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I have spent countless hours, peeping through the window in the spacious libray, in my son’s house in Baltimore, facing the vast meadows boardered by maple and oak trees,  looking for my charming childhood- friend- a crow, any crow! I have been dreaming that he would perch on the maple or pine tree across, with a slanted head or moving his neck right and left and glancing me through a corner of his eye. That was how, as a kid lying on my mother’s lap, I had been seeing  crows playing, and picking and enjoying the paddy seeds, spread for drying, in front of our Olavakkode house. Neither the crows worried about my mother’s presence nor she, about the loss of paddy stock. It was a mutual understanding, which perfectly worked, to keep me in good moods.

“Kakke,kakke,koodevidea?
”koottinakthoru kunjundo?”

Where is your nest, crow?
Isn’t there, a small baby inside it, crow?”

This song, heard several decades ago, from my mother’s lips, is still fresh in my mind, though I have forgotten my Shelly and Shakespeare, learned,  much later.

There is a high level ‘sit-out’ or deck, at the extension of our dining-hall, in Baltimore, separated by a glass door, where I spend most of my time during summer months, reading or just watching the trees or the vast stretch of lawns, beautifully manicured, spread all around. One day, I was sitting there and enjoying the sunset with my grand daughter, Ananya, a two and half year old lovely power pack. For a moment she became still and  pointing her tiny finger towards a pine tree, exclaimed, “thath, what is that?” I turned my head towards that direction and lo, and behold, there was a crow perched on the branch of a pine. I was thrilled at the sight of the guest for whom I was eagerly waiting for. Leaping from my seat, I yelled and invited all inmates to come out and see the wonderful sight.

‘What bird is that?’. The child repeated her question.”That is a crow, the bird on which I have told you many stories ”

She was equally excited and enjoyed my action imitating the bird’s fly and neck movement. Except us, the oldest and youngest in the family, others didn’t seem to understand the importance of the event and they retired . The same was also the case, when the other day, a squirrel climbed a tree, ditching the  efforts of a cat which gave it a hot pursuit. Something is wrong somewhere in the behaviour of the youngsters.

‘”Catch it; I want to play with it”, ordered the sweet little one.
I didn’t succeed in my effort to obey her orders and therefore Went on to the next best task- I explained to her, with appropriate body movements, about my expertise in crow-catching and the statistics of the male and female crows, whom I had conquered when I was of her age.

Kids are the best lie-detectors. She was not impressed and started crying. I did what any sensible person would do on such occasions- I shouted at her.

‘Madaya Mahasamudramey!-you, the ocean of idiocy!”  I heard someone shouting at me and looked around to locate the source of those words, which were the most familiar ones, I used to hear from my father. He, in fact used to call me “madaya siromani- the crown-jewel of idiots, in the early days but later, when I grew big, perhaps thought that the appellation too mild and changed it to ‘madaya mahasamudram’  or the ocean of idiocy, to fit to my intellectual growth. I stood in stunned silence when the crow said, turning its one eye towards me, “I say don’t scream at the child!”

Now, wait . No doubt, it is the crow who spoke and the voice was my dad’s !

Thanks to my association with Vishnu Namboodiri who had inherited the knowledge of crows’ language, from his ancestor, Kakkassery Battathirippad, I am in a position to communicate with crows and therefore, I asked the crow “Tell me the truth crow! Are you really my Appa?”
‘ Yes, I am; but call me ‘dad’ ” The crow replied, “and remember, birds do not lie”
”I know that birds and animals do not lie”, I agreed and extending my head towards the bird, asked- “could you just for my confirmation, say one or two more pet words, I was used to, during my childhood?”

‘”Muttal! Fool, you are keeping the book upside down!”

“Ha, ha, it is you, my dad! I am convinced and thrilled at your sight. How did you become a crow”

” Due to octoliea”

“What is that?”. I enquired. I have  several manias and phobias but not this one .
“I had to tell lies to prosper in business’, dad conceded.. The number of lies, in my life time, exceeded seven per day and therefore I became a crow”
“Oh! I never knew that rule. Thank you for enlightening.” I replied. ” I shall see that I don’t cross the  mystic number seven .”
“My worthy son, you’re!’ . He was always proud of me.
” If I exceed number seven, my soul will become dark and obtain a matching body, right dad?”
“I never doubted your I.Q” He nodded his head in full appreciation and added,” Yet I expected a more intelligent question from you!”
‘What is that dad?” I asked, wondering how there could be a more intelligent question than the one, I already raised.

“you didn’t ask, ‘ why the lord Mahavishnu is also dark in complexion?’
“Why dad, due to octroliea?”
“Due to hyper octroliea . I told you that the soul get darkened, if one tells lie regularly.There are multi million such darkened souls and ultimately where do they reach? At the feet of the Lord..Since He is the Soul of souls and  his body doesn’t disintegrate, He became Hyper octrolieic.”
‘Great, dad. Your interest in Kathakali and carnatic music still continues?”
“Week ends, I go to Paris to watch dance in nightclubs”
“Glad you are enjoying your life. You deserve it dad, for all the trouble you took  to give us good education, which led us and subsequently our children to the present prosperity”
“Thank Nancy for that”
“Who is she dad? I haven’t heard that name before.”
‘She was kalyani teacher who kicked me out of the school in the third class. She too have become a crow.” Dad said, ” I shall bring her here, one day.”
“She too became a crow for crossing  the number seven?”
” Yes. One lie I am aware of is, she said that I had pulled her hand, which forced her to discard me from the class”
“The truth was?”
“I  tried to pull down her sari.”
“I am not surprised dad, you were capable of pulling down many such things. But what is her contribution to the welfare of our family?””
“If she hadn’t kicked me out of the school, I wouldn’t have gone to business. I would have completed my matriculation and retired as a honest Government clerk and you wouldn’t be sitting doing nothing and talking to a crow, in America.. You would be  selling vegetables, across the street of Kalpathy, pushing a cart, in the hot sun or pouring rain ”

