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The Vice Owl!

Indian Eagle Owl, Kabini

We have all grown up on a diet of stories about the animal kingdom, where each denizen is anointed with a descriptive tag that’s added a filter through which it has always been viewed. So, we have had the ‘greedy’ pig, the ‘cunning’ fox, the ‘majestic’ lion… all immortalized through the good offices of comicdom. In the avian world, the most intriguing has been the ‘wise’ owl, an almost Solomonesque creature of the dark who wore a haloed hat of wisdom shrouded in mystery, unlike our modern day television seers who believe in basking in the halogen lights of publicity. There is one owl, however, that hasn’t had the best of PR in the myth-infested alleys of popular native culture. The Indian Eagle Owl is a large, majestic creature, with a distinctive face, handsome horns and a deep, resonant voice, who should have been the star of many a Jollywood (the jungle film industry, for beginners) blockbuster, but has instead come to be cast as the perennial villain. Tarred wrongly as a bird of ill repute, and a harbinger of bad luck, this gorgeous sentinel of the dark has found no protection from the dark shadows of superstition. The eminent ornithologist, Salim Ali, notes that, while a range of superstitions are hung on their necks, a couple of them stand out as the most popular. One is that if the bird is starved for a few days and beaten, it would speak like a human, predicting the future of the tormentor or bringing them wealth, while the other involves killing the bird to find a magical bone that swims against the current like a snake, when thrown into a stream. These barbaric practices prove again, that the true villain is actually Man, as we seem to care two hoots for our own reputations even as we sully others, just to profit from it.

Photograph: Kiran Poonacha Story: Rajesh Ramaswamy



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