The case of the missing crows

This is in continuation to my previous blog post.

I stumbled upon – or almost ran into – the reason why no crows showed up on that fateful Kanu Pongal day.

Last week, on my way back from my morning walk with Maxx, I spotted a black Crow Culling van, swiftly maneuvering a turn. I did a double take because it did not register at first. When I got back home, I read expat columns discussing it, saw a video of the act on YouTube and read articles from year 2001 onwards discussing the issue in great detail.

Power outrages, raiding of orchards and creating an enormous ruckus near high rise apartments have been blamed on them. They have been called an absolute nightmare, vicious scavengers and noisy pests. Some believe that they pull hair, peck on bald heads and leave scars. Others say they carry salmonella and virus infections.

An article from year 2006 in NYTimes even says, “Crows are everything that Singapore is not — raucous, undisciplined, dirty and disorderly”.

It finally dawned on me that I had never spotted a crow in Singapore! That black bird that was a common sighting where I come from, is not part of the environment here. No wonder my kanu pidi  (Crow feed) stayed untouched! I also realized that had I just asked around about them, I would have been told of the culling practice. Instead, I have wondered why the Crow Gods did not bless my kanu pongal .

More Googling told me that the National Environment Agency of Singapore employs a for-profit security company to kill the crows. In the beginning, a local gun club had been given this responsibility to keep the crow population under control. The NEA website lists crow culling as one of its duties under sanitation  and vector operations.

Love thy attitude!

This, when the  crows were first brought into Singapore to control Rhino beetle infestations in oil palm plantations! Talk about thanklessness.

Well.  So much for the ritualistic feeding of crows that I was brought up to believe was the most sanctifying practice for a Brahman!  But all my reading and looking for information on line did throw up some interesting links to articles and poems glorifying the crow. Here is one such  interesting article that celebrates the crow in the South of India


Kanu pongal and crows

Come January and there is a slew of festivals that a tambrahm celebrates. One of them is the four day long harvest festival, Pongal. Any tambrahm worth her salt,expects to participate in the day four festivities- Kanu pongal- for the sentiments and significance of the day. I can vouch for all the women of this community that it is her favorite part of the four day Pongal festivities.

We get to feed the crows in return for the bounteous living of our loved ones!

The most wanted on Kanu pongal day!

When I was a little girl, we followed the rituals of Kanu pongal with a neighborhood of people from the same community. The event was celebrated at dawn, before bath time- another reason why I liked the festival. We took bowls of left over rice, coloured yellow with turmeric and red with kumkum, supposedly to attract the crows, neatly laid them out on almost dry turmeric leaves that were bought on day one of the festivities. Small balls of red alternating with white idli pieces and yellow balls of rice, continuously chanting a rhyme that conveyed the significance of the festival.

Kanu pudi vechchen, kakapudi vechchen

Pukk-aam pongi vaazha

Pirandha-aam therundhu vaazha

Uda pirandhaan, usandhu vaazha!

Roughly translated it means – I feed the crows with the hope that my in laws live in bounteous abundance, my parents live in liberal generosity and my brothers live successfully! Excellent sentiments, wouldn’t you agree? To make sure the crows knew that the food had been left for them, the older women would caw like the crows to announce that food had been laid out. As a little girl, I would join the fun and keep cawing till I spotted the first crow. After that, I would keep running back to the terrace to check if the food had disappeared and update the status of the scene to my mom.

It was a common joke among women those days that the crows seemed to hide and become scarce on the fourth day of Pongal knowing that they are the most wanted for that day. Where as one would see flocks of them on other days, they would be significantly scarce on Kanu pongal mornings!

Eventually I grew up ( don’t we all do) and even though my in laws celebrated it differently ( for starters, I had to have a bath before laying out the crow feed!), I still loved every bit of the festival. I felt it was was the least I could do for my brother, given the fact that we pray for our siblings success in life.

Circa 2010. I relocated to Singapore and I looked forward to celebrating  Kanu pongal away from home. On the day of the festival, with the same anticipation of feeding the crows, my mother in law and I completed the rituals and placed the food on the window sill of our condo since we knew that the neighbors would object to it being left in an open area like the terrace. A few hours later, I peeked to check how much of the food had disappeared and to my dismay, it stayed the way that we had laid it out. At the end of the day, I reluctantly removed the food on display and discarded it convinced that the crows wouldn’t show up anymore. My mother in law, being the thoughtful woman that she was, assured me that it was the sentiment that mattered and not the fact that the crows ate the food that will result in the abundance, generosity or success. Satisfied with that reasoning, I wound up for the day.

My story doesn’t end here. I found out why there were no crows to feed in Singapore, as recently as last week.

Will tell you my story…stay tuned for my next blog post!