TW: Attack by a crow
It was in the summer of 1984 when the crow first started attacking my father. Boom! It began, just like that. None of us can remember what started it. One day everything was fine, and then the next, my dad was the crow’s sworn enemy, a mortal threat, a foe to be vanquished.
The attack would happen when my father left for work in the morning, at 8.30 am. At the time, we had just moved to Delhi for his new job and he was driving his own car to work. This was before he’d secured the perk of getting a chauffeur. Now that I think of it, if he’d had a chauffeur, he could have recruited him as an ally in the battle against the crow. But no such luck. It was man against beast. Or rather, man against bird.
Those days we lived on the second floor of a two storey building. Next to the building was a driveway, with a wall separating us from the house next door. On the first floor dwelt a family of curmudgeons, Mr and Mrs Sethi, and their two kids. We shared the driveway with them. And there was always some kerfuffle about whose car was parked where.
My dad would come down the stairs and walk down the driveway to his car. Bam! The crow would be upon him. The first time, it took him by surprise. It dive-bombed and swooped down on his scalp. My dad gave a cry and ducked, a few seconds too late. The crow fluttered off with a few hairs from his head in its mouth.
That night, when my dad came back from work, he told us the story.
“You won’t believe what happened this morning,” he said.
“What?” said my mother.
“I was attacked by a crow,” he said. “You know that big tree right in front of the house?” he asked.
“Yes,” we nodded, my sister, mother and I.
“Well, it just flew out of there and attacked me.” He placed a few fingers on the crown of his head, still in disbelief, feeling for the patch that had lost a few hairs. He was in shock. We’d had a few skirmishes since we’d moved to Delhi from down south, but so far, scrapes with flora and fauna had not played a part.
The thing that baffled my father was how this could happen given his essentially kind nature. He’s the sort of guy who goes out of his way to save insects, spiders, centipedes, snails and the like. When my mother would see one of these in the house and scream, my father would run and find a newspaper with which to rescue the little creature and set it free in the wild. Of course his behavior extended to all manner of animals and birds. His favorite books are by James Herriot and Gerald Durrell. So he felt especially aggrieved that the crow had decided to wage war against him for no apparent reason.
“I didn’t do anything to it,” he said plaintively, though none of us had accused him of a crime.
Talking of skirmishes, at this time, my dad had a long standing feud with our downstairs neighbor. My father could be as ornery with people as he could be accommodating with animals. The problem was the driveway. It did not allow for two cars to be parked side by side, only two cars to be parked one behind the other. In our family, we were of the early to bed, early to rise variety. The Sethis were Punjabis, late to bed, late to rise. The kind of people who knew how to have a good time, an art my family has never mastered. The upshot of this was that my dad’s car was always the first to be parked in the driveway, but then also, inconveniently, the first that had to be taken out in the morning.
Poor Mr. Sethi. My dad would ring their bell every morning at 8.30 am and ask that his car be moved, so my dad could get our car out and be on his way to work. And Mr Sethi would eventually emerge in his pajamas, bleary eyed, a scowl on his face, to do the deed.
Besides having his sleep disturbed so he could move his car for my dad, Mr Sethi had other reasons to dislike my father. My dad was dashing, with a shock of thick black hair, and a lean physique. Mr Sethi? Sadly, not so much. Fate had claimed most of his hair early, and the sun bounced off his bald crown. He was portly, at best, with a belly that hung over his belt. There were definitely reasons for him to envy my dad.
Of course much of this could have been avoided if my dad had parked his car on the street, under the tree. Or if Mr. Sethi had. But neither of them did this. Instead, they indulged in this bit of theater every morning, my dad, nursing his grievance, asking Mr Sethi to move his car, and Mr Sethi, nurturing his annoyance, therefore taking his time, just a little, to move the car.
I’ll show you, he thought, you south Indian you.
But this morning, something was different.
“Why your huss-bend was wearing a hat?” said Mrs Sethi later that day, to my mother.
“Oh,” said my mother,” “he’s being attacked by that crow.”
“What crow?” said Mrs Sethi. My mother reported that she’d detected a significant amount of glee in Mrs Sethi's response.
“You know,” said my mother. “The crow that lives in the tree.”
“We’ve never seen it,” said Mrs Sethi, joyfully. At last, an area where Mrs Sethi had bested my mum. She might have married the less dashing husband, her daughter might have gotten worse grades in school than I did, but in the department of cordial relations with crows, she’d come out ahead.
“It’s our misfortune,” said my mother, deciding to add to Mrs Sethi’s joy.
The next morning, my dad went down again sporting his hat. The crow dive-bombed, and my dad ducked and took shelter on the Sethi's porch. Before he could ring the bell and ask for Mr Sethi, the lord of the manor emerged.
“Arrey, good morning Raman,” said Mr Sethi. “I hear a crow is attacking you?”
“Yes,” said my dad, forlorn.
Did he look a couple of inches shorter in the eyes of Mr Sethi because he took shelter on their porch? Perhaps. Perhaps to Mr Sethi he became a whole new guy, a guy who'd lost his shine, no longer perfect, a guy who had, at long last, revealed a terrible flaw. A crow magnet.
“Don’t worry, I’ll get the car out imme-jately,” said Mr Sethi, a knight to the rescue. He moved with a new alacrity, reversing his car out smoothly. A happy smile played upon his lips as he watched my hat-clad dad emerge from the porch and jump quickly into his car.
The crow watched from the sidelines.
As the weeks passed, the crow did not let up. Whenever it got a chance, it would dive-bomb and try to attack my dad. In fact my dad had to give up the hat and take to bringing an umbrella downstairs with him for greater protection.
“Arrey, it’s not raining Raman,” Mr Sethi would say cheerfully as he jumped into his car to take it out. There was no end to the entertainment my dad’s new accoutrements provided Mr Sethi, no better salve for his ego.
I now understand more about corvid behavior, so I can see that what was going on was actually a continuing reflection of the superior physical prowess of my dad compared to Mr Sethi. Crows will dive-bomb anyone they view as a threat, without provocation, when they have babies in the nest. And within the two families, the only person whom they viewed as a worthy threat was my dad. Mr Sethi -- short, balding and pudgy -- was no threat to them at all. But at the time we had no google and little understanding of crows, so we knew nothing of this.
My mother and I can't piece together what transpired, but a few months later, the crow no longer attacked my dad. Maybe the little ones had left the nest and it no longer feared potential dangers. Maybe it moved to another tree. Maybe it suddenly realized my dad was a kindly soul who would never harm a baby crow. All I can tell you is that by late summer, my dad no longer wore a hat or carried an umbrella when he went downstairs to get into his car.
And Mr Sethi? I guess the crow stole his smile when it flew away, as he reverted back to his grumpy self. And Mrs Sethi began a new tradition. When my dad rang their bell, she would open the door, hand their car keys over to my dad and say, “Mr Sethi is sleeping. Could you just move the car yourself?” Which my dad did. Happily.