This is the story about a crow family that landed on a neem tree adjacent to Hanuman temple. Hanuman, a trusted devotee, and servant of Lord Rama in epic story of Ramayana was half monkey and half human. People worship Hanuman in times of crisis for emotional strength. On the first day, when Akash, the male crow and his wife Neeli took shelter on a neem tree near Hanuman temple, there was a commotion among the long-time resident crows of the neem tree. The crows made uninviting noises, and few flew pretty close to the new resident couple flapping their wings, a sign of hostility towards the new residents.
“This place is inhospitable, and dangerous to live,” said Neeli, the wife.
“ Don’t worry, in a few days time they will get used to us, after all we are new here. Remember when we lived on the tamarind tree in the past, we treated the new comers the same way,” Akash reassured his wife.
“True, but these crows were too boisterous and ugly in their behavior, after all we didn’t intend to take over the entire tree,” the wife lamented.
Dharma, an old crow lives on the top branch of neem tree. When his wife died years ago in the hands of tribe’s man, Dharma continued to live alone. The neem tree resident crows respected Dharma for his sound advice and calm approach to calamities.
Once, when city officials cut down a huge branch of the neem tree to expand the temple below, many crows lost their nests. The angry crows flew over the temple in circles making annoying “crow, crow” sounds.
Dharma intervened to calm down his fellow birds and advised them to move to upper branches for safety from annoyed city officials. If not for Dharma’s advice, many crows could have lost their home for good since one official swore to cut down the entire tree to get rid off the nuisance from the annoying crows.
Dharma intervened this time to prevent the harassment of new arrivals to the neem tree.
“We were not frightened as much as surprised of the hostile behavior of the crows on this tree, said Neeli in a soft voice. We landed on this tree as it brought back memories of our old residence, a tamarind tree in nearby town but was cut down to make room for a housing project,” said Neeli turning her attention to Dharma, a fatherly looking figure.
. “Never mind the intolerance of the resident crows, it was a test to find out how badly you wanted to live on this tree,” Dharma spoke for the first time to the new residents.
Dharma advised the new residents to build their nest on the upper branches to avoid nuisance from the children that gather in the temple yard to play, and adults that cut down the lower branches for twigs to brush their teeth. The bitter neem juice in the twig was considered having germ-fighting quality and good for teeth and gums.
Akash and Neeli used small dry twigs from the neem tree to build their nest in a hurry. When they were hungry, they swallowed soft yellow neem fruits for their sweet pulp, spitting out the bitter seeds.
“Akash, do you think people really eat the neem seeds?” asked Neeli looking at the people on the ground picking up the neem seeds.
“People would always find some use in every thing. Remember those children, and the adults alike used to fight for tamarind pods. I am glad we left the tamarind tree for good. I am sure, they burnt the tamarind tree branches to make coal by this time,” Akash was philosophical about people and their ways.
The nest Akash and Neeli built was awkward like those of many crow nests. “I wish we had small tender beaks like the sparrows to bring small softer objects to built more comfortable nests,” said Neeli looking at a sparrow’s nest not too far from their nest.
“True, but to build a nest like sparrows’, we need lot of materials. Look at our nest, we built it in a few days time. With few twigs placed on the tree branch joint, we were all set. Now, we would go around to steal few shinning metal spoons and small containers to finish the decoration,” Akash was satisfied with his work.
Neeli never liked the stealing part of crows’ life. Neeli’s father and mom stole small shinning metal spoons and containers to decorate their nest. People climbed trees to look for crows’ nests to collect these objects. Some people even threw the crow’s eggs from the nests when looking for these.
“Akash, please don’t steal any objects to decorate our nests, I don’t really care for those, get some coconut coir to place on the floor of the nest so I can lay eggs on soft coir than rough twigs,” murmured Neeli.
“Crow’s nest without even a small stolen object? thought Akash. My parents and their parents stole small objects for decorating their nests, it is a crows tradition to steal,” Akash determined to steal at least one small metal spoon to place in their nest.
But at first, Akash flew over to Dharma, the old crow for his advice on decorating nest with stolen metal objects. “Well, we the crows’ were infamous for stealing small shinning metal objects, even we forgot over the years the reason behind why we steal small metal objects,” said Dharma looking at a few stolen metal small spoons in his own nest.
“The shinning metal objects in the nest would absorb heat from the Sun to keep baby chicks warm, that’s why, we steal shinny objects to place in our nests; not many crows know this, they think the objects are for decoration,” explained Dharma.
“I shall explain this to Neeli to get permission to steal a few metal spoons and small containers thought Akash, flying back to it’s nest in a hurry.”
Ravana, Neeli’s brother had a nice nest on a Mango tree. Rani, Ravana’s wife was proud of their nest, and particularly the stolen goods in their nest. Once in a while Neeli would visit her brother’s nest when searching for food in Ravana’s neighborhood, Rani, though very hospitable towards to Neeli, would always show off their new acquisitions; an odd shaped butter container from seafood restaurant, a small silver spoon from nearby temple, and other knickknacks. For a crow, Ravana has an unusually long beak, and he skillfully used it in stealing all kinds of small metal objects. Ravana always offered a small object as a gift whenever his sister visited him but Neeli never accepted it. Neeli had difficulty in accepting stolen goods as a gift even from her own brother.
