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Saturday, May 10th, 2003

Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

Pious Bird

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 yellow beak.

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 the poem:

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 portal.

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 tell you:

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 auspicious...

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...

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