Crow-nology

As a child, I’ve always hated crows despite the fact that they come in my favourite colour, black. And unlike my hatred for other things, this particular hatred for crows was not irrational. Somehow, today there is no remains of this hatred anywhere in me because Crows don’t come and go like poeple do, especially when you live in a place like Tirunelveli, where it never feels winter enough for the birds to migrate.

My previous neighbourhood was a crow free zone. Thanks to the people who were obsessed with pleasing the goddess, Mupudathi Amman by playing Rajini’s intro songs on repeat loudly, even at night. The goddess also liked crackers but the crows hated it so they never came to our neighbourhood to shit on bald-headed uncles. 

While things went smooth this way, one day, the crows decided to attack me. I was on my way to school, walking with my heavy school bag. From nowhere or perhaps from the neem tree nearby, three crows came at me without hesitation and pecked on my head. Tok Tok tok tok tok. I did something like a somersault and ran mad submitting myself entirely to the demands of my adrenaline rush. From then, every time I see a crow I run. 

When we moved to Madurai, the school I went to was where all the crows of Madurai came for lunch. People threw chillies, chicken bones, uncooked beans and several other things at them and they ate happily. This was the worst lunchmare I’ve ever had. It was  more worse than being forced to finish the pudalangai (Bottlegourd) kootu at the dining table on Sunday lunches. I skipped going to lunch at school for a week but that didn’t help either because they came to the corridors and cawed at me. I decided to make my peace with the crows. I said to myself “they’re just birds who can’t even migrate.” 

***

I have no memory of crows in my adolescence. My memory from that particular period is reserved for nonjan boys who were mostly lean and used kerchiefs and all the girls who danced with me in most absurd places one can think of. 

***

The first thing I noticed about Bangalore when I moved there for my UG was: it is no city for crows and neem trees. Bangalore is for birds who prefer purple sunsets to tangerine sunsets like  Pigeons. Bangalore pigeons know how to make homes under flyovers and in other people’s terrace. They seem evolved enough to live in tree-less spaces. 

However, when Kani akka’s vada shop which also sold potato bajjis with ketchup popped outside my hostel, a crow also started visiting the hostel. It would sit on the branch of a butterfruit tree that stood right next to our front gate and watch the squirrels that lived on the tree. It was the most mannered crow I’ve ever met. It’d wait patiently and watch the customers eat and the flew down swiftly and nibble away all the bits people drop when they eat carelessly during a conversation. That crow was the unpaid server that Kani akka had to clean the part of the pathway her makeshift vada shop occupied. “This guy comes wherever I go. I dont know how he manages to find my shop when I shift it to somewhere else. Very decent fellow.” she said one day. “Maybe it is a Tamil kaka” I replied. We both giggled. 

When I returned to Bangalore after my summer vacation in 2018, Kani akka and the crow weren’t there. An unanticipated disappointment was what I felt. Who is supposed to feed me potato bajjis with ketchup? If not the crow, who will listen to me singing vaseegara, every time I come out of the shower?

***

Fast forward to now. I no longer hate crows. In fact, I’m friends with one. 

Ma named the crow, Hepsi. We wanted to name her Harriet, after my grandma because we initially thought that it was our grandma. We don’t usually beleive in these weird connections that the Hindu religion has come up with but when the crow came everyday and cawed at us as if she was on duty to come and yell at us every morning we couldn’t believe otherwise. Then we realized that the crow cawed out of hunger. 

“I don’t think this is ma. You know, she will starve if she has to but she’ll never come to me asking for food.” amma said. I nodded agreement. 

Hepsi likes karvaadu a lot. She also like idlis and lemon rice. She doesn’t trust food that doesn’t wobble when pecked. She is scared of Kadlamittai. 

Hepsi flying away with a karuvaad

She caws so much leaving us with no choice but to imagine what she is trying to convey. On days we run out of interesting dreams to share while chopping veggies, we try and decipher Hepsi’s monologue. 

“Maybe she is tellings us not to eat too much sugar.” 

