The Battle Royale.

He is still there, watching her through the open kitchen window, with a reproachful look in his eyes. She is firmly ignoring him. She doesn’t take very kindly to anyone refusing to eat her cooking.

Amma loves to feed birds, and has kept dishes filled with food and water on her kitchen window sill. That is how the crow started coming to our house.

Amma had made something of a pet of this crow who sat in the kitchen window every day, waiting for her to feed him left over food, stale slices of bread, things which crows are supposed to eat uncomplainingly. Even this one did. Till one day he tasted chaklis.

While poking around in the cabinets Amma came across old packets of Chaklis. No one remembered purchasing them, maybe left over from Diwali. And by now the chaklis were several months old, and emanated musty smell of stale oil. We all refused to even touch them, and declared them unfit for human consumption. Amma’s thrifty heart baulked at such a waste, and she hated to throw out the good -well, the Almost good -chaklis this way. Finally she threw one chakli in the bird dish. Her crow was sitting there, waiting for his turn, ignoring the birdseed. He pounced on the chalki and caught it in midair gracefully and was a changed crow from that day onwards.

In the early days it was all fun. We would stand around and watch him crunch the chakli. Amma would say with grim satisfaction, "at least the chaklis were not wasted", and we laughed at the way the crow would call his cronies over. But soon, very soon, the chaklis got over, and then began a battle of wills. The crow refused to eat anything other than chaklis.

At first Amma was amused to see him sitting there, refusing the slice of bread in the dish, and later became exasperated. After that it sort of became a challenge to make that crow eat something. Instead of stale bread he was now being tempted with fresh bread. Instead of leftover roti, he now got freshly made one, warm from Tawaa. But he still held out for chaklis. He would just poke at the food and leave it uneaten. And after giving Amma, what we thought as reproachful look for playing such a dirty trick on him, he would fly away. I am afraid Amma took his rejection rather to her heart.

Days went by; we could see Amma cooing to the crow in persuasive whispers. There were jokes galore. We suggested she buttered the bread, or perhaps some jam? There were solicitous enquiries about the crow's preference in fruit. Will fresh ones do or would he prefer rotten ones. Dad loudly worried about the crow's cholesterol levels, and asked Amma to feed her pet nutritious food. At dinner time he would ask meekly, “Can I have one more roti? If the crow doesn’t want it, that is.” Amma took all this ragging in good spirit, but neither the crow nor she would give in. "I have brought up three children" was her refrain.

But it was clear that something had to be done. Amma was trying to discipline her crow with same ruthlessness she had shown while bringing us up.” Everything in the plate must be finished. There are children starving in the world. Eat up. This is good for you”. Maybe that’s why we loved our crow. My bossy Amma had met her match at last. We were having bets to see who wins. Meanwhile , the crow went on sitting in our window with sad look in his eyes. Amma too had started to look rather frazzled.

Finally this morning, just as I was stepping out, Amma whispered to me, “Get a packet of Chaklis, the broken ones will do. They are cheaper.”


Quicksilver! said…
After being stalked and attacked by a psycho-crow on my evening walks I am on an ‘I-hate-all-the-crows-of-the-world’ stance at the moment.
But I found myself drawn to Amma and her favorite crow thanks to your wonderful writing, Suniti :)
Your writing has the warmth that makes me feel like I am snuggled up in a quilt on a winter’s day. Very, very nice. And perfect, as it is.

P:S: I am wondering if my crow/attacker could be the same crow that Amma has been feeding chakli’s to? Coz he’s really fat-bordering-on-obese…you know…all those chalkis…;)

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