I am either a schizophrenic or a downright hypocrite when it comes to my attitude towards animals. At the same time that I cajole my dog-hating wife to allow me a puppy in the house, I would definitely be sorry to see Kentucky Fried Chicken pack up and leave the country.
I have nothing against birds though. The cuckoo drives me to distraction on many a moonlit night. The kingfisher's perfect somersault leaves me speechless. I have tarried patiently by peacocks for an opportunity to watch them dance. The magnificent curve of a flamingo's neck fascinates me and, quite unpardonably, I adore the sight of little chicks scampering about.
Yet there are boundaries I will not cross. I do not enjoy the company of rodents, of spiders, of cockroaches, and, among birds, of crows. I detest crows. I am repulsed by their looks, their raucous caws and their untidy nests. Besides, dirty fish-bones on my balcony, along with other filth, are daily reminders of their slovenly habits.
I was more than a little surprised, therefore, by the agony I felt the other morning, to discover a group of little boys shriek with delight as they pulled at a string fastened firmly to the claws of a baby crow. It had not yet learnt to fly properly and must have crashed on the pavement during one of its training sessions. The miserable thing believed that the way to freedom lay in flapping its wings, which it did with all its might, much to the merriment of its captors. As it was dragged along the rough surface of the pavement, it parted its beak and cawed in a hoarse whisper, revealing the raw redness of a mouth unaccustomed to anything other than the infinite tenderness of a feeding mother.
It took me all the powers of persuasion to put a stop to this horror and make the boys untie the string.
Later on in the afternoon, I searched for the crow on my way out for a stroll. The local presswallah pointed it out to me as it perched precariously on a heap of rubble close to the edge of the pavement. I went near to have a closer look and check if the string was truly detached. The bird recoiled in panic and, losing its foothold, tumbled down the slope right into the middle of the street.
Just then a Maruti van whizzed past, far too close to the spot where the hapless crow had landed. I winced in fear and closed my eyes. When I opened them at last, prepared mentally to absorb a gory spectacle, I could hardly believe what I saw. The creature was wobbling back towards the pavement on a return trip to life!
I gazed at the scene and found myself wondering how soon it would pay a visit to my balcony.
And then I winced again, this time in disgust.