“She is telling you not to eat all the tomatoes you chop for pachidi. Chopped tomatoes are not appetizers” 

“She is yelling at Stripes(our kitten) for stealing his Karvaadu”

“She says she likes me more than she likes you” 

“She wants poori today”

“She doesn’t like to be photographed”

Somedays, she wouldn’t come. On those days, the Mynahs nextdoor happily eat the idlis and go away without talking to us. 

***

Letter to the person who formerly owned my copy of The Colour Purple

Dear P,

It’s raining here, not the cats and dogs kind, more of sparrows and crows kind. How is it over there? I hope you’re doing okay in this Pandemic.

Sometime in Feb, when I went to Bangalore, I visited Blossoms and returned with a bagful of books and one among them is your copy of ‘The Colour Purple’. That same day, I started reading it while waiting for my bus to arrive at the waiting area of the KPN travels. The air was neither moist nor salty, it was just dry enough to make your nose itch. There was too much noise both outside and in my head that made Celie’s accented words wobble, leaving it unreadable that day. When I came home, I put the book near Adichie’s The Thing around your neck and never returned to it. The Blossom Book House bill that I used as a bookmark waited for me to come back to it on Page 3.

I started reading it again this July for the Siisterhood reading group. The book had me in it’s grip right from the first page. The way you underlined things in blue and red inks alternatively irritated me initially then i got used to it. I really liked reading the notes you left on the margins. It felt almost as if I was reading two different texts sometimes. And the parts where you had just underlined something and not written a word about it, had me wondering why you would’ve underlined those lines.

Ever since I came back from Bangalore, I’ve developed a habit of reading on my phone in bed at night. I did so to give no room to the unpleasant thoughts, for I tend to collect them as if they were souvenirs given by friends that had to go somewhere in the kitchen. So I read the book on my phone as well. In the morning, I would again go through the pages that I read the previous night on my phone only to read your notes. Most of the time, you would’ve already marked all the lines and paragraphs that I wanted to mark and I’m thankful for that. I wish the lines weren’t so shaky, though.

I didn’t think I’d miss you until I reached page 123 which seemed blank despite being filled with printed letters. The twenty pages that followed didn’t have any of your scribbles and markings. It felt as if you haven’t read the rest of the pages. Then, you were there again in the pages writing words- like education, abuse, bad, no talking, resistance and generational conflict- that didn’t make much sense. I thought those words were there to remind you of what those paragraphs meant to you.

I’m pretty assured that your favourite part of the novel is when Celie finally talks back to Mr.______ and tells him that she is gonna leave with Shug because you’ve underlined with utmost precision each and every line of these two pages. Beside the paragraph that reads, ” Shug look at me and us giggle. Then us laugh sure nuff. Then Squeak start to laugh. Then Sofia. All us laugh and laugh”, you’ve written: Powerful! Women laugh at men.

My favourite part is when Celi and Shug finally get together. I also love the part where Shug tells what God means to her. Here is a paragraph that Celie has written about sleeping next to Shug.

“Me and Shug sound asleep, her back to me, my arms round her waist. What it like? Little like sleeping with mama, only I can’t hardly remember sleeping with her. Little like sleeping with Nettie, only sleeping with Nettie never feel this this good. It warm and cushiony, and I feel Shug’s big tits sorta flop over my arms like suds. It feel like heaven is what it feel like, not like sleeping with Mr.______ at all.”

At the end of page 250 in the letter that Celie writes to Nettie, she tells ” Oh, Nettie, us have a house”. You’ve written,(finally with a pencil), “Pure joy”. And after that, you disappear again to never come back. I don’t think you’ve finished the novel. So I want to tell you how it gets over. It gets over happily. These are the last lines

“But I don’t think us feel old at all. And us so happy. Matter of fact, I think this the youngest us ever felt”

Whenever Alice Walker’s words made me feel heavy, I would stop and just ruminate those words, taking sips of earthy flavoured water from my copper bottle. Then, I’d read more pages and feel heavier. Was it too heavy for you to read? Is that why you stopped mid-way?

