The prince, the white crow & the philanthropist

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: A little more than a couple of months ago, on 18th of May, to be precise, I attended a fairly well-attended story-telling session by Sudha Murthy, the chairperson of the Infosys Foundation, at the newly-opened Sapna Book House in our City.

Although you may think that I was a few decades too late for such a session, I went there not because I wanted to listen to her stories, which is why almost every one of the hundred or so kids had gathered there, but for a different reason altogether.

I was there amid slightly differing circumstances too. While their mothers had brought most of the kids there, I had ‘taken’ my mother to the event. After having read a few of Mrs Murthy’s many books, my mother had become an ardent fan of hers, having been impressed by her philanthropy, simplicity and down-to-earth thinking.

So while she was away at our coffee plantation, when I told her over the phone that Mrs Murthy would be coming to one of my favourite haunts and I, with the help of my friend Thippanna, then one of the managers at Sapna, would be able to arrange a meeting with her, she immediately agreed to my suggestion and decided to come over to Mysore.

The meeting went of very well, with both ladies seeming very pleased with each other.

While Mrs Murthy was touched that an elderly lady fan of hers had taken the trouble to come all the way from distant Chikmagalur just to meet her, my mother was immensely happy that she could meet and spend a few moments with the person who had impressed her with her thoughts and ideas.

As an added bonus she was able to have a couple of pictures clicked with Mrs Murthy in addition to getting her autograph with a personal note on one of her books which she had taken along for the purpose with her.

Just as we entered the place almost towards the end of the story-telling session Mrs Murthy announced that she would be reading the last two stories for the day and asked if anyone had a copy of her book ‘The Magic Drum and Other Favourite Stories‘.

This is a book, which is a collection of some of the interesting stories she had heard from her grandmother and other sources as a child. Incidentally, this was exactly the book that we had taken along and I immediately handed it to her.

After reading a story called ‘The Costly Coconut‘ she picked another called ‘The White Crow‘ to end the session. This is an interesting story about the ‘rumoured’ appearance of a rare white crow in a small village, which settles down on the house of a poor farmer, and how the narration changes colour, along with the crow, as it travels from person to person by word of mouth.

A seemingly innocuous natural occurrence soon becomes the hottest news that engages the attention of almost everyone in the village and assumes unusual prophetic significance.

The anticlimax of the story comes when the poor farmer discloses to the perplexed villagers that it was he who floated the rumour about the crow visiting his house to show them how quickly a rumour can grow in size, change colour and spread like wildfire if not contained!

While this kind of a reaction seems pretty natural in a folk tale from a bygone era of ignorance and intellectual darkness, ironically, this is exactly what is happening in our midst today with a white crow having been sighted recently at historic Srirangapatna in our immediate neighbourhood.

While the colour of the crow does not seem to be affecting the rest of the modern world, we seem to be wasting precious time and thought over its effect on our lives. And, while the rest of the world just accepts the scientific explanation that albinism, a genetic disorder that is occasionally seen in humans can also similarly affect almost all species of animals and birds, we seem to be ascribing unusual mystical powers to it.

People are speculating endlessly over the exact appearance and the physical attributes of the unusual crow and while some say that it is completely white others tend to disagree. Not wanting to be left behind and unquoted, the lady tahsildar of Srirangapatna who reportedly arrived at the sighting spot in her official jeep, has stated, with perfect timing, that it has a black beak and black legs.

Whether this is just her observation or an official statement representing the view of the government she represents is unclear as yet.

Among the many things that many people with self-assumed wisdom are saying, a seer of some significance has predicted some disaster for the Mysore royal family and that too before this year’s Dasara that is almost upon us.

With all royal blood, especially Indian, having always been very prone to taking soothsayers and their sayings very seriously, the only surviving scion of our royal family naturally seems rather perturbed over this part of what the white crow seems to portend.

Very soon, we are bound to read about the precautions and pre-emptive actions that he certainly should and naturally would be taking to ward of the evil.

I will not be surprised if the government too steps in with its official explanation of the significance of this event, eventually attributing all its present instability and indigestion to the poor crow.

Incidentally, perhaps unknown even to most doctors, in medical parlance, a ‘white crow’ refers to any disorder that is so rare that a doctor is unlikely to encounter it in a lifetime of medical practice. This may exactly be one such case.

K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared

Photographs: Karnataka Photo News

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