Monday, April 15, 2013


When it comes to spirits of the dead, I assume, they have a free will to do whatever it is that please them. It’s been a month since this has been happening as a rule- an unusual visitor moving in to spend the day in the house. It came and went on a daily basis. This is how the routine worked; at around quarter past six in the morning it flies in from nowhere and installs itself on the branch of the drumstick tree that extends under the sun shade of the first floor living room. It perches there for the entire run of the day in a very proficient tableau vivant. At around quarter to seven in the evening, it propels out into the dark, only to return at exactly quarter past six the very next morning and gets into character all over again. This has been going on for closely a month now at the house of a friend who buzzes me one night and says, “What do you know about owls?” She sounded a little worried.

Caught completely by surprise, I give a thorough account of every bit of middle school knowledge at my disposal about how this bird of prey could see in the dark and everything! Shutting me right there, she fills me in on those daily visitations. Like me, it did not bother her either, but only up until one of her brother’s friends said they are a breed of ill omen that brought bad luck. “Should I shoo it away?” she sounds like Shelly Duvall from The Shining. Hang on; it’s just a bird- harmless as it seemed- and as low maintenance as it was- soliciting for a little shelter! Pffft! Didn’t seem all that omeny!  These winged hunters obviously had to park somewhere to digest their nocturnal game. Now, given that their eyes were sharper at night only made day time their bed time. Case cracked. But that was not it. At the time, I was absolutely ignorant about the way the world looked at this bird. What I do then is, I wisely dive into the background of this creature right away. The first thing that I trip on is the fact that these birds carried spirits of the dead according to many Native American Tribes. The Aztecs and the Mayans considered owl as a symbol of death. Chalchiuhtecolotl, the owl-god of the Aztec was a herald of Mictlantecuhtli, their god of death. Of the Africans, the Kikuyu’s of Kenya also believed that they were harbingers of death and disease. The Arabs, the Chinese, the English, the Romanians and the Romans also associated bad news with the bird, and deaths of famous Romans including Julius Caesar were apparently presaged by owl-hoots. In the process, I also find creepier facts about owls that they can spin their heads all the way around. Phew!
However the Greek and the Indians seemed to preserve a slightly different view of the guardian of the dark. Owl was the bird of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity. Suddenly the bird begins to change shape; it represents wisdom, wealth, victory and helpfulness here. So did it in the northern parts of England.

Now when wealth weighs against death, you had to invest concern on the uncanny of the two. So I buzz my disoriented friend and say, “Shoo it away. It apparently brings death. It’s no good outside the living room window anyway and it doesn’t even amuse your guests!” My words did not even pretend to conceal the pressure of superstition on me.

“But it’s cute! (No shit!) And I don’t feel like hurting its habits. (Raining crap!) Mom and Dad look forward to it every day. (OMG!) It’s become a routine for them. Once we shoo it off, it’ll never return. (Weep!) Moreover I think this is the barn owl, not the spooky one, and I hear they cost you a bomb in the illegal market! (Pause…long one)”
Twist in the tale! Quick exchange of pictures, and we confirm it’s the barn owl- the probable million bucks!
“Why don’t we sell it off?” The scare gives way to greed in no time. Human instincts, I tell you!
“Because it’s illegal. That’s why!”
“But nobody has to know!” (just a thought... But don't kill the messenger!)

Barn Owls are apparently a major target of illegal trafficking in India for various purposes. Its different parts such as skull, feathers, ear tufts, claws, heart, liver, kidney, blood, eyes, fat, beak, tears, eggshells, meat and bones are apparently used for ceremonial pujas and rituals as prescribed by tantriks in black magic and sorcery. Golly! Not a part of this spirit- carrier goes waste! 

 They are also captured and trained for street performances and fights in small towns. Here they don't merely stick to Barn owls. Rock eagle owls and spotted owls are also given an audience.
These birds are killed for certain folk medicines as well. Various tribes are also known to eat them. Hence, all that money riding on it. All inside the progressive nation that’s trying hard to rub the canonical snake-charmer image off its shoulder.

Suddenly an element of sympathy pushes in. After fright and greed it’s time for some quality compassion. And there still sitting on the drumstick tree outside the first floor living room is the scope of perhaps a million bucks, not knowing squat about its worth. Sigh!The bird has a new name in the family- Pepsi! Goodness gracious... identity et al! What more could one ask for!

1 comment:

  1. Woooo,very entertaining and informative. I started off thinking to myself I'll just read the first para and b4 I realized, I not only read the entire content but was wishing the blog was longer. Good job Jitu


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