Last of the black wings

Gautaman Bhaskaran

Last of the black wings

When I was a boy, I was fascinated by the crow. This fascination could be attributed to folklore. People fed the bird before they themselves ate. Crows were considered reincarnations of our forefathers. On festivals or auspicious days, it was treated to a virtual feast.

Beyond the myth and tale, the crow was considered a natural scavenger, helping to rid habitations of the unwanted.

I watched these birds build nests and lay eggs. Once a crow, just a few days old, fell out of its nest and landed on my balcony. Unable to fly and frightened out of its wits, I watched it struggle till its mother rescued it.

These birds had a great sense of familial and communal spirit: they would cry in their harsh voices when any one of them was in danger or lay dead. Such was their camaraderie.

I was, therefore, shocked to find a report in Japanese newspapers which said that the Tokyo administration was planning to kill the 37,000-odd crows in the city. This operation is to be over by March, and Tokyo would then no longer see the black winged creature or hear its, well, rather harsh ``caw''.

Now, why would the authorities want to do such a thing? They feel that these birds have become aggressive: they peck at pet dogs, they attack kittens and they rip open garbage bags littering the streets with rotten food. Worse, they tend to ``dive bomb'' men or women who dare to come near their nests.

Tokyo is now busy laying traps to lure the crows, which will then be gassed to death with the help of carbon dioxide.

Call it cruel or strange, Japan's solutions to problems often border on virtual paranoia. If a single boulder were to tumble down a hill, the best way to fix it is to plaster the slope with brick and mortar. Many of the nation's hillsides now look grey, ugly and uninspiring.

River banks have also had to face such state-sponsored vandalism; most have been cemented. Many rivers have been dammed and ruined. Once bountiful, they now present a sad trickle of a spectacle.

Many rich broadleaf forests have been replaced by sterile single specie cedar, meant to feed the giant industries and massive construction projects.

Such usually unnecessary civil engineering works have robbed many of Japan's native animals and birds of their natural habitat. Specialists say that most crows in Tokyo and other cities have been forced to move from forests, when these disappeared. The bird, starved of its natural food, had to seek shelter in cities, where it found something to eat in garbage cans.

With Tokyo ready to finish off the last of the crows, there are but few men — with a little time to pause and ponder over such mindless destruction — who remind us that the bird was once considered sacred. In classical Japanese mythology, Emperor Jimmu, a direct descendant of the sun goddess, Amaterasu, and the founder of the country's imperial line, was guided through the mountains of the Wakayama Prefecture by a giant crow, sent down by heaven. Thanks to the crow, the king was able to cross the difficult mountains to reach Nara, where he established Japan's first capital city.

Today's capital, Tokyo, could not care less about the poor black bird, despite the fact that it is still held in reverence and considered to be god's own messenger. In the Okunitama Shrine in Fuchu, a Tokyo area, crows are depicted on bamboo fans and on embroidered cloth good luck sachets. The birds are synonymous with prosperity, and are believed to help ward off evil.

Somewhere, ancient Japanese folk beliefs, with their deep love for land, plants and animals, have lost their meaning in modern-day methods of madness and censure. Today's youth, especially, seem to have little regard for values which provide essential links between man and Nature for harmony.

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