The other day I heard my granddaughter call her younger brother by a name that forced me to reestablish my writ on the two youngsters from vocabulary point of view. I remember our history teacher, a Mrs. Barnett, whose arsenal of words fired at us was so effectively devastative that almost all my class mates remember them even after a lapse of more than five decades. While many of these words were suffixed by the word ‘wallahs’ (tongawallahs, rehriwallahs etc), we knew deep down that this was the very robust looking lady’s way, of being affectionate. My love of history is perhaps the outcome of this affection. One of the less often words ‘shot’ our way by this imposing, but lovable character must have caused considerable consternation in the feathered family – this word was “birdbrains”. The ‘deft’ use of this word by my granddaughter to (erringly) describe her sibling set me thinking. It was after puckering my brows for a couple of painful minutes that I came to the conclusion that all birds were not ‘bird brained’.

Take for example the Crow – any crow for that matter - from the one that inhabits the cool hills and is referred to as the ‘dodhar kaan’ (‘dodhar’ is something that still needs attention of translators) to the grey and black one that rules the plains. If old wives’ tales are to be believed then this bird is gifted with uncanny powers of forecasting the arrival of guests by creating a ruckus, while perched on the wall of one’s home. The only catch in this activity is that sometimes this warning is liable to be rather short and does not provide enough time for the would-be hosts to flee unwanted arrivals. This member of the feathered family is also used as an aid to chastise children, who deviate from the truth and refuse to confess that the shattered vase on the floor is their handiwork. I remember my late mother telling me that a crow would bite my tongue out, if I did not ‘corroborate’ damning circumstantial evidence.

I have seen crows dipping pieces of dry bread in water to soften them before making a meal of them. I know of a reliable story narrated by a retired soldier friend about a commanding officer, who made it known that any ‘sepoy’, who caught a live crow and produced the same in ‘undamaged’ condition before him (along with credible witnesses), would be promoted to the next rank. Now catching this wily bird ‘live and undamaged’ is a feat that requires both ingenuity and physical fitness. On hearing the story I was forced to acknowledge the outstanding leadership and creative qualities of the said commanding officer.

I am told that crows or their larger cousins, the Ravens (one was the subject of a literary classic) become excellent pets. I have watched a family of these smartly turned out creatures stealing scraps from our outdoor table. In spite of their petty larceny, I have always been fond of the way, members of this particular flock cock their heads to one side with a roguish twinkle in their eyes reminding me of Robin Hood.

I recently discovered a strange looking nest in one of my out of the way climbing plants. I photographed it since I considered it an amazing work of construction and design. The nest is like a hollow ball with an opening at the top. It is made out of organic materials mixed with some sticky substance (much like the one excreted by swallows) which has hardened to give it a waterproof outside crust. The most amazing thing about this home is a large leaf that has been bent and secured with the same glue like stuff forming an arched roof over the entrance. I have tried in vain to catch a glimpse of the architect, who designed this ‘penthouse’ and have ensured that this wonderful display of practical common sense is preserved in its natural environment.

It is because of my experiences with birds that I am considering to undertake a project that will revamp the English language as we know it. I intend beginning with the word that I selected as the title of this week’s piece. I would strongly urge linguistic experts to consider dropping the use of this expression to denote someone ‘stupid’ and replace it with ‘fish brained’.