A young crow had fallen from its nest and was fluttering about on the road in danger of being crushed by a car or a tonga, or seized by a cat, when I brought it home. It was in a sorry condition, beak gaping and head drooping, and we did not expect it to live. But my Grandfather and I did our best or bring it around. We fed it by prizing its beak gently open with a pencil to allow it to swallow. We varied this diet with occasional doses of my Grandfather’s plum wine. As a result the young crow was soon on its way to recovery.
He was offered his freedom but did not take it. Instead he made himself at home in our house. My Grandfather, Aunt Mabel and even some of our Grandfather’s pets objected but there was no way of getting rid of the bird. He took over the administration of the house. We were not sure he was male but we called him Caesar.
Before long, Caesar was joining us at mealtimes besides finding his own grubs or beetles in the garden. He danced about on the dining table and gave us no peace till he had been given his small bowl of meat, soup and vegetables. He was always restless, fidgeting about investigating things. He would hop about a table to empty a matchbox of its contents, or rip the daily paper to shreds, over-turn a vase of flowers or tug at the tail of one of the dogs. “That crow will be the ruin of us”, grumbled my Grandmother, picking marigolds off the carpet. “Can’t you keep him in a cage?”
We did try putting Caesar in a cage but he became so angry and objected with such fierce cawing and flapping that it was better for our nerves and peace of mind to give him the run of the house. He did not show any inclination to join the other crows in the banyan tree. Grandfather said this was because he was really a jungle crow-a raven of sorts, and probably felt contempt towards ordinary carrion crows. But it seemed me to that Caesar, having grown used to living with humans on equal terms, had become snobbish and did not wish to mix with his own kind. He would even squabble with Harold, the hornbill. Perching on top of Harold’s cage he would peck at the big bird’s feet, whereupon Harold would swear and scold and try to catch Caesar through the bars.
In time, Caesar learned to talk a little-as ravens sometimes do-in a cracked, throaty voice. He would sit for hours outside the window, banging on the glass and calling “Hello, hello.” He seemed to recognize the click of the gate when I came home from school and would come to the door with hop, skip and a jump to say “Hello, hello.” I had also taught him to sit on my arm and say “Kiss, kiss” while he placed his head gently against my mouth.
On one of Aunt Mabel’s visits, he alighted on her arm and cackled “Kiss, kiss.” Aunt Mabel was delighted and probably flattered and leant forward for a kiss. But Caesar’s attention had shifted to my aunt’s gleaming spectacles, and thrusting at them with his beak he knocked them off. Aunt Mabel was never a success with pets.
Pet or pest, Grandfather insisted that Caesar was a pest inspite of his engaging habits. If he had restricted his activities to his own house it would not have been so bad, but he took to visiting neighbours’ houses and stealing pens and pencils, hair ribbons, combs, toys, shuttle cocks, toothbrushes and false teeth. He was especially fond of toothbrushes and made a collection of them on top of the cupboard in my room. Most of the neighbours were represented in our house by a toothbrush. Toothbrush sales went up that year and so did Grandmother’s blood pressure.
Caesar spied on children going to the baniya’s shop, and often managed to snatch sweets from them as they came out. Clothes pegs fascinated him. Neighbours would return from the bazaar to find their washing lying in the mud and no sign of the pegs. These too found their way to the top of the cupboard.
It was Caesar’s gardening activities which finally led to disaster. He was helping himself to a neighbour’s beans when a stick was flung at him, breaking his leg. I carried the unfortunate bird home and Grandfather and I washed and bandaged his leg as best as we could. But it would not mend. Caesar hung his head and no longer talked. He grew weaker day by day, refusing to eat. An occasional sip of Grandfather’s wine was all that kept him going.
On morning I found him dead on the sofa, his legs stiff in the air. Poor Caesar! His anti-social habits led to his early end. I dug a shallow grave in the garden and buried him there along with all the toothbrushes and clothes-pegs he had taken the trouble to collect.