Under the crow’s feet

A year back, the deadly times when the monsoon played hide and seek with the villagers’ beliefs, nobody except Mahesh strongly believed this.

That Thatha had morphed into a crow.

Mind you, he isn’t like any other ordinary crow- the ones that strategically position themselves on tree tops only to soil our neatly oiled and combed heads. He is one among the intelligent kind. Sujatha describes him as the one who drops pebbles into pots of water.

Now, who has seen all that? Tell me? Have you seen a crow drop pebbles into pots of water? Nobody question these stories.

Anyway, if you see one, it should be my Thatha.

A year and ten days ago, Thatha was taken to the centre of our parched farmland where Mahesh and myself usually excite ourselves with a game of Paandi.

There’s a lot of science and maths behind every game we play.’ said Thatha.
We were reminded of his wise words that used to bring untold happiness to the entire village.

We, I mean the battalion of Thatha’s family members, had assembled there to witness another game, a game of life. He was laid flat, head facing skywards so that any moment he could soar up into the clouds. For all the action we imagined, we were quite heavily disappointed. He remained still, peacefully sleeping like a baby nestled in the arms of wooden logs. The dead yellow leaves of trees far away rustled in circles around the pyre like they were paying their last respects seeing our family orbit around Thatha.

I had tried in vain to wriggle out of Appa’s steady grasp to take part in the crazy rituals of the send-off ceremony. His long fingers hand-cuffed me like a prisoner for two whole hours. Mahesh was also there witnessing the whole drama like a machine making measured movements. We were waiting for the slightest signs of wings sprouting from the blazing pyre. Nothing closest to what we imagined happened and unfortunately we weren’t allowed to watch the whole process of metamorphosis to take notes and preserve them for the future generations.

By the way, I forgot to tell you. Mahesh is really a machine. He says he has never cried nor laughed. Even during his birth!

Thatha evoked so much respect when he was a human being and he continues to do so while he is a crow. The villagers, their dark tired eyes gleaming in their sun-burnt shrunken faces, fell at his feet for his blessings, smearing the dust and straightening the crooked lines of fate across their foreheads.

Thatha was the head of the village Panchayat, a committee of 5 that provided justice to every resident of our village. After the meetings, under the cooling shade of the banyan tree, we used to burst into delightful conversations.

How is life after death?

Thatha never once failed to amuse me with his extra-ordinary scientific explanations. That’s why I’m going to become a scientist specialising on crows.

Thatha, why do people die?
Raja, because they are bored of not being able to fly. It’s not just death. Death is something that is shrouded by an element of mystery till date. It leads to a greater transformation and no one knows how it happens. Death helps us to elevate ourselves from the miseries of mankind. Our scriptures say that. Even now, I see my father and fore fathers everyday after sunrise.

Wow Thatha. When will you transform?
Hahaha. When the bird god gives me the power to turn into a crow I suppose. These old limbs have become useless that I cannot walk to the meetings without a stick. Better to die soon and fly as a crow.

But, crow is an ugly bird. Turn into a peacock Thatha. Sujatha loves Peacocks. I can take you to our school and amuse her.
Ah that’s impossible. See, I used to have a thick mop of black hair and so I can turn only into a black crow. The crows live much happier lives than all the other birds. They are in fact very clever. And don’t worry Mahesha. Sujatha is already amused that you attend the Panchayat meetings.

Hmm. What about the bald money-lender you punished in the meeting? He’s been feeding on everyone’s blood and sweat. I know what he’ll transform into. A vulture!

Raja! Excellent thinking! Now, Mahesha, do you know why people around cry when someone dies?

Don’t know Thatha. Why?
It’s because we all shed drops of tears during our birth. It’s the first and the last song we all hear at our moments of entry and exit as human beings.

Aha! We will terribly miss you Thatha if you change into a crow. Especially I will miss your Maths class. Who will help me get good marks and impress Sujatha?
Don’t worry my child. Once I’m a crow, I will constantly shower my blessings. I will always keep an eye on my little prince Mahesh and of course, you Raja, the scientist.

Mahesh and a few others, until this epic transformation, regarded black crows a sign of misfortune. A low mark in the exams would be attributed to the lonely black crow, a common village superstition.

It’s all because of one for sorrow da.

But after Thatha’s transformation, just like the way he used to dispel ignorance of the masses, he managed to change that superstition among students. They knew it hurt our beliefs. Another because of what happened to Mahesh’s performance in the recent exam. His grades had improved magically from a pitiable 11 to a staggering 50 marks out of 100.
The day after the ceremony, we just couldn’t believe our eyes. Thatha had flown to the verandah, the exact spot where he would cuddle himself into a long nap. He was just in time for lunch. Paati was feeding him his favourite rice and brinjal sambhar. My Thatha, being the generous person..oops crow, signalled all the neighbouring crows, for the sumptuous feast. At the sight of a dozen crows gathered at our verandah, Mahesh nudged closer to Paati and pushed a wonderful suggestion. The idea seemed bizarre. But not anymore.

Paati, it’s so nice to see our dear Thatha having your food. It would be even more nice if you could also turn into a crow and give him company soon.

It’s been a few months since Paati transformed into a crow and there is no sign of the old couple at our verandah. Mahesh opines they are on a honeymoon. Everyone in the village is happy with the monsoon season. The village head master is happy with the annual exam results. There has not been any need for Panchayat meetings.

These days, this is what we say when we see two black crows on tree tops.
It’s true. Two is for joy.

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