Thursday, October 1, 2009


In the early hours of Mahashtami, I was strolling in a city park, having huffed and puff ed through my workout when that sudden ‘call’ startled me. “Kuaan! Kuaan!! Kuaaaaaan!!!” I stopped and looked around… brightly attired five-year-olds were playing tag, looking like a bunch of gay flowers swirling in the wind; in another corner, a group of 85-year-olds would go into a huddle and then erupt into fits of demonic laughter as if one of them had just shared a joke about some misadventure from a distant past; a pair of middle-aged matrons hurtled past; sweaty wheezy juggernauts struggling with the guilt of last night’s clarified butter soaked excesses… But that sound… where did that come from? I shuffled towards a tree and looked up into the leafy branches. Ah, a pair of black tails poking out of the foliage. Must’ve been them. I was about to walk away when I heard that sound again… “kuan! Kuaan….!” The sound wasn’t coming from the branches above but from the bushes below. I peered into them and there I saw it… a black beak, a bald head and intelligent little eyes… groan, a crow hatchling!

I groaned at the sight of it because two days ago, I had to put off some festival shopping and pressing errands because a pigeon with a bleeding, chewed-up wing pottered in from the verandah just when I was about to set off on the errands. The pigeon was suffering because of the broken wing and leaving it there would’ve meant a death sentence for the poor bird. So I dropped my plans and picked up the bird as it circled around and treated the wound with an antiseptic lotion. Then I retrieved an old shoe box, cut a couple of small holes in it and put the pigeon in it and drove with it to an animal shelter (every city including yours has such shelters and they’ll take in injured or young birds and mammals) about 12 kilometers away. The bird survived the trip and the kind gentleman running the shelter assured me that the bird would pull through.

While driving back, I did feel rather good about the whole affair. But when I’d first seen the pigeon, I was a trifle irritated. Every other week I’d run into a bird or a puppy or even a cow that needed help. And I would feel duty-bound to get the animal to a shelter or at least inform the concerned NGO about the poor creature and stay there till someone turned up. But while I’d feel duty bound, I’d also ask, ‘why me?’ Why, whenever I’m running late (although, those who know me will claim it isn’t whenever but forever) do I have to come across situations that I can’t avoid nor can explain it to those I’ve kept waiting? And that evening, with all those things to do, I asked yet again, why me? However, the satisfaction of having helped a fellow creature made up for all the minor delays the trip to the shelter might have caused.

So that morning, when I saw that little crow, my first reaction was ‘oh no, not again!’ The chick must have fallen from its nest up in the tree and its scaly wings still seemed too small for its relatively large body. It looked up at us and started cawing again. Call it anthropomorphism but I felt as if it was asking for help. Of course, it could just as well have been crying out of fear or calling out to its parents for help. I tried to scoop the little bird up into my hands but the little tyke scuttled around and kept calling. In response, its parents swooped down over my head in an attempt to intimidate and deter what they might have perceived to be a predatory threat to their ‘fallen angel’.

I stepped back and the devoted parents hovered close to the chick and called out to it. I did not know what to do. It was Ashtami. It was the most important and auspicious day during Durga Puja. There were prayers to offer, ceremonies to attend and pandals to visit, … just so much to do. I didn’t need this… I started rationalising… It must’ve fallen off the nest during the night. Crows usually have six to eight eggs in a nest and oft en drop a chick off, deliberately. They do this when the brood is too big for them to feed and it’s better to abandon one rather than starve the others. Cruel nature, but who’re we to judge? Also, I’ve read that the young of crows and other birds oft en jump out of the nest a few days before they can fly. Apparently they do it because a nest is usually a dangerous place attracting the attention of all sorts of predators and the sooner they get out of it, the better it is. And lastly, crows raised by humans are oft en so imprinted by the experience that they lose their fear of humans and consider every human being a friend. This leads to them trying to play with strange children or adults after their release, who might misunderstand the bird’s actions and hit and kill the bird out of fear. So I asked myself, “if a tiger is killing a deer we shouldn’t interfere and let nature take its course, right? Then if a crow hatchling is pushed out of its nest by its parents, should we intervene?” A little voice in my head said, “well, you did rescue the pigeon.” “Yeah, but that was different…” I retorted. “Whatever attacked the pigeon wasn’t around when it came up to us. Abandoning it then was as good as killing it. Here, there’s a possibility that a rescue might not be worth it and even without interference, the bird might still make it.” Also, I didn’t have the time to go to the shelter without upsetting my schedule. I decided not to ‘interfere with nature’ and walked away from the little chick by the tree.

That afternoon, through the pandal visits and celebrations my mind would go back to the scared little bird a few times and I wondered if I did the right thing but then I’d tell myself that it’s the law of nature and let nature’s will be done. Exhausted with the day’s action, when I reached home around midnight, I thought of going to check on the little bird but by then I was too tired to pursue that thought. I hit the bed and slept like a log into the wee hours of the morning when I woke up with a sudden realisation – we are off nature and our physical lives might be governed by her laws, but the whole idea of human existence is to ‘humanise’ these laws. We are a race defined as much by the survival of the weakest as we are by the success of the fittest; a race that hopes to vanquish disease and death and go beyond the circle of life; a race that believes in worships, and hopes for miracles; a race that fights with its own kind to ensure the survival of another species – we were meant to be slaves to this ‘human’ nature and by its laws, I was bound to save every life I could, for that ought to be my nature.

Mother Nature, bound by her own laws, does what she must but whenever I hide behind her laws, it is an act of denial – a denial of the power of free will and the power of service – two gifts that make us who we are, who we ought to be. I pulled the sheets away and ran towards the park. It was quiet, but for the chirping of the songbirds announcing the break of dawn. I ran towards the tree. A part of me was hoping to find the little crow scared and huddled in the bushes, while the rest of me was expecting to see a mass of feathers and a trail of blood leading to a half eaten carcass. But once there, I saw nothing… in the bushes, in the lawns, even in a heap of swept up leaves… nothing. Could the bird have flown, literally? I so hoped so… Relieved, I began walking back when I saw one of the parent crows. It was sitting on a wire outside the park and looking down at the road… ‘Darn!’ I ran onto the road and there on its back by the side of the road lay the little black bird. Its little feet pointing towards a sky it could’ve known better if only I had taken out an hour and taken it to the shelter. It had no wounds and if not for the ants around its half open eyes that seemed to both accuse and forgive, I couldn’t have been sure it was dead.

It’s only a bird you might say, but it’s still a life I could’ve saved… and didn’t (and how I treat life in one form is definitely indicative of how I might treat it in another). I’m sorry little bird, I wish for you a better life, and an after-life, and may these words serve to be both an apology and a promise…



  1. A touchy experience indeed. I think the "why me" thought is because you care for the animals/birds. Nice blog

  2. How many times we have faced such dilemmas in our life.Why,we have even left humans unattended on the road fearing police harassment subsequently.In this journey called life,we are a witness to such chilling experiences so many times that we have become insulated from humanly feelings,which to say the least is unfortunate.Shining part is,there are n number of animal lovers who go to extremes in serving these creatures just like their kids.Kudos to them and may their tribe swell by the day.