One day, while Neeli was attending the household chores of cleaning her nest, the crows on the tree were agitated, some flying low, and others making uninviting crow, crows sounds. The neem tree residents surrounded an unusually large crow the landed on the lower branch of the tree. This crow was much darker with a huge beak as if it came from a different country. The neem tree residents were trying to torment the foreigner to drive him away from the neem tree. Surprisingly, Dharma, the old crow lead the resident crows in harassing the foreign crow. Akash also joined the attacking force to drive off the foreigner. Afterwards, Neeli understood that the large crows live in forests, and not related to crows like her that live in towns. On occasions, the forest crows fly around towns to kidnap young crows to take them back to put to work as slaves in the forests. The town crows immediately identify the forest crows by their unusually large size, and drive them off before they kidnap any of their young ones. Neeli was glad that Akash, and other male birds acted swiftly when they identified the forest crow that landed on the neem tree.
Akash and Neeli had noticed once in a while, an old teacher from a nearby school would bring her class students to the neem tree to explain the benefits of the neem tree. She would show samples of neem tree leaves, twigs, small ripe fruits, and seeds that dropped on the ground to her students, and allow them to taste the bitterness of the twigs. Most students would spit out quickly with disgust after chewing the twig for few seconds. The teacher would then explain the good deeds of crows on the neem tree that drop neem seeds to the ground after eating the sweet fruit pulp. “Not all the people think that crows were a bunch of thieves,” thought Akash and Neeli after listening to what the old teacher had to say about crows. “I wish there were more people out there to crow about our good deeds to the society such as our work as scavengers picking up anything off the street that we can eat,” muttered Neeli with sadness.
The crows have their own town meetings mostly on a warm sunny day. The area crows would gather on a terrace of a high-rise building, and discussed many topics pertaining to their every day living. An experienced old crow like Dharma, and few others shared their life experience with younger crows to protect themselves from the dangers of every day living. Dharma, whose wife died by the hands of a tribes man would always caution crows to be wary of tribes men roaming the streets with a slingshot in their hand looking for easy prey such as unsuspecting crows resting on utility lines or posts, or those flying low. Young crows were also warned not to be tempted to feed on food placed at certain areas as some wicked people would poison crows by tricking them to eat poisoned food.
Dharma would always close his presentation by concluding that death by accident on landing on power lines would be less painful, and quick than dying slowly in the hands of cruel tribes men or by feeding on poisoned food some unscrupulous people might offer to unsuspecting birds.
Akash and Neeli were now established residents of the neem tree. If crows in search of a new home were to land on the neem tree, Akash and Neeli would welcome them in friendly voice, and other residents crowed along with them. While the new comers build their nest, the resident crows would give them metal objects as kind of house or nest warming gifts, a new tradition, Akash and Neeli introduced to help settle crows landing on the neem tree.
On occasions, people gathered under the neem tree to pray to the village goddess. The ceremony was colorful with women who danced as if they were possessed by the drumbeat. People were fearful of cutting down neem trees from fear of curse from unknown spirits. Akash and Neeli felt safe to live on the neem tree.
One day, Neeli to her disappointment laid only one egg. She surrounded herself among small metal containers to keep herself warm while sitting on the egg to incubate it. One day, a small chick began to appear while the eggshell slowly cracked open. Neeli with her beak helped the chick to get out of the broken shell. Akash sat not too far from the nest and observed the entire delicate proceedings with utmost affection, and love towards Neeli, and the newborn.
The metal objects in the nest maintained warmth around the newborn chick when Neeli rested outside the nest for short periods of time. Akash flew constantly to get as much food he could gather to feed Neeli who spent most time with the chick.
One afternoon, not too far from the neem tree, the resident crows were flying low, and crowed constantly. On the ground was Dharma who laid dead not too far from a live power line. Akash was saddened to find his mentor dead, but he was relieved that Dharma was not shot by a tribes man or poisoned. Dharma was lucky that he died the way he preferred, quick and painless. Akash brought the sad news to Neeli resting in the nest. Neeli immediately flew over the area where Dharma’s body was laying dead, and saw few mongrel dogs fighting for Dharma’s dead body.
The chick grew quickly. Akash and Neeli named their chick SuDharma, as a remembrance of their old friend Dharma. . SuDharma practiced flying, and landing safely on the neem tree branches. His legs were at first feeble, and had trouble landing firmly on the branches, but as the body grew stronger, SuDharma learned how to land firmly, and how to take-off without tumbling.
“We the crows were neither pretty like parrots or peacocks, nor do we receive designated areas in zoo, but we live on our own, scavenging the streets, a public service not always recognized,” lectured Neeli on a routine basis to her son SuDharma.
Akash and Neeli encouraged their son to take the initiative to start his own life as the chick transformed into a young adult. They gave the same advice they received from Dharma: fly high, and out of reach of tribes men, and never to feed on easy food as it could be poisoned.
“Please drop by us, if you are to be in this area and don’t forget to visit your uncle Ravana,” said Neeli while SuDharma made final flight preparations to leave his parents’ nest.
SuDharma crowed good bye to his parents and flew unsteadily around the neem tree. Then soared high into the sky, headed east with his wings flapping up and down gracefully looking for a tree - mango, tamarind or a neem, to build a nest to start a family of it’s own.
About the Author: Subba Rao live in Sioux City with his wife Radha and daughter Samantha.