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Saturday, January 18, 2020

Pecking Order

There was uproar at the feeding plinth.

Written by Ranjit Lal | New Delhi | Published: May 19, 2013 8:33:34 pm

Following the Supreme Court’s censure of the Central Bureau of Investigation for being a “caged parrot” and echoing “its master’s voice” in the coal scam report,Ranjit Lal imagines the repercussions in the avian universe

There was uproar at the feeding plinth. Mitoo,head honchess of the parakeets,had made an outrageous proposal. “I think,” she said,“the time has come for us parakeets to be declared the national bird of this country.”

“I think,” said Totaji,her aide-de-camp,“the time has come for us parakeets to be declared the national bird of this country.”

She waited for the babble to die down. It took about three days. “I make this demand,because just recently,human beings have been compared to us.”

“I make this demand…”

“Shut up Totaji!”

“Shut up Totaji!”

Of course,the peacocks set up a deafening,mewling protest,threatening to go on an immediate “No-dance-unto-death” strike. Mitoo eyed Morbhai with disgust.

“Look at you,” she sneered. “Have you ever heard yourself? And do get a change of footwear. Preening and prancing like that! Birds are starving and driven to extinction everywhere.”

“But we have been admired for our great beauty for over 5,000 years.”

“Pah,we have brains! We repeat what human beings say. We repeat without knowing the meaning of what they or we are saying. That’s pure genius. Beat that!”

“Pah! We have brains…”

“Shut up Totaji”

“Shut up…”

“I think we should be the national bird,” declared Chiddi,the house sparrow. “We’ve been declared the state bird of Delhi,which is the capital.”

“Don’t get above yourself. You can’t even be found in the chief minister’s residence,let alone Race Course Road anymore!”

“Don’t get above…”



“Intelligent? You are intelligent?” Kawwa,the house crow,was withering in his contempt. “It’s been widely accepted that we corvids are the most intelligent birds on the planet. We should be the national bird.”

All the birds turned to look at the crow with derision. “You lot are nothing but a bunch of thugs. You’ll be vasectomising every other species the moment you come into power.”

Adrak the Indian myna spoke up. “For your kind information,the great Dr Salim Ali,deemed that one of our species,the Hill Myna was the best talking bird in the country. So we should be the national bird.”

Mitoo’s eyes bulged a bit. “That’s nepotism! You want to be called the national bird just because some pahadi chacha-maama-ka-bachcha was declared a talking bird about a 100 years ago. Go feed a white goat. All you do is brawl in the dust all day and evict rightful nest-holders from their residences. Taking illegal possession of all the flyovers in Delhi!”

“That’s nepo…oops,sorry!”

“Excuse me…guturgooo,” gurgled Gutur,the blue rock dove. “Aren’t you all forgetting something? We are the most numerous birds in Delhi — and in most cities — so we have the majority.” He bowed and pirouetted; “besides,we’re international symbols of peace. So we should be the national bird.”

And yet again there was unity at the feeding plinth.

“Hai-hai! Never.”

“Besharam (Shameless).”

“There are so many of you because you do it 16 times a day.”

“In public!”

“One on top of the other!”

“Appearing on the internet!”

“Always eve-teasing.”

“Upsetting everyone’s sentiments!”

“Corrupting our culture!”

“Sharam nahin aati hai? Aren’t you ashamed?”

“But we’re international symbols of peace! World leaders and politicians and little children release us into the to promote peace and goodwill amongst mankind.”

“You don’t have brains,otherwise you would have thought that through,” Mitoo began,witheringly. “Everyone has seen the way you fight — pulling each other’s throats out,flapping and slapping each other in people’s air-conditioning ducts,disturbing their sleep. Why do you think you’ve been declared birds of peace? Because you’re not,you dodo.”

“You don’t have brains…”

“Totaji will you shut up?”

“Totaji will you shut up — oh sorry,that’s me!”

There was a flurry as Cheel,the black kite,dived down.

“We kites should be the national bird. From where we fly,we get a bird’s eye view of what’s going on,and can make the most informed decisions.”

Again,there was unity.

“Never! You eat non-veg.”

“Including stinking dead things!”

“Ganda (dirty)!”

“Hai-hai,we”ll all have to bathe in the Ganges now.”

But the birds would still not accept Mitoo’s proposal at face value.

“We want proof — irrevocable proof that you are indeed the most intelligent. That indeed,you do not know the meaning of what you’re saying when you repeat what you hear. Documentary proof.”

“Okay,we shall set up an independent commission to inquire into the matter.” Mitoo finally agreed. “But you know even human beings learn just like us. Go to any school and listen to the little ones prattling their lessons ad verbatim. Do you think they know what “abcd…efg…hijklomenop,” means? Or nine ones are nine,nine twos are eighteen…?”

But when the report of the Commission of Inquiry was submitted to Mitooji,the guano hit the fan.

“What is the meaning of this?” she shrilled. “Who is this wretched Pepperberg female who did research and proved that her African Grey Parrot,Alex,did indeed know the meaning of what it was saying,and so could actually think? If that was true,then,according to human beings we are not as intelligent as they are,because we understand what we say. We will never be accepted as the national bird. This is disastrous!”

“You know madam,apparently once the bird even told Pepperberg to ‘calm down’ when she was upset!”

“I will not calm down!” Mitoo shouted. “I’m not upset!”

But then a gleam entered her eye. “Give me a pen,” she said,and got to work. “There,” she said at last,“this is the version of the report that you shall repeat to the other species. I have just improved the language and shown that we do not know the meaning of what we repeat. That,like humans,we are intelligent. Also,your grammar and spelling is atrocious.”

“Give me a pen…,” said Totaji.

(Ranjit Lal is an author,environmentalist and bird watcher)

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