I wish one day you’ll find the loose and comfy pants like the ones Celie stitches.

Tata, K, who is wondering why you sold your copy

Room-ing

I have a room in the new house we just moved into. all for myself and the cats. there is nothing green in the room but there are too many hues of gold from the sun that falls at different places as the morning slowly morphs into the evening. I still haven’t figured out what I want to do with this space but I’m grateful for this room. I’m not sure if I’ll write fiction here but this will be where I’ll watch the kittens grow and read Joan Didion’s ‘In Bed’ essay whenever I feel strong enough to conquer migraines before they do the same to me. 

This room might stay the same or its walls might shed paints when monsoon brings thunders and rains or I might get overwhelmed of this place and flee it or the empty corners will find some furniture for company or the kittens who’ve just arrived might become cats and colonize my room. so I want to remember this room for all the unknown feelings it has stirred inside me. I want to remember how it was and what it had on the day I unpacked my things here and called it my room. here is a list of things that selectively listen to my sighs, my loud heartbeats, and 80’s Illayaraja songs that I listen to while scrolling through my phone all day:

  1. single cot (which I’ll use only to lie down and read with my legs crossed. it has one pillow that is currently of no use. perhaps, I’ll place my hot laptop on it and write when I get bored of the study table. this is where I’ll also come running when tears start somewhere between my eyebrows for no particular reason.)
  2. a steel table (painted in a dark olive green it stands near a corner. on top is my journal; a notebook which has selected lines and paragraphs from things I read; a mug that works as a pen stand; an elephant idol carved out of a grey stone that I got from the antique shop in the commercial street; and my glass case. I call it the study table)
  3. a red chair
  4. a bookshelf (I’ve categorized them into books by women authors, Indian authors, Tamil authors, and other foreign male authors except for Marquez cause his books like to stay with Tamil authors)
  5. a cloth stand (this is where my nude colour bras hang and dance along with the breeze)
  6. a window with a roll down screen (they know how much I try to befriend the crows around)
  7. four kittens (three browns and a grey)
  8. a wooden corner straight under the switchboard (i store all my jewellry here.)

Fire

Sita and Radha find themselves in a household where their desire and self-respect means nothing to the men they cook for and live with. They have no one but each other. In this solitude, they find love and fall in it. This is their story.

Queer relationships are very generous in a sense that it lets us experience intimacy in moments that might appear mundane. In the first frame, we see Radha massaging oil into Sita’s scalp. Radha is coy and Sita is calm. They look into the mirror and smile with one cheek and no teeth. This is the intimacy I’m talking about- the kind that doesn’t require walls.

Scenes from Ramayanaya where Sita is asked to take the fire test by Ram, is dispersed here and there in the film. Towards the end, we find Radha caught in a fire. Her husband instead of helping her, leaves her because he doesn’t know how to deal with the fact that his wife is in love with his sister-in-law. The screen goes blank for a few seconds. I thought she’d burn but she escapes. The fire doesn’t harm her just like how it didn’t harm Sita in Ramayana. There is no sin and no guilt.

– Fire, dir. Deepa Mehta (1998)

Talking Parrots. Purple flowers.

I ran away from the marriage function we were supposed to attend into the streets of Reddiarpatti. The houses were glued to one another- no compound walls and front yards and no trees. All the front doors ajar, tempting you to go find the house that is erupting with the smell of karuvattu kulambu. In one of those houses sat a lady with the parrot on her shoulders and a cholavu on her lap, rolling beedis. She gave a wide smile that one can’t easily give away to a stranger. I don’t think I smiled back. I was pissed with the orange frock I wore. It was pricking everywhere. 

I sat with her. She hasn’t made lunch yet. Perhaps, the piercing karuvattu kulambu smell is coming from the next house. “Ponnu, paer enna?” She asks. “Kiruba”. My concentration was slowly drifting away from the smells to the parrot that sat on her shoulder,  tilting its neck now and then, doing some Prabhu Deva type moves. 

