Wednesday, November 01, 2017

My Darkest Secret


(Art courtesy Daily Mirror )
Its been close upon two years now but the guilt of it has kept me silent so far. 
Even now I will not tell you who I am, for your author, dear gentle reader, is guilty of having broken the law, violated the penal code and /or acted unconstitutionally to boot and what's worse now intends to crow about it too!
The cause of this was a beady-eyed, near comatose bundle of black feathers I found on Greenpath, one Monday evening last July on my way back from work.
This creature was later named Pokey and he * was seriously ill; birds of his feather had gathered around thoughtfully and were noisily discussing their intention of putting him out of his misery. ( Hint: this would involve being summarily pecked to death because they do not want to Leave you to the Cats. They obviously give a lot of thought to this sort of thing, crows.) Pocky did not have enough strength to so much as lift a wing but lay abject and lifeless waiting for his fate to be finalized.
Well, you know me,(or you should by now if you have been reading what I write -) I cannot walk past a creature that desperate, with my eyes wide shut- so I called up a passing tuk tuk, demanded a polythene bag from the surprised driver and placing the uncomplaining black mass in it, hired a lift home.
The local Vet and I have an excellent understanding: he maintains a straight face and does not burst out laughing (or screaming hysterically) when I bring the latest case in – and I provide him with lots of useful On the job experience. This was no exception.
Pokey was examined closely, his drooping wings flexed, his rigid, gnarled claws gently but forcefully unclenched, and his throat shed light into with a good torch, after which dear ole Dr Perera decided that the paralysis could be treated by modern day antibiotics. He showed me how to take a "karala"(capsule) and divide it into eight parts one of which I was supposed to administer at 6 hourly intervals.
So there was I saddled with a limp, dying crow, a 3-day course of tetracycline and a cardboard box which I hastily requisitioned from the nearby supermarket.
The next challenge was to smuggle said refugee into our residence without my father noticing.
My father is the serious, strict, Decision Maker person at home, the king of the Castle so to speak, who gives a lot of thought to possible calamity in life and solidly disapproved of anything with feathers on the basis that "they can have all kinds of dirty germs" and this, mind you, was in the seventies, decades before bird flu was even invented and in spite of the fact that he practically grew up on something like a farm.
This, therefore, had to be a quiet back door entry kind of thing and so it was that I managed to sprint my unresisting secret up to my bedroom before the gate man could even turn around, and shut the door firmly against inquisitive family members to take a deep breath and really think about what I had just done.
Im a working girl, out from 9 to 5, and I have a small carpeted bedroom about 8 by 10, a very peaceful feminine pad furnished in pastel pink d├ęcor with lots of stuffed Disney characters- and now I had a large heavy rude black bird convalescing in it. Just how rude he could be I was about to find out.
The first dose of tetracyclin was a breeze because I d found a needle – less syringe and mixed the dust with honey, and Pokey was not expecting this, neither had he enough strength to object. Down the hatch, it went, with nary a rustled feather.
And within an hour or two, it was working! The listless doomed look was replaced by a suspicious calculating look, the head was beginning to stand alert. Even the feathers were glossier, I swear. It was one of those good moments in a pet rescuers life. It was also when the problems really started because Pokey began expressing his opinion, in a harsh and unlovely tone, probably listing his constitutional rights demanding freedom of expression and movement etc …
7 or 8 hours and two doses afterwards, Pokey was visibly transformed :From being a limp bedraggled black heap of feathers with an obvious death wish- he was now walking around in his cardboard box bobbing his head critically up and down like a hygiene inspector, testing his wings for flightworthiness and emitting short , trial croaks, which in the confines of my pad, sounded like background sound effects from Jurassic Park ….
The challenge was now to get him to shut up because I was just not supposed to harbour crows in my bedroom. Leave aside the penal code and the neighbours, my dad would have a fit. My mother came around as she usually does on her evening -bringing-the-tea-walk, and I opened my door about three inches and had a bright chat with her after which since she knew the funny look on my face was anything but innocent she began pushing very gently at the door and saying sad things like ' is something the matter? I know you are hiding something. Im your mum. You can talk to me, you know," that sort of thing.
Subterfuge had always been pointless with her, so I pulled her into the room and shut the door firmly – subsequent dialogue went something like:
"You can't hide a crow in your bedroom, darling.
" I know"
"Puthey, First of all, you tell this to dad,"
"No, but he will Start Shouting -"
"You are not thinking you can hide a crow in here –its like having a man under the bed, with his shoes sticking out- !"
"He ll be better in a few days and Ill put him out. Do you think Thaththi has to notice??"
(Would he notice all the raucous shrieks, flapping and thumping and the steady build up of guano on the windows –let me think, YES! )
And Pokey chose this moment to burst noisily out of the cardboard incarceration he was supposed to be quietly recuperating in, emit a loud huffy protesting squawk, and go for a preliminary test flight around the room which ended in a loud and negative thump as he connected with the window pane.
Mom was right about this. It wasn't going to be as easy as I thought.
Next week: A crow's got to do what a crow's got to do.
* Neither the vet nor I ever did find out if it was a he or a she , but I prefer to think of most crows as masculine: Compared to other regular birds, they are dark, solid and make a lot of noise so, its obvious they are discussing politics, cricket or the Milanka index.

