I don’t like birds. I don’t like them at all.
I don’t understand people who like birds. “Oh,” they coo, “birds are so sweet, birds are so pretty. Birds are the best fucking thing in this whole, wide, miserable world next to peanut butter.” Have they never noticed the beaks, so capable of gauging their eyeballs out? “Come here,” an innocent little girl says one day, to a relatively harmless looking Tweety. She picks Tweety up and holds Tweety in the palm of her hand, whispering sweet nothings to Tweety who obligingly pecks at her eyes and then takes a chunk out of her nose for good measure. A traumatising trip to the hospital follows while Tweety sits on its perch and warbles happily as the sun sets.
And then you have the wings. Oh sure, they’re as colourful as a Crayola set. A splash of deceiving beauty; indigos and scarlets and emeralds and gentle browns creating a dazzling canvas. But then the wings start flapping. Flap, flap, flap. Flapflapflap. All those feathers, so soft and innocent individually, turned into a single and threatening unit that can only cause trauma and pain. Have you ever had a bird fly over your head? Felt the feathers flap against your hair with that horrible thudding sort of noise - it’s the same sort of noise you hear when an innocent little puppy is run over by a bus. Whoosh and then a thud, and then a whoosh again as the bird/bus makes its escape. Have any of you bird lovers out there ever stopped to imagine what it would feel like if those wings brushed – no, I mean flapped – against your face leaving moulting feathers glued to your skin and your hair and your neck. This would probably make you slightly nervous because it’s only human to be nervous when you’re covered in feathers and then you’d probably start sweating from all the nervousness and then the feathers would stick to you. That’s right. They’d STICK TO YOU. Can you imagine anything more disgusting then being covered with feathers stuck to your skin with your own sweat acting as an adhesive?
The third thing I don’t like about birds are their legs. Why do they have such skinny, scaly legs? Like an anorexic who lives in Alaska and never uses moisturiser except ten thousand times more disgusting. They’re so brittle that if you touched one- not that anyone in their right mind would want to- it would break into little pieces and there you’d be, standing and gaping at twelve little pieces of scaly bird leg lying in your hand. The claws are also pretty creepy. When I was little, I sometimes used to imagine a bird leg dragging its way towards my bed before leaping into the air, performing a couple of somersaults and landing, claw first, into my wide open mouth. It’s the reason why I never sleep with my mouth open if I can help it. You never know what strange bird parts might land in it.
And finally, there’s bird poop. Bird poop actually comes in a variety of forms. Sometimes it’s nothing more than a smelly drop of water that lands on your shoulder. At other times, it’s like the white of an egg, maybe with a bit of yolk thrown in. Then there’s hard bird poop, the sort you find on your car window on Monday mornings. A congealed mass of egg yolk (with a bit of green thrown in) gone wrong. Birds are really incredibly rude and inconsiderate about their bowel movements. I know most people think they can’t help it but if you ask me, the stupid creatures enjoy emptying their stuff on human beings and human possessions deliberately. Why else would it land on your head and not on the pavement next to you? On the windshield of your moving car and not in the gutter where it belongs? Why does it usually land on you when you’re wearing a new and incredibly gorgeous dress and not an old hand me down t-shirt from your grandfather? Why on your way to school and never on your way back? The latter would enable you to come home quickly and have a shower and throw your clothes in the wash. The former means you have to go through six hours with bird poop on your shoulder before you can get rid of it. It also means all your friends will avoid you and you will become a social pariah, being forced to eat lunch alone. Even maths becomes more difficult than usual because it just isn’t possible to concentrate on logarithms when there’s a splotch of greenish yellow goo on your otherwise pristine white uniform. The worst thing about bird poop is that it can’t be avoided. If you come across dog poop on the road (or as is the case in Delhi, cow poop) you simply step around it. All you have to do is keep an eye trained on the ground you’re walking on. Now if you keep an eye trained on the sky, chances are the bird poop will land on your face. It’s a lose-lose situation.
I don’t think I was born with a fear of birds. Experiences over the years have simply changed my feelings from indifference to mild dislike to burning hatred, all tinged with a dollop of good old fashioned fear.
