The new flat we recently moved in was not the marvel of the new-age construction, but was a self-contained one far better than the ‘hovel’ we lived in before. My grandma was all smiles. She was excited to see the big, spacious Puja room. She said: ‘Eswar, it looks godly, having an aura of Divinity’. In no time she began arranging things in the Puja room, decking up the walls with framed photographs of many Hindu gods.
That she was not able to feed the crows in the new flat as she did in our old house made grandma a bit sad. A Pucca conservative Hindu woman who steadfastly follows ‘sastras and sampradayas’, she would invariably offer the first scoop of rice to the crows as soon as she finishes her morning Puja. She would partake of her food only after feeding the darkies.
She would always tell me that feeding the crows is like feeding our pithrus [ancestors] whose manes the birds represent.
The kitchen grill in our old house had an open and shut door. Grandma, keeping open the door all through the day, would feed the crows with something or the other: balls of rice, pieces of chapati, idlies and dosas. Never a day went without her feeding the birds which would line up the windowsill when she opened the kitchen window early in the morning.
Grandma grimaced when she could not feed the darkies in the new flat. For, the kitchen grill here was closed with sun mica glasses not having an open and shut door. The kitchen too had only a faint gleam of light reflected from the sun mica glasses.
She was bewildered when my neighbor told her that one had to go to the terrace to feed the crows. The terrace was three stairs away with steep steps and without banister. With arthritis-ridden knees functioning symbolically, there was no way of grandma climbing up the stairs to the terrace daily to feed the crows.
So, it became necessary for me to hire a carpenter to cut and remove the sun mica glasses and put up a makeshift wire mesh across the window grill so that grandma could lift the net and feed the birds whenever she wanted. My euphoria of being a tad smart in opening a new and innovative way for grandma to carry on her daily ritual was only short-lived. For, not even a single crow came to our windowsill, not to speak of their looking at the rice ball grandma offered them with utmost reverence and respect. To her dismay, the crows flew in fleets outside out kitchen window, ignoring her offerings.
The little psychoanalyst in me soon discovered that the crows had no flair for rice and dhal since they were getting mounds of them from every household in our area. I then brought into action all my tactical and Machiavellian skills; decided to offer the crows some crumbs to lure them to our kitchen windowsill. Of course, I did it on the sly since grandma never liked to pamper the birds with costly food stuffs other than rice balls.
Viola! The moment I placed a piece of a cake on the sill, I saw a throng of crows flying down to our kitchen window and picking up my new offerings with a flourish. Grandma was stunned when she saw a troupe of crows lining up on the window sill. She couldn’t believe her eyes, but was happy as if she got manna from heaven.
However, the darkies became rogues and refused to take the rice ball offered by grandma after they had tasted crumbs. ‘Easwar, why don’t they take rice balls?’ grandma muttered mawkishly. ‘Look, grandma’, I tried to console her. ‘They’re always munching on rice and dhal. Maybe, they like a variety of food. Why don’t you give them biscuits or bread?’ ‘No … no,’ she retorted. ‘It’s against Manu Dharma. Crows are our ancestors. We should give them the same ‘padayal’ [offering] which we offer to our gods.’
Soon, the responsibility of feeding the darkies fell on me as grandma was disgusted with them. Fortunately, the dark winged creatures and I became friends. They now started behaving themselves and feeding on the rice balls I offered them. Grandma became curious.’ Why, Easwar? Why they don’t like feeding from my hands? I do offer them the same rice ball as you do. And what magic you do to make them behave?’ she quipped and went away.
There is no secret or magic behind what I did. My friends and I are only mundane creatures. Since we don’t know anything about Manu Dharma, we oblige each other—they come to the window frame hearing the Puja bell and on my part I offer them rice balls coated with crumbs or jaggery. It’s a case of ‘you scratch my back and I do yours’ … a sort of win-win game.
My friends, I hope, would never betray me. For I always saw them cleaning up the rice balls without leaving any trace of their feed being mixed with extraneous things. Nowadays, they are more adept at hoodwinking grandma than me, their master.
Image courtesy: Google