“How is our neighbor Chami pattar, dad?”
“That guy who dropped invalid coins in the temple hundi, closing the vision of the deity, by standing in between ?”
“Yes, dad”.
“He has a busy time at Tirupathy,  collecting coins thrown by the pilgrims on his towel spread on the road side”
“what would happen if the Tirupathy hundi is open for the offering of only pilgrims of higher class?”
“The Lord will keep both his hands high above his head and go down the hills crying “Govinda,Govinda’.
“And, God has two more hands”
“He will collect his jewels and valuables and catch the next available train to his place.”

“Why do they put such a big namam to the Lord of seven hills, which I feel, stands in the way of enjoying the beauty of His lovely face, his prominent nose and big eyes?”

“It is always easy to remember an unusual or abnormal object or event rather than a common one, we see everyday around us.” Dad clarified. The Lord of the seven hills with his big namam, high crown, conch and wheel kept high above the  shoulder level and body decorated with colorful clothes and dazzling jewels, occupies the central seat in the heart of his devotees. Even without all the paraphernalia, his white broad  namam in the dark back-ground is an ideal object for concentration.

“So is Ananthapadmanabha’s posture lying on the multi-hooded serpent, with  a lotus developed from his naval supporting the Brahma. A marvelous product of the imagination of our ancestors, this statue is highly symbolic.

“Calcutta kali with her protruded tongue, elongated charming eyes and eyelids extending to both sides and a similar  central eye, on the forehead looking upward, is another memorable object for meditation.

“So is the Balarama, Krishna and Subadra combination of Puri with their round eyes and Dwaraka Krishna with his decorated turban turning to one side and Panduraanga with his short stature?” I enquired.

“And the image of Mahaganapathy, with a protruding big abdomen and unusually long nose,
sitting over a tiny mouse, according to you, is also so designed, to facilitate meditation?.”

“Yes.Even Guruvayoor krishnan’s dazling ‘kandojwalal Kousthupam’ and Koupeenam and also, Darmasatha’s yogic posture.
Dad continued his innovative finding.
“The Siva Lingam- there cannot a better symbol than Sivalingam to meditate on the Universal Parents,’Jagadapitharaah:’. The combination of lingam looking up and the yoni looking towards the earth, ready to pour amrithavarsha, the incessant flow of nectar of love and life . The moment you open your heart and pour on the lingam all your sorrows, all your needs, all your anxieties in the form of milk or gee or simple water.
All these symbols are meant to engrave the visual objects of your worship deep into your mind so that concentration becomes easy.

I am sure that in management science, you would have come across such tools of memorizing techniques.”
“So, a lot of thought have gone into these designing?” I asked.
“No doubt, our forebears, were not only great thinkers but men of great vision and imagination too.”
“Then what went wrong ?’ I asked
“‘We simply lived in our past, talking about our ancestral glory and doing nothing to carry on the torch handed over to us”
“Our community especially” father continued,” refused to change according to the time. Cocooning around the false notion that they were superior by birth to others and therefore entitled for free service from the society, many of our seniors refused to learn new skills; working under others was considered below their status. Trading or business activities were prohibited for them, they thought. A few had agricultural land but those were tilled by others who, in due course, became the owners legally. Many families survived on the free food provided by temples. Abject poverty and ignorance killed many. While other communities allowed their women to work and support the family, our women were mostly, subjugated within the four walls of the house, resulting in their lower education level and health consciousness”

“But dad, when we grew up” I intervened,” we realised the blunder committed by our elders and grabbed the limited  opportunities available and did the best we could and came up in life”

“You did” Father agreed. “But when your children grew up,  they mistook our culture and heritage as the root cause of all the problems in the family and threw away the baby along with the tub”.

“I beg to disagree, dad” I replied. “They have kept open all their windows and doors; fresh air which gushes in will wipe of only the foul smell. They would have discarded their sacred thread or any such external  symbols, but they cannot exsiccate the cultural essence from their blood”

‘you are right.With all their backwardness in the standard of living, our forebears didn’t indulge in any illegal activities. They didn’t aspire for others properties or ask for any illegitimate favours. They silently suffered their deprivation; they didn’t harm others . I am glad that the present generation preserve the imbibed  high principles and in fact outshine us”
The  sun was setting. The sky was afire with the tints of gold and red and it was a splendor to behold that event . I forgot for a moment that I was far far away from my Hyderabad house. The sunrise and sunset, the sky and oceans, the moon and stars are same everywhere, whether you are  at India or US.

“‘I should take leave of you, son” My dad said, turning his head to a side and looking at my eyes.”Let me fly back into darkness to rest in my nest and – to wake up again at the wee hours of the morning  to announce the arrival of dawn”

‘Thank you for your  visit dad,  do come again” I murmured, wiping off the tear drops from my eyes.

“With whom are you taking  Appa ?’ Enquired my daughter in law, Meghana, who just entered the premises  along with her daughter.
‘Thath was  talking to a crow”  The tiny tot, replied pointing her little finger towards the pine tree  .
“Don’t talk nonsense, Ananya! ” The mother rebuked.
“Children never talk nonsense, Meghana!  And they never lie ” I wanted to tell her. Instead, I just smiled.
Baltimore,
Jan 2007

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