The land of crows
K S S Pillai
“Is the place called Kakkanad because of this?” my grandson asks me, pointing at the flock of crows flying in utter disarray above the trees on the adjoining plot, creating a cacophony. I had asked the same question to myself several times in the past. “Must be,” I reply. ‘Kakka’ in Malayalam means crow and ‘nadu’ means land. So Kakkanad means the land of crows. A very apt name for the place.
It is time for the sun to have its evening dip in the Arabian sea a few kilometres to the west. A light breeze makes it pleasant to sit on the balcony of my seventh-floor flat in Kakkanad, Kochi. Some of the crows, joined by a kit of naughty pigeons, now flutter above the half-finished and seemingly abandoned high-rise building nearby, making a din that drowns all other noise. The number of frolicking birds increases as twilight advances. Far above, a kite glides in circles, unmindful of the ruckus below, like a sentinel guarding the ancient city.
Since Kochi is a fast-growing megacity, I am intrigued by the number of partly finished multi-storey buildings strewn all around. Even those that are completed seem to be only partly occupied as many of the apartments are in the dark after the night sets in. There are many vast plots near our condominium, fenced with barbed wires, a sign that they are already in possession of someone, waiting for the opportune moment to start constructing buildings.
These plots have several trees with heavy foliage that provide shelter to birds and small animals like squirrels and chameleons. Once I saw a large monitor lizard, rarely seen in cities and considered a delicacy by many, climbing a coconut tree. As I have never seen it again, I suspect it might have ended on someone’s dining table. Most of the coconut trees that gave the state its name, seem to be suffering from one disease or another. The owners of these plots seem unconcerned, as they must already have been earmarked for non-agricultural use, and the trees, like convicts on death row, will face the firing squad before the real estate developer breaks the ground ceremoniously.
As the sun sets, lights start blinking to life in the buildings and streets. Headlights of vehicles moving along the distant roads come into view and red lights warning aircraft start glowing on top of tall buildings.
Wayside eateries nearby start getting ready for business that will last till early morning. Parathas and beef seem to be the most sought after items, followed by kanji, the rice gruel. Daily wages being high in Kerala, workers from West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, and even the seven sisters of the northeast, migrate to the state in large numbers, particularly cities.
They say in private that Kerala is like the high-paying gulf countries for them. One of the security guards in our building, who is from Meghalaya, told me that he flew to his native place once a year to save travelling time. It is, therefore, only natural that once unheard of food items like parathas are now available in most parts of the state.
It is interesting to note that even hotels that boast of ‘only traditional Kerala food’ have non-Malayalees as cooks. Over the years, most of the locals have changed their food habit and adapted that of the ‘guest workers’, as they are officially called. I was baffled that even for breakfast, the traditional dosas or idlis with sambar and coconut chutneys, the age-old morning food of Keralites, are now available only in certain chains of hotels, once known as Brahmin hotels, serving strictly vegetarian food.
A small aircraft, probably that of the Indian Navy, flies across the sky far away, lights blinking on its under-belly and its drone hardly audible. As swarms of mosquitoes start circling over my head, chanting pre-meal prayers in unison, I hurry inside and close the door shut.
(The author is a retired professor of English. A regular contributor to The Kashmir Vision, he can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org)