairs (mate for life) or small family groups. During winter months, they congregate in hundreds or even thousands to sleep together at night in sprawling communal unit called ‘roost’. Juvenile birds defend their parent’s nest from predators. Crow’s brain is bigger than an adult human brain if compared to brain-body size ratio. Some even quipped that Crows are smarter than undergraduates. They are even said to have regional dialects and can read traffic lights’.
The second wave of pandemic has taken over the Country by storm and following it, several States including Delhi resorted to lockdowns, short of the absolute. The two Crows though have not presented themselves. They may not be around roosting by my window but their pleasant memories linger and I permit myself a smile whenever their thoughts cross my mind. Perhaps, they script another tale for someone somewhere and probably we shall read about it someday.
The Author can be reached on Views expressed are personal
Courtesy: NECARF (North East Catholic Research Forum)