As the Crow flies

While I was in Mumbai, and also in other parts of India, there was something fascinating about the crows that I can’t quite describe.  Crows in the U.S. are quite appealing to me in their own right.  They are very intelligent birds.  They learn quickly, and they listen to you as you talk, though they may simply fly away after.  They are canny birds.

Indian crows are different.  Those I saw in Mumbai most frequently had an odd dirty gray ruff around their throats, a lighter colored feather that fluffed out and didn’t have the same obsidian shine as the other feathers. When the rains came, and feathers clumped, I could see these ruffs were once white and had only been smogged and grimed and dirtied on the outside edges.  After a bit of research, evidently such white sections of plumage are common to several species of the Corvus genus of crow.

It was also the images of crows that stuck most particularly in my mind in ways that other birds did not.  It was the crows who were brave enough to hop right up to me on the balcony of our office when I went to take pictures of the cityscape, hoping for a handout.  The smaller birds had flown at my approach and the pigeons merely shifted uncomfortably, but the crows gazed deep into my eyes as I spoke to them and did not flinch.  They merely cocked their heads expectantly, a conscientious audience.

It was the crows that were the most vigorous scavengers, raiding the gutters and the refuse piles, stealing the sandwiches of the unwary, pecking out the guts of rat remains.  I don’t remember seeing more than one or two seagulls in the city by the sea, but there were literally thousands of crows.  They posed for my photographs, sitting jauntily on the heads of statues or balancing easily on thin strips of wire.  Did they know they were framing my early morning photos of the Taj?  Undoubtedly.  A crow is nothing if not vain.  And yet, despite the attitude, they remain some of my favorite birds and I can’t help thinking of them as beautiful, whether common or not.

Here you can see quite clearly the discolored sections around the neck and throat which are a bright white underneath and this odd gray brown (whether through dirt or nature was never confirmed) on the outside. Yes, these two are resting on the statue of a life-size crocodile. No respect these days.

Crow, soaring from its perch on the Flora Fountain just as I take this picture.

Crow flying near Socialist statue

A statue of crows in Horniman Park. Do I know why crows have to do with freedom and Gandhi? No, but it is another reason crows are awesome.

Crow. On the crow statue.

Crow, staring pensively at the Taj Mahal in the morning mist.

A little bit about Mumbai

At long last, with my midday break from classes, I’m finally catching up a bit on my writing and recounting on my adventures this past summer.  Therefore, after much photo editing, I’m starting off with a few brief reflections on Mumbai.

When I talk about Mumbai, I mean south Mumbai, the city proper.

In this area, where I lived and worked for the summer, planning is key.  Streets are wide – tree lined boulevards are the norm.  The buildings are elaborate, full of odd corners and design motifs ranging from European to Aztec.  Even the grocery store is decorated like a Czarina’s birthday cake.

A tree-lined avenue

In front of a Parsi temple

Sahakari Bandar, the grocery store

Of course, this is the area of the city designed to a certain look. It was laid out to be beautiful, to be bordered by elegant parks and small niches of green.  The train station was designed to be beautiful.  The central post office was meant to look like a sultan’s palace.  And the buildings in the area remain elegant, even in disrepair.  The tumbledown remains of former facades provide the facing and framing that make the concrete bulk of modern buildings so much more appealing to the eye.

Decorative elaboration

Damaged decor

Saint Thomas Cathedral in Fort - a quiet corner of green space

Fountain in from of Saint Thomas Cathedral

CST (Former Victoria Terminus), a local train depot in south Mumbai

Municipal building across from CST

Central Post Office, Mumbai

Horniman Park - another isle of green

A portico framing a boxy concrete apartment building

In addition, south Mumbai remains the primary destination for tourists in the area.  It is the site of the majority of museums in the city and a number of other famous landmarks.

Prince of Wales Museum

National Gallery of Modern Art

Jehangir Art Gallery

Another view of the Prince of Wales Museum

Gateway of India

David Sassoon Library

But I enjoyed it most not for any of these reasons.  It was the areas where Mumbai took on a kind of shabby chic life that I was most drawn.  The odd corners where plants began to grow off of buildings, where birds rested on unusual perches, or where plant life began to take over for more substantial man-made structures drew me.

Tenacious plants on the facade

This is not a real croc.

Flora Fountain

Tree vs. fence