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CHORD LINES

The poet Shelley was right about spring not being far behind winter; but he missed out on an equally self-evident observation: if spring comes, can nest-building birds be far behind? This truth hits me every spring when, in the branches of a sorry tree in our sorry backyard, a crow couple build a sorry nest.

For some seasons now, that time of year, these birds aggressively oppose our visits to our verandah, which is too close to the tree for their liking. The male bird charges towards us, cawing imprecations in choice Crowatian. He has learnt to make his way through the bars of the verandah grille like an avian Steven Gerrard beginning a slide tackle. We’ve had to hang bedsheets from the grille to give ourselves cover. But he spots us when we go up to our rooftop and divebombs us from the sky, screaming black murder. We’ve had to wear plastic buckets on our heads for protection.

All of which will no doubt explain my current preoccupation with songs concerning crows. The first one coming to mind is The Twa Corbies or The Two Ravens, a Scottish variant of a medieval English ballad, The Three Ravens, in which the birds discuss what they shall feed on. The Scottish version develops along more interesting lines, suggesting the menace that the birds exude, for me at any rate. Quite a number of renditions of the song can be found online, my personal favourite being one by British folk rockers Steeleye Span.

Joni Mitchell and Jamiroquai have done two different, wonderful songs with the same title: Black Crow; and Bob Dylan has his Black Crow Blues. But since the thrill is in the chill, I suggest you listen to Black Crow on the Tombstone by Norwegian metal band Satyricon. Chilling in a different way is Jackson Browne’s Crow on the Cradle.

At least half a dozen more English songs have been sung about crows, including some based on Poe’s poem The Raven, but we need to move on to Indian songs touching on the corvine. Of course there’s the Jhoot Bole song from Bobby; the crow also figures in the Saala main to Sahab song from Sagina. Moving closer to home, the raven is mentioned in the Bangla song Kaliramer Dhol from the film Anusandhan; and in a song I’ve heard Swapan Basu do: Shobhab Tor Kokhono Jabena.

But thereafter, I pause, perplexed. Bangla literature offers me fleeting glimpses of what I am looking for, but the music world lies barren and crowless. Not even Tagore can help here: friends far more knowledgeable than I about Rabindrasangeet have been unable to locate crows in the songs. And latter-day Bangla musical stalwarts, including bandsmen, have written songs about birds, including yellow birds, but can you think of any crow compositions? When I pointed out this lyrical lacuna to a musician friend of mine, he dared me to plug it myself.

Well, you know, I could. But I need to get this plastic bucket off my head first.