Bamboo Flower, a novel - Part 50
By Akendra Sana
“Bamboo Flower”, serialized here, is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental
contd... from previous Sunday
In the sixth month, Nini sent a piece on the phenomenon of the disappearance of local crows. Rajen did not ever think that a piece on the noisy ugly dark bird could be interesting. Nini talked of the unique role the crows played on the life of people. She started with the general belief in Manipur of the sound of these birds in a group as a sure sign of impending death of someone in the near vicinity.
Yes, its colour of shining black was certainly not attractive to him, he thought. The local breed was darker in colour and the grey shade ring found around the neck amongst those found elsewhere was absent.
The worrying aspect of course was that the local crows had become so rare that they were neither easily sighted nor heard. Was this species of the local and “indigenous” wildlife beginning to be a dying breed? Nini questioned. Rajen could not help smiling. He then reasoned in his mind if there could be anything called indigenous wildlife. Could we, humans, label wildlife into man-made political boundaries, he wondered. He, now really wanted to confront Nini, if not for their personal relationship, at least on this.
However, what made him to think more was her question: Was the role of the crows of signaling dead of humans obsolete with so many deaths all over the place and they found deaths everywhere? Or was human death beginning to be meaningless to them? She further questioned. They must be thinking that there must be something called practicality, concluded Nini.
All these were enough to make Rajen’s mind fly. He soon began to hum:
Crows and deaths,
Are deaths preceding the birds?
Or are the birds slower in sensing the atmospherics?
Won’t there be any crow left to signal my death?
Should I die when there are only a few crows left?
But how would I know that the crows joined me when I close my eyes?
Until at least a decade ago, crows were a common sight; he read what Nini had written. And yet, it was as if he was telling somebody. In fact, they used to be such a nuisance, what with their noise and black feathers fluttering around. Now that they were no longer seen or heard, it had become almost a collective nostalgia; Rajen mused as he read the article.
Nini also gave some less emotional information on the crows. According to her, the local crows that used to be seen earlier abundantly in Manipur were the ones known as the Jungle crows, which were bigger than the House crows. The Jungle crows she also informed were widely distributed from the treeless slopes of the high Himalayas throughout India and the neighbouring countries. She also wrote that they were less of a town bird than the House crows and were most at home on the outskirts of villages and farmlands in wooded areas.
And although in the Himalayas they were often seen in singles, flocks gathered at high altitudes and performed aerial acrobatics over the lonely passes, according to her. They would be seen in-groups if there were to be a human death in the vicinity, Rajen added in his mind. He however knew that he was making the issue of the disappearance of the Jungle Crows from his hometown smaller by associating it with only human deaths but he did not know why he was doing that.
To distinguish the Jungle crow from the House Crow, she wrote that the House Crow was highly gregarious and abundant and one of the most familiar birds in India. They could be found anywhere but were almost very dependent on human presence.
There, certainly was a big story. There could not be a more telling expression of environmental change. Less wooded areas and more population had driven the local crows away, concluded Rajen. And the urban crows or House Crows had not yet arrived in their place.
Then, this was not exactly what he was waiting to hear from Nini. It appeared that he had to do with the stories of rats and crows with some reference to the many deaths around for the time being. Then, who introduced her to the rats and he was not the one who was trying to get in touch with her. So here, he was worrying again as he used to do when the rats menace first hit him.The next piece from Nini was on the owls as heard in Manipur. Again, she talked of some people in Manipur who believed that the soft, single notes at intervals signaled impending human deaths in the vicinity.
It was on receiving the piece that Priyo came in and said, ‘Are we going to change the name of this weekly to “The Voice from the Wilds”?’
‘It sounds good. But no, we are not,’ smiled Rajen.
‘Rats, Crows and now Owls,’ Priyo continued. ‘Let us not be too confident that we can hold the readers’ interests’.
‘Well, there seems to be some local relevance in them and in any case, we are not carrying her on every issue. A monthly dose of these grim pictures is O.K.,’ Rajen told him.
Of course, Rajen knew that those stories were characteristically different from what they had been doing. Then, he again said, ‘In fact, these stories do fall into the larger scheme, the larger picture of what we want to inform. And perhaps, we may be gaining some new readers.’
‘And, we are the right people to talk about deaths in all its forms.’ He paused for a while and said, ‘Sometimes, I think we are glorifying only the deaths when we take visitors to the War Cemetery, the India Peace Memorial or the Khongjom War Memorial’, as if he wanted to say that there were too many reminders of deaths in wars.
It did not take long to realize that there were indeed many memorials of many deaths in the place.
‘Yes, there isn’t any park nearby where one would not have to think about deaths, for instance, except if one drives to far away Loktak Lake.’ Priyo agreed.
‘Why, if you go to the Loktak Lake you would also go to INA Museum at Moirang, which I guess in worse because Netaji Subhas Bose had a fate worse than death’, Rajen reminded Priyo. He was implying that the disappearance of a person like that of Netaji Subhas Bose was a very sad end because nobody could receive the lifeless body even for the last rites.
This, Priyo understood because Manipur had seen any number of disappearances of people in recent times.
To be contd…
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