Where’s my Chicken?

Growing up in Chamarajpet in a Vatara that had a central courtyard in the back of our house meant that you grew up with an assortment of experiences. Though a vegetarian Brahmin, you saw chickens’ throats being slit and watched them bleed to death, their mouths open, at the age of 7. At 8 you watched with the whole street, from rooftops, a camel being brought down to its knees and having its throat slit while it howled piteously, its cries bringing traffic on Mysore road to a halt, and more watchers to their gates. But my interactions with assorted bird and animal life starts at a time before that. And my default reaction to any animal/bird was to feed it and see it eat. It continues to this day. Because, when you feed an animal it becomes friendly with you, no questions asked and who wouldn’t want that?

There are the memories of being on Maami’s hips, being fed Sambhar and curd rice from a plate she held in the hand that also encircled and fastened me and the other used to feed food from that plate into my mouth while telling me stories and showing me crows, sparrows, squirrels that lived in and around that gigantic Sampangi tree. There were those one vaais(mouthfuls) that were left on the compound walls so that the nearest crow, sparrow or mynah could eat with me. There were those morsels of freshly cooked hot rice with some ghee and paruppu that were left on the compound wall for the crows to feast on before anyone else in the household ate. The crows came, finished their due unmindful of the heat, before the waiting squirrels came over and polished it off, sitting crouched and eating from their forepaws. One of my favourite sights ever, even to this day.

Then there was Manchanna’s rooster. All red and blue with a crown. And aggressive. I tried feeding him a discarded tomato from a garbage pile once (yes, I have scrounged food off garbage piles to feed animals, even picked up bones dropped by crows to feed Manchanna’s dog to get it friendly). He clucked and pecked at me aggressively and I threw the tomato at him from a distance and watched him peck away at it. He was the least favourite of my animal friends and but I still missed him when they took him away and gave him to someone. There was the Pomeranian Deepu that came much later and was kept tied up at all times near my house’s toilet, who barked and snapped at everyone, including her owners. I gave her a biscuit every time I had to use the toilet and became the only one she was friendly with. They couldn’t stand her aggressive behaviour and gave her away. If only they knew what a darling she could be…

But the most friendly one, and probably what I considered a pet was a hen. A white one. She was left tied on the side of our backdoor. There was even a box with the top half open through which she could climb into it and sleep. There was a packet of some seeds that were kept to feed her. I’d come home from school, and sit and watch her cluck and walk around, or just sit in the box and sleep. Soon I figured out that I could take some seeds from the packet, which was placed over the box which she couldn’t climb as her leg was tied, and well, feed her. And pretty soon I had her eating out my hands, literally. She pecked at it, but took only the seeds and her beak was blunt which didn’t hurt too badly. She let me stroke her back and I figured she probably even recognized me when I came home from school. She came out of the box when I came down to sit and watch her. And I fed her those seeds.

I listened with pride when my neighbors commented that the hen had become friends with me. She was there for a week, and then one day I came home and found her missing. I looked around the compound, but Maami and the neighbors said they had given her away and she was in someone else’s house. I refused to believe them. There was a sense of dread that I refused to acknowledge or give words to. I wept the whole evening…

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6 thoughts on “Where’s my Chicken?

  1. Excellent memories flowing from your childhood. Could co-relate my memories as well. I never knew you are that friendly with animals… always thought you did not have time for them… Unbelievable that you cried when you found that the hen was not there… Good writing.. keep going..

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