The aerial crisscrossed grille that protected our sprawling courtyard seemed to be a hub of crows, parrots, sparrows, doves, mynahs and other select feathered creatures — especially crows that seemed to use it for their congregation. Once a giant-sized garuda grandly alighted on the grille, its marble like eyeballs rotating every which way. My devout grandmother went into raptures, reading it as a symbolic visit by its rider Lord Mahavishnu himself. She made that day memorable, making jackfruit payasam and offered it to Him — and, of course, later to us, to our unbridled delight.
Whenever a lone crow perched on the grille and caw-cawed non-stop, my grandmother would declare emphatically that a visitor would show up before long. She would invariably be right as someone such as our benign aunt — who always visited us with a jute bag of homemade laddus, mysorepaks and murukkus that melted in the mouth without loosening or dislodging a tooth — would show up. We wondered how a crow would foretell guests’ arrival and how it profited from such non-commissioned service.
Yet another place of the crows’ arrival was the washing stone slab in the backyard where my grandmother used to place a handful of rice mixed with dal for the birds. They would alight from an adjoining peepul tree — but not before loudly calling their brethren for sharing the meal, no matter how frugal it was. When I asked her once where the dead people went, she said they became crows and would visit the houses where they lived in — looking for food, which we offered every day before we ate. And balls of food ritually on their death anniversaries.
At a time when the tempo of life was slow and sedate and guests arrived at any time of the day, without any prior intimation through mobile, landline, SMS or email — which were not available in any way — a crow seemed to herald their arrival.
One windy morning a particular crow that my grandmother could recognise — though all of them looked alike to us, being birds of the same feather — started its raucous cawing, its ash coloured neck tilted towards the right, and body spasmodically twitching. She declared to my mother that someone was expected before long and suggested increasing the volume of the menu of that day. But grandma was proved wrong as no one turned up till night. The crow continued to caw lustily the next day and the day after as well non-stop.
Though we made fun of her, pointing out that she was proved wrong that time, she put up with our ridicule with an indulgent smile, with the conviction that she would be proved right sooner rather than later.
Indeed, she was right for, our family doctor gave the grand news that our elder sister had conceived three years after marriage. My beaming grandmother declared joyously: “The crow had heralded the arrival of a new visitor — a baby — who will visit us after nine months.” Indeed, a not-so-little bird had told her in advance!
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