Tuesday 1 September 2009

ShortStory 2009 FeaturedWriter Neeraj Bhople


It's an easy task - finding a crow. We see them everywhere. Every morning I say good morning to the crows on the mango tree next to my balcony before I say good morning to anyone else. One of the reasons for this of course is the fact that I stay alone, so there's no one else I can say good morning to. But you get the point.

So it came as a surprise to me when we couldn't find a single crow at Shrirampur. I drove around the town, near the river, through the jungle - well, not really a jungle but something bigger than a small thicket of trees. But we were disappointed everywhere. 

There were five of us in the car. I was the wrong choice for being the driver mainly because I had already antagonised the whole crow community against me by wildly running after them and cursing them often in my car parking lot. It was only after I realised that the real pooey culprits were the pigeons that I started to mend the fences by saying good morning to the crows every morning. But, except for one crow that regularly sits on my balcony, no other crow had forgiven me.

One of the passengers of the car - my cousin - was a wild life photographer and we were hoping he would have some idea about where to find a crow. Now, wild life photography has got nothing to do with crows. But in our desperation to find a crow, our logical abilities weren't working too well. The heat didn’t help either. The third passenger, another cousin, was just staring outside absently without talking. I could see that his eyes were searching, but he wasn't interested in talking. He has an ability to see things that no one else can. So I thought it’s better not to disturb his search. The fourth passenger was my dad. He doesn't normally like to go on a drive, especially with me as the driver. But today he insisted he wanted to come. So there we were, on our crow-search.

As noon approached, we were getting hungrier and edgier. So even though we knew we won't be eating, we stopped the car at a small roadside restaurant. We ordered tea and I was about to walk into the restaurant when dad stopped me. I was confused for a bit but decided to follow the instructions and turned around and got back to the car. The store owner saw that and promptly transferred the tea from tea cups to small disposable earthen pots.

Sipping the tea, I narrated my crow-experience to the others. Everyone had some observation about the crows. How the crows are always in a group but never seem to fight. They never interfere with other birds and we certainly have never seen them terrorising or causing any other problems for the humans. How the crow appears calm and composed even in the most trying conditions, even when there's no food around. A crow is also supposed to give an advance warning of visiting guests - dunno if it ever works though. But I had once cursed the crows handsomely as a kid when they didn't give us any warning of the visit of a distant relative who enjoyed pinching my cheeks as a way of showing her affection. I had to keep my mouth shut for the next two days as it ached so much. I think the crow community's anger towards me must have started that day. But they are such gentlemen, or should I say gentlecrows, that they never really bothered me much except boycotting my good morning wishes. I have a great respect for the crows but looked like they had decided to continue with their boycott even today.

We spent the whole afternoon looking for the crows. But they just didn't want to show their face and now even the sun was moving closer to the horizon. We were getting very frustrated by now. Hunger didn't help. And finally, we decided to stop and ask someone. It seemed a very stupid thing to do, but we stopped and very nervously asked a passer-by about where we could find crows. He said, sir, why are you looking for crows in this village? My cousin informed him that his dad was born here, that’s why we were here. The villager looked down for a moment and then said, “No one usually comes here looking for crows. That's because there's only one place where you can find crows here. At the big "pipal" tree that is outside the village. And you can't take car there; you will have to walk.” It was ironic that we were excited at the prospect of finding the crows.

We reached the tree after walking for twenty minutes in the rough terrain. My cousin kept the plate full of food at the base of tree and stood there with folded hands. The other cousin and I stood there looking as my dad brought out the fifth passenger, my uncle. He couldn't walk anymore. Couldn’t talk. He needed very little space in the car today - just enough for the small earthen pot with a red cloth covering its mouth. This had been his home for the last ten days. Dad kept the pot next to the plate and sat a little distance away from the tree. I closed my eyes for a few minutes, trying to hold back my tears. When I opened my eyes, I could see a few crows eating the food from the plate. All of them looked familiar to me. But I discounted the thought while they emptied the plate. I picked up the plate and my cousin picked up the pot. We silently walked back to the car and reached the river in sometime. All the rituals had already been performed in the morning. My cousin removed the cloth around the mouth of the pot and muttered a prayer as he emptied the ashes in the river.

The next morning, I took my cup of tea and walked to the balcony. As usual, my crow friend was there to greet me. But today there were a few of his friends with him. It was a pleasant surprise. Looked like the crows had finally lifted their boycott.

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