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March 11, 2012

By Jayashree

Hanging on electrical wires, balancing on window panes, chasing red-coloured city buses, sitting atop buildings or travelling on black and yellow cabs, crows are distinctively seen almost everywhere in the city of Mumbai.

Even in the caricatures of India’s renowned cartoonist R.K. Laxman they are somewhere in the picture pecking into food or relishing the fresh catch from a fisherwomen’s basket.

The city’s skyline is dotted with millions of crows, a ubiquitous bird that is woven in Indian folklore, beliefs and superstitions. Many believe that an incessant cawing of a crow at your window signals arrival of guests or heralds good tidings.

That explains 66-year-old, Trikamji Thakker’s daily ritual of lighting a lamp and incense sticks to a crow’s photo before he starts work. This small prayer of the Mumbai-based real estate agent is an act of obeisance he pays to his forefathers and all departed souls from his family.

At the crack of dawn it is not unusual to catch a glimpse of a crow perched on Thakker’s head as he sets out  in north-western suburb, Mulund, to feed his black-winged ‘friends’. It makes for quite a picture on the busy road amid vehicles plying and early risers walking the path occasionally glancing at the familiar sight. Dozens swoop down and around him and several flock behind him clamoring, cawing and eating spicy snacks and savories as he drops them on the pathway, while some literally eat out of his palms!

“I feel a sense of extreme satisfaction when I feed them (crows),” explained Thakker after feeding a drove of crows, a ritual he follows at least four or five times a day. “My mind is always at peace,” he said adding that cooked rice, yogurt and black sesame were also part of the menu.

The practice started some 20 years ago when one morning a crow fortuitously sat on his head. Thakker recounts he felt the weight a bit heavy, but he tried to balance his head and instead of shooing away he fed the bird with food. It did not take long for word to spread around in the building area. Suspicious people in the building area expressed doubts and dismissed the act as an inauspicious phenomenon.

The unassuming middle-class businessman started feeding crows every morning as work of charity. Soon all kinds of birds like pigeons and parakeets joined the party and the troop got only bigger as some stray dogs and cats too found their way into Thakker’s generous offerings that cost him as much as Rs 10,000 per month.

Furious neighbours complained about the aimless presence of crows hovering around the building premises, their constant cawing and bird dropping stained parked cars. The “Kavvawala“ or Crow-man, as he came to be known, felt his devotion could not be disturbed and so offered to pay to clean all dirtied vehicles.

People now attribute his good fortune to compassion for birds and animals.  Thakker and his wife Sushila cannot thank enough for being blessed with fine health and for timely financial support they received during the wedding of their children – three daughters and a son.

Often people join him in the morning walk tucked with food and water in the hope they might unshackle some of their sins. College students capture in their mobile phones that rare picture of a crow sitting on his head.

Feeding crows has a deep-rooted belief in Hindusim, which believes that giving away the first morsel to the bird is akin to paying homage to ancestors and if they are propitiated satisfactorily then good luck was in store for the individual. A bereaved family usually offers the staple rice to crows before collecting the deceased person’s ashes from the crematorium for immersion.

Ornithologists opine that crows are intelligent and opportunists just like the proverbial crow dropping pebbles to drink water from the bottom of a pot.  “Their sense of adaptability has been their success,” explained Isaac Kehimkar, naturalist of the Bombay Natural History Society, of their ever-growing numbers. They are seen as predators that kill eggs of other birds and thrive on garbage – found openly strewn on Mumbai’s roads.



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