What followed was about 40 hours of wild and total chaos. Pokey's condition improved exponentially and he gorged himself on papaws and salmon, which he naturally had to expel pretty soon; crows either have short digestive tracts or this one was so starved that whatever he ate went right through. Pretty soon my beautiful bedroom was covered with a series of artistic streaks of half digested muck which I did not want to analyze. My bed, carpet and walls, in fact, any patch of the room I did not cover with newspapers and polythene was liberally decorated with guano. My monitor and keyboard were favourite areas as well as the dressing table where Pokey would land near my deodorant collection and preen in the mirror.

At some stage in the proceedings, Mom reported on me to Thaththi and he mercifully adopted a "Wait and See" approach since it was a bit late in the day to worry about germs. This meant if anything went wrong (or wronger than it already had) I could probably look forward to a humbling lecture on how I should be more responsible and not Do Nonsense like this etc. The rest of the family came by to see things for themselves and were rudely judged by Pokey. The Persian cat gave me a look I won't forget and stayed outside a radius of 30 feet from my bedroom.

Within 24 hours Pokey had learned two tricks. To come when he was called, and sit on my mouse pad if I tapped it(perhaps it looked friendly and familiar  like a helicopter launch site?) and the Silly Cotton Bud Trick: Cotton buds were to Pokey what a red flag is to a bull- you showed him one, he would take it as a personal challenge, and grab it from you, yank it angrily out of your fingers and place it on the ground. Then he would give you a beady-eyed look as if challenging you to touch it. If you did try to touch it, he would hold your finger very threateningly in a strong black beak and push your hand away. But there was a glint of mischief in the beady eyes that spoke of smiling insides.
This then is why it has been outlawed to harbour crows, their intelligence is incredible and I believe uncharted, I'm sure if they had opposable digits these little black-suited gentlemen would be running the show. This was a wild crow that could not possibly have known a word of human, let alone English and here he was answering to a silly name I had given him within a matter of hours.

The worst challenge was catching hold of him for long enough to force-feed the tetracyclin as per the six hourly course. This was an exercise in guerrilla warfare that took about 2 hours for me to win and helped me lose a lot of weight. Pokey did not want to have a bitter powder shoved down his throat and freely expressed his disgust in no uncertain terms. From the strangled objections it was pretty obvious that I would soon be hauled in by the Wellampitiya Police, not just for harbouring a crow but for general breach of peace, environmental pollution, and if Pokey had his say, animal rights violations too.

48 hours of this was the giddy limit. SO two days after I had rescued a weak droopy lump of crow on Greenpath, I opened my windows in Wellampitiya and told Pokey he was free to go.

The croak he let out was definitely something like "that's more like it" and out he flew like a large black torpedo, but characteristically he did not disappear at once but sat on a banana leaf outside my window and I swear he looked at me and said a lot of Crowish things which were not totally unflattering.

I  safely assume it was something in the lines of  "So long and thanks for all the fruit!" or he could have been warning me about the plots my cats were hatching, or telling me to go easy on the deodorant- I do wish I had confirmation.
Either way, within a minute, he was soaring off into the wild blue yonder and I was sitting smiling in a room which needed cleaning.

Pokey may have left me in favour of freedom but I have I have memories, which I treasure, of two days spent hiding a little black suited refugee in my bedroom and I have a 15-minute video clip which I show to my friends and relations when they come to visit.

 Now that's something I'm going to take with me to old age!

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Possible tactical uses for well-trained ravens –
·         watch the defense lines/ act as early tsunami warning systems,
·         fix electrical wiring, paint the exteriors of tall buildings and of course spy on locations of cheating spouses—
·         report on traffic snarls  and advise on alternative routes..
·         in well-organised flocks, help in crowd control, break up mass rallies by dropping guano on unruly crowds/boring public speakers


Things we could really ban in Sri Lanka along with or instead of, crows:
  • Wheedling, forging things and perjuring yourself to get your kid into a famous school
  • Making bullocks carry more than 1.5 tons of stuff at a time.
  • Performing horn cantatas in front of Maternity hospitals/funeral parlours
  • Cramming more than 350 people into a 25 seater bus at a time