Saturday, May 10th, 2003
Kolkata, West Bengal, India.
Mynah's major fortune
There's a bird — an Indian mynah — that I've noticed coming to
the mangala arati the last few mornings. I don't suppose it's called
an Indian mynah here, but it's the same bird that I knew by that
name in South Africa: I recognize its distinctive dark brown feathers and
I suspect that bird is known by that appellation to South Africans in the
province of Natal (where I grew up) because in all likelihood, it came over
on one of the many ships that brought the indentured Indian laborers to live
and work on the sugar cane plantations there.
In the 1860's, thousands of Hindus and Tamils came from India to the (then)
British colony of Natal, to work on the sugar cane plantations for a fixed
number of years in exchange for a meager wage, plus room and board...
Anyway, this particular bird is rather brazen and bold. He reminds me of that
blithe bird in one of my favorite schoolboy poems,
The Jackdaw of
Rheims, by Richard Harris Barham.
While not quite as insouciant as the Jackdaw, he nevertheless stares you
boldly in the eye, struts about as though he owns the place, and hops about
between the temple and the nat-mandir, just like his counterpart in
In and out
Through the motley rout,
That little Jackdaw kept hopping about;
Here and there,
Like a dog in a fair...
Today he strutted right into the nat-mandir while we were
circumambulating the temple and was momentarily trapped inside when we
reentered, but he flew up above our heads and circled the pictures of our
guru parampara on the balcony before flying through the open
Okay, I know that by now you're probably thinking: "Why is he paying so much
attention to that dumb bird instead of the arati ?" :-) Well, I'll
Once, Srila Gurudeva, when explaining how one gathers ajnata sukriti
— how one unknowingly engages in auspicious activities — gave the
example of how a bird may fly in a circle above the temple and thus
unknowingly, inadvertently, perform the pious activity of circumambulating
the deity and/or tulasi devi.
How fortunate are the entities that take birth in India! How fortunate is
that lowly mynah! Getting the darshan of Srila Gurudeva and the
deity, pecking at crumbs of prasadam on the temple floor,
circumambulating the temple — unconsciously making his life
Indeed, since the jackdaw became a saint after his death, being "canonized by
the name of Jim Crow" just for confessing his sins, I surmise that after his
demise this meritorious mynah will fly a lot higher into the spiritual sky
for all his pious activities...