A lifelong friendship with crows
Text and sketches : Shiv Kumar Akula
As told to TLJ
Crows. Despite their commonness in the the village of my growing up years, I was fascinated by them.
I've had a long, running relationship with crows, and they're mostly centred around my meal times. I remember when, eager to sit and eat my tiffin of fluffy, white idlis that Amma made, I'd leave my plate unattended to fetch a peeta (stool). I'd be back in a jiffy, but by then, they'd have picked up the white discs and flown away with them. Yet other times, things were a bit more amiable— I'd offer up a piece of my idli myself, or sprinkle some warm upma on the floor for them to peck at, for them to give me company as I ate.
The crow and I, we became friends.
During summer breaks, when all of us cousins used to get together and play, my sister and I used to be the butt of jokes that rhymed our last name Akula, with the Telugu word for crows, 'kaakulu'.
"Aakulollu kaakulu!" My sister and I wouldn't give up, retaliating by screaming other playful verses on top of our lungs. "Just like the crows," our cousins would say. It was funny then, but growing up, I also realised their importance in the ecosystem we'd lived in— crows are seen as representations of our ancestors and forefathers. Even the first big round muddha (heaped helping) of food at pujas performed in remembrance, shraardham, is served up for crows. Our compound walls became their buffet tables.
Over time, I'd started observing them more closely: There are the most common crows— slim, black, with just a bit of grey feathers on them; then there are the jet-black variety, thick, heavily built with a slightly different "kaw". I'm no birder, but as an ode to their daily presence in my life, I started sketching them to show those variations.
I've also been influenced by many, many artists who'd studied and drawn the anatomy of birds, plants, and animals. Sometime ago, I'd even bought myself a small collection of such art from some students at Shantiniketan. As for my crows, (which you can see by clicking the right/left arrows on the slide above) they were each drawn in the span of about half an hour. I especially love using the ink brush, and I discovered that crows are were just a pleasure to make with one.
It's now been a few years since I've moved to Hyderabad. I find them here too, everyday (though possibly a lot less). Sometimes, I also take photos of them (sitting on railings, or on trees, flying or walking around briefly with their awkward gait, but sharp, sharp eyes), to fill my sketchbooks with, later.
Shiv Kumar Akula is an architect, photographer, and artist based in Hyderabad. TLJ especially loves how he transforms drab white walls to beautiful art. He documents all of this and more on his Instagram.