CROWS AND PIGEONS OF MUMBAI
by Ashutosh Ghildiyal
"Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation." ~Oscar Wilde
In the city of Mumbai, there was once a rare bird, called Bugun Liocichla. This bird was one of an endangered species, with the only known population estimated to consist of 14 individuals in Mumbai. This bird had two sons who were growing up and had started asking him questions – on life, on conduct, on work, and on wisdom. The bird was reputed for his wisdom among all the birds of Mumbai. He had the reputation of being an ascetic who was not concerned with material riches and was content with whatever little came his way.
One day his two sons, who were about to finish their education, asked him what profession they should choose. They told him about the popular professions that were being pursued by other birds at the time. Of all the professions being pursued by the birds of Mumbai, the professions of crow or pigeon were the most popular. Everybody wanted to become either a crow or a pigeon. It is always safer and more comfortable to do what many people are doing or seemed to want to be doing. The rare bird listened to them and said the following words:
“Two winged creatures are plentiful in the skies and grounds of Mumbai – the crow and the pigeon. The crows scavenge through the garbage and the pigeons make every building and pathway their abode. Crows are noisy and pigeons make sounds like an echoing ghost. Crows and pigeons don’t hate each other. Though they have their own interests, their motives converge into one.
“Crows are the kings of garbage and pollute the air; pigeons scavenge food others provide for them – intentionally or unintentionally. Both usually make their living by feeding on and spreading disease amongst birds.
“The crows are the glamorous ones – they easily come to prominence with all the noise they make. Birds like this noise and make a culture out of it. Pigeons are the ones who work stealthily, keep in the background but poison all the same. One crow is enough to generate a lot of attention but birds don’t notice pigeons unless they are in large numbers. Crows exalt in the garbage, proclaiming it to be the ultimate, considering it to be the pinnacle of their existence. This they call fame and success. The pigeons follow them, are their fans but feed on them nonetheless. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Both need each other, both feed on each other and on others. Nevertheless, popularity and fame rest with the crows for garbage is what all the birds are attracted to these days.
“The faces of these crows haunt one all the time, are ever present in front of one’s eyes, their voices always being heard in some form or other from various sources. Their language becomes the language of the birds, their voice becomes the voice of most other birds. Their acts become the acts of other birds and their thoughts become the thoughts of other birds. They act as if acting is real and indeed they proclaim this to be the real. Their followers too become actors and their lives become a series of acts. Their influence is exerted over large domains, across many seas. They attract, seduce, and captivate the minds and hearts of other birds. Their poison spreads effortlessly. They easily, swiftly and most naturally create an army of their clones.
“The pigeons are ever ready to have their fill and nothing is enough for them. Saturation does not exist for them. They want more and more. They didn’t want trees, so now they have buildings made all for themselves; carefully and with determination, they have covered all space. They are the marketers – they sell and trade everything. Trade is their natural occupation. They never do anything but trade. They never possess anything that they can’t sell. Trade is their religion and selling is their life.
“The skies of Mumbai are full of crows and pigeons. Indeed, they want their kingdom to expand to the farthest shores. Pigeons make tall buildings and crows have their faces painted on them. They are the rulers of the skies and the grounds. They poison, trade and sell and are bestowed with honors and fame. Their names are well known, their voices recognized, they are loaded with honors and fortune and exalt in their happy lot. Is it so surprising then, that all the other birds want to be like a crow or a pigeon?”
The father, the rare bird, then continued, “Are you an ambitious bird? Do you know what ambition is? It is the desire to become somebody, is it not? And do you know what it does? It causes us to be against one another. Everybody is struggling to be rich, to have fame, to be more clever. You want to be greater than the other person and he wants you to be greater than you. So ambition really means trying to be something you are not. And which is important? To be what you are or try to be something you are not? You must first look at yourselves and begin to understand what you are. And then perhaps you’ll never ask what you should do.
“Do not compare with what other birds are doing. Don’t try to become like them, even if everybody else becomes like them. It is hard for you because comparison is the basis of our so-called education, and of our whole culture. Comparison is the most destructive thing in the world. If you compare yourselves with others then how can you find out what you are interested in, what your capacities are? Don’t imitate, don’t try to become like anybody else, no matter how great. It is you who are important, not somebody else. Find out who you are.”
The two boys understood what their father said. No more did they want to be a crow or a pigeon. No more did they want to become like others. No more did they want to become common. They said to themselves, it is better to be a rare bird than to be a well known crow or a pigeon; it is better to be an unknown than a known poisonous creature; it is better to remain obscure than to shine with artificial light.
Ashutosh writes poetry, short fiction and essays. He was born in 1984 in Lucknow, India. He completed his graduate studies in New Delhi and Post Graduate education in Mumbai. He is a salaried professional and is currently based in Mumbai. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in various print and online zines including Houston Literary Review, Oak Bend Review, Taj Mahal Review, River Poets Journal, The Storyteller, Calliope, and others. Contact Ashutosh.