It started off when I was really little and I used to come and visit my grandparents. They lived in a tall building – well, tall for Calcutta – on the tenth floor; our flat has its own terrace which leads to the building’s terrace. I used to go up there often in the evenings and stare at the big, dignified brown kites that used to perch themselves on the paraphets. I’d always make my grandfather come up with me because I was confident the kites would be too in awe of him to do anything to me. Which they were. As I grew older, I started venturing out there on my own. The kites that sat around on our terrace usually let me be but whenever I went to the big terrace outside, to throw water balloons at the boys playing cricket downstairs, there used to be a lot of kites flying in circles overhead. They usually do that at dusk. At first they let me alone but as time went by, they used to swoop lower and lower until one actually dared to brush against my head. I have never known such pure terror (except when I’m on a plane and it’s about to takeoff. Oh, and when I lost my teeth. But that’s neither here nor there). I was so scared, I nearly leaped over the paraphet trying to escape from it but I was too short which was a good thing because if I’d fallen eleven storeys I think I would have broken a lot more than my teeth. After that, I always took Pinky, our maid, up with me. She wasn’t scared of the kites but they seemed suitably in awe of her. They even stayed away from Bimala, another maid, although one occasionally swooped down to inspect her. She was very small and skinny. Quite easy to carry away but I don’t think she would have made a good meal (she didn’t bathe very often) and they seemed to sense this. Also she had a habit of screeching at them which alarmed them a bit and so they stayed away. I picked up this trick from her and one day, I went up on my own to try it out. Almost at once, three or four kites began to swoop down menacingly but I screeched really loudly. To make my performance even more effective, I ran around in circles with my hands curled into fists, waving them threateningly above my head. After I stopped, due to exhaustion, I noticed about six or seven kites sitting on the water tanks with their hooded eyes gleaming at me in a We’re-going-to-eat-your-eyes-and-tear-out-your-hair sort of way. I ran indoors as quickly as possible and only went up again if I had someone with me, or my grandmother’s umbrella. After my grandfather died, my mother and I moved to Kusum to live with my grandmother and even though I always go to the terrace with my friends, I never ever go out there alone. I know when I've been beaten.
Now I come to the crows. When we moved in with my grandmother, my mother made me start walking to school and back because it’s only a ten minute walk from our home and also because she knows I hate walking and she used to enjoy seeing me suffer. During the course of these walks, a crow would occasionally fly by and I have to give those creatures a little bit of credit and admit that they didn’t do it on purpose; not initially. However, I’d always flinch a little because crows are the worst of all birds. Their eyes are beady, their beaks are like granite, their legs are indescribably gross and to make it worse, they’re black all over. So I’d always shudder a bit and duck, or hide behind a lamp post until the coast was clear. They soon realised this and what became an occasional bad experience became a constant nightmare. I started getting attacked by crows nearly everyday. I turned, from a reasonably normal human being, to a cowering, bird fearing, psychologically disturbed person. I’d often land up at school with bird poop on me. In fact, it got so bad that I began carrying toilet paper in my bag. One day, I was late for school, and I was running down the road. There were a group of at least fifteen crows on the pavement ahead of me eating pieces of bread that some half baked idiot had given them. I was running, running- still at some distance from them – and I was about to turn and cross the road, because to me, getting run over by a lorry is less scary than running through a gaggle of bread eating crows – when an inconsiderate moron honked his horn and in a moment that will forever be frozen in my mind, alongside the time that shark in Jaws 2 ate that boy who was trying to climb into a boat, they rose up in the air, one solid mass, and began to fly towards me. I am not ashamed to say that I screamed. I am slightly ashamed to say that I threw myself forward, face first, onto the pavement, with my arms around my head. I felt a nasty and dangerous breeze ruffle my hair as they flew away and when I cautiously sat up, I saw a line of cars which were filled with school girls (most of whom knew me) gaping, pointing and laughing at me. It was not a happy moment.
The very next week – yes, that’s right, the very next week – I was walking back home with my friend Jayatri when I noticed a crow standing on the pavement. Despite a tiny quiver of fear, I decided to ignore it and keep walking because, I have to confess, it was on Jayatri’s side of the pavement. I was closer to the road. Now I swear to god I am not making the next part up. You can ask Jayatri for confirmation – as soon as we neared the crow, it deliberately hopped across the pavement, crossing Jayatri’s path and stood in front of me. It just stood there, on its two scaly legs, looking at me. I could see the challenge in its gaze and, knowing I was beaten, I meekly crossed over to the other side of the road.
Sometimes, when I’m sitting in my room, happily minding my own business, there’s a thud against my window. The glass pane vibrates. It could be a mini earthquake, or a flying saucer but it’s usually nothing more than a visually challenged, mentally retarded bird crashing into my window. I have to admit, it gives me malicious pleasure because it is, perhaps, the only time that I score one up on the birds.
But to give them their due, they won the war a long time ago.