Society

Conversations with a crow

‘Look at me. I am all zen, compact like a haiku, economical’

I am working, holding fort as they call it, but lost. The loneliness around me is so thick that it feels like company. I use writing as therapy, as a way of listening to myself, asking my silence to speak. I am looking for a meaning beyond myself. Maybe one wants something others don’t want. My friends have moved away as if I don’t fit the ordinary script of their lives. The emptiness around me is almost viscous, like a fog. Even prayer is more desperation than faith.

I wish I was like the crow outside. It has rained and, matter of fact, it sits on a branch and recites its commentary. It is a ritual. The crow seems confident, intact as if he knows the power of cawing every day.

I need that sense of the crow in me, cawing about everydayness in quiet celebration, where routine is drama, and each act of repetition an invention of a new day. The crow with its lousy voice is so reassuring, unapologetic about itself, a haiku in the real sense of the term, almost hinting that it has the secret of everydayness. It is almost saying, “I know parrots and peacocks are brand names. But I got beyond brand. I establish the chorus of the everyday.” To stop crowing is for everydayness to cease. It is the trickster who finds meaning, laughter, rhythm, in the everyday, content that its prose will outlast any search for poetry. The epic power of cawing every day, convinced it will outlast history, content being itself.

Buddhist before Buddha

The other day, I had this imaginary but quite real conversation with the crow. Sometimes when you sit on a park bench, it hops along, dances a jig offering company, watching you clinically like a local shrink. I imagined it telling me, “You, man, made a mistake. You adopted the dog when you should have taken to me.”

The crow tried to explain. “Dogs are silly, sentimental. They are limericks. I am all zen, compact like a haiku, economical. Look at my body, the contours of my head. I was Buddhist before Buddha discovered it. Going for the dog was an evolutionary mistake. Imagine you and me sitting together on a park bench, convivially. I do not have to bark in silly assurance like an overdone comic strip. I read your thoughts and sit with you, a full accomplice.

I am not dependent. I do not age in a silly way. You lost a pathway when you bypassed me. Otherwise, man and crow would have been a different song line. I would have been friend, double, not some silly totem or pet. You don’t need metaphors to understand me. My body language is matter of fact honest, not the drooling submissiveness of a dog. I am stoic. We make the best philosophers. My humour is surreal. You would have understood life better.”

“I admit I am different. I stick to nature. I have no urge to domesticity, it is a second slavery. But our difference was hope. I admit I keep my distance. But between our difference, our distance, we could have created a different world. Man and dog together sounds barbaric, idolatrous. It suited man’s narcissism to be worshipped by a dog. For a dog, you were god and you fell for it. Ours would have been a social contract, mature, autonomous, a conversation of equals across difference, laced with humour and realism, more adult. But you chose the perversity of an idiot childhood you call dog. How could you trust anything four-legged?

Half Alice, half Kafka

I represent common sense, the analytical, realist, pragmatic beauty of common sense. No piece of nature embodies common sense, the power of ordinary language, like we do. Think of it, you can call a book ‘Conversations with a Crow’. It holds. You cannot talk to a dog. It is echolalia, it babbles and you read meaning into it. While a caw is matter of fact and unstatedly polysemic. I caw, therefore we are. It invokes friendship, conversation, a chorus, an adult acceptance of silence as privacy. Can you feel a dog even getting a whiff of that? The subtlety of silence.

Dog vs. crow

“A dog is so obvious. It is simplicissimus. Its barbarous bark carries no theological overtones. I am half riddle. My everydayness still eludes you; it carries mystery. I have a sense of the cryptic. There is nothing as obvious as a dog, while I have the touch of the sphinx. There is something about man that evades riddle and mystery in everydayness. I smell of Jung and Freud, a dog summons Pavlov, the reflex, the kneejerk of a bell. A dog is pure physiology while I, I am the beginning of the social. My language, half Alice, half Kafka.”

The crow complained, “It is cosmically unfair comparing a dog to a crow, like a half-wit to a Wittgenstein. A dog is intimate like lice and only man can think the itch as the beginning of the social. The social is double-edged, double faced. The Homo Duplex needed me and you stumbled over a dog, mistook its anxieties for acclamation. Can you play chess with a dog, a creature which rolls over like Humpty Dumpty?”

The crow sat quietly, almost apologetic. “I understand loneliness, alienation, loss.” I nodded tacitly.

Talking to a crow was like talking to a zen monk. A caw as kaon, I said glibly. The crow glared. “Man was the beginning of the bad joke.” I gasped.

He said, “Imagine the two of us in a graphic novel. I would sit silently, my eyes oozing intelligence. But you, you would have bubbles (baubles) around you for speech because you do not grasp silence.” It looked clinically at me.

“Happy loneliness,” it said and was gone. I sighed in silence, rubbing the rough wood of the park bench, sensing an emptiness everywhere.

The writer is Professor, Jindal Global Law School and Director, Centre of Study of Knowledge System, O.P. Jindal Global University.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 2:14:13 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/conversations-with-a-crow/article19523688.ece

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