“Doesn’t fly away?” I ask. She shakes her head sideways and the parrot imitates her. We talked about the parrot for a long time. By now, I know where it sleeps, how it came to her, what it eats and what it likes to watch on TV. All this while, her dry-brown fingers ignore me and continue to roll beedis with a rhythm that I wasn’t familiar with. 

We left with the parrot. She sits on my shoulders with its claws always ready to drill holes into my skin. She likes guavas and coriander stems. Our calling bell was the first sound she imitated. My name, the second. She hates my uncle but I didn’t ask her to. We called her ‘Jo’. She calls out her name, when she smells fruits. She flew away one day with the other parrots that used to come and call her every day. 

I wonder what is the name of the woman who wore purple flowers. What is the name of the woman who gives away long smiles and talking parrots? 

Three rooms+ one

The dog; birds who are okay with monogamy; two gold fishes that don’t have a tint of gold but only orange and a portrait of Ambedkar own the first room. There is a long cot with no bed, where you sit and watch the goats and neem trees.It is not for you to lie down.

The second room smells of kothamalli. We all sit there and play something like monopoly, we call it business. It goes on for hours and hours. You’re hungry but the fact that you now own the river Thamirabarani because of the game makes you feel empowered. The same feel that you get while reading Woolf. You’ll lose the game eventually and the migraine creeps back into your nerves. Your hunger is crawling towards your head.

Kitchen is the third room with a door and no windows. It is too dark for anyone to find if the idli has bloomed and the tomatoes have shredded their peels in the pan sizzling with sesame oil. 

Plus one is the area above. There is a ladder in the second room that’ll let you in. The iron ladder and the room above share the same kind of cold that seeps into your nails. “This is where I paint” she tells you. While she shows her paintings, you take a peek at the small balcony that she keeps. There are three pots, few pink and yellow flowers and it is green everywhere else. 

Your brother doesn’t like the place as much as you. You liked it so much that you thought you should write about it.

Second house


It wasn’t yours. You wish it was though. It is a tiny fairy-tale kind of house with a tiny balcony were birds with multi colour tails chirp in the mornings. Not too loud to wake you up but you can hear them in your early morning dreams. The balcony was perfect for the Christmas tree and the tiny blinking lights, for having lazy morning breakfast like oats, to do maths homework in your study table which comes with an attached chair and to sleep in when your mom kicks you out because you tried to elope with yourself.


This house on the first floor has only two rooms, a kitchen for two and a very cosy washroom that made you bath for a little more longer than you used to and an Almira attached to its pista green wall. You demanded that you need more than one row in the Almira to keep your uniforms and church dresses but amma and appa never took you seriously. In the first room your dad’s shoes were ubiquitous that your mom chucked his new branded shoes in anger one day.


There were so many coconut trees and a mango tree which taught you how to climb trees. There were so many fatty ants in that mango tree that bit you sometimes and tickled you the other time so it didn’t really bother you. The grandma who is the owner of the house unlike other owners encouraged you to do whatever you wanted to. She sometimes reminded you of your ammachi.


Your first photoshoot was taken in this terrace. You got ready for your Bharatanatyam performance and appa took that greyish silver colour camera, inserted the batteries and the film roll. He asked you to pose and you did. The coconut trees made a perfect background, you thought when the photo finally came from the photo studio. Amma said that you looked like a Tanjore doll.


This is the house were your mom made a lot of exotic dishes. She took notes from TV shows to make you prawn biryani. She baked and always gave you a dessert after Sunday lunch. Geeta aunty who lived in the opposite house was your only friend in the neighbourhood. She was a brown plum with a long dark hair. She too appreciated your mom’s cooking skills whenever your mom gave her Sunday lunches in your tiffin box.
This house was too small to hold all the things that the family had. There were high chances for you to fall while you walked in the house like a romcom heroine. You favourite corner of the house had a long mirror that got the exact amount of sunlight it required. Whenever you got ready to school you adjusted your pleated skirts and combed your hair in front of it. whenever mom came to comb her hair you asked her why you had a darker complexion than her.

Now, she complains her skin is aging and looks badly tanned and you remind her how it used to be the opposite when you lived in the second house.