Quite close to Kutraalam a massive banyan tree stood on a hill. One evening, a sad crow was sitting on one of the branches. The crow’s wife moved a little closer to her husband and asked in an affectionate tone: “What’s worrying you, dear?”

“This morning I ate more than what my stomach could hold. Now I don’t feel the need to hunt for food. But I can’t afford to sit still. My friends too have not yet returned from their search. If they were here, it would be easy for me to while away the time by chit-chatting with them. I thought of wandering in the sky and enjoying the scenes below...but my wings, legs, body, and head are heavy and painful. I’m sure I have a fever. My throat too is hoarse and unbearably painful. I have a severe cold. Both yesterday and the day before I didn’t get enough to eat in the woods nearby. And so, I had to fly east for a long distance into areas populated by humans, all for the sake of food. Yet, until sunset, there wasn’t enough to fill even half my stomach. It rained night and day without a break. It was summer rain and I was drenched to the bone. This may be the reason for my ill-health. Indigestion is added to it from this morning.And I don’t know how to kill time.This is why I am sad.”

The crow’s wife said, “Years ago when you married me you cooed to me that nothing on earth was more pleasurable than speaking to me intimately. You said that the time you spent with me was very productive. I recall that you said so over and over again. But now, even while I am beside you, you say you find it difficult to pass the time. By saying this you are insulting me. Every day I look at my image in the water in the spring. My face looks more beautiful than when we married. I also consulted my friends. They also agree that I’m more beautiful now than before. I don’t know why you have turned away from me.”

“Who said you are more beautiful than before? Was it your girlfriends? Or your boyfriends?” asked the crow.

“My dear friends are the ones who told me. I don’t have ‘boy’ friends,” replied the crow’s wife.

The crow reacted by fluffing its wings. It took off from the branch of the tree and started flying southwards. “Caw...caw....” The crow heard the sound from behind him. He turned his head and saw it was his wife. “Why are you following me?” he asked.

“You are not well...yet you are going all alone. If your head reels in pain, you may fall. If I am there with you, I’ll be able to avert your fall at the right moment.This is why I am following you.”

“Oh! I see! So you are here to safeguard me, are you?” asked the crow.

“Yes! Of course,” replied the wife.

“If that is so, you don’t have to go with me. I am hale and hearty now. All my ailments are gone. I will neither feel giddy nor fall to the earth and become food for a fox. So you don’t have to escort me. Please stay at home.”

“Where are you going?”

“Quite nearby...Vikrama Singha Puram.”

“Huh! Vikrama Singha Puram? It is near Papanasam...Quite a distance.”

“But I can cover the distance in a jiffy. You don’t have to worry about it. Go home now,” instructed the crow.

“Why are you are going there? Tell me,” enquired the wife.

“I know of a man named Veera Maagaala Pulavar who lives in Vikrama Singha Puram. He is a king of poets. He chooses this time to teach his children the art of Tamil prosody. And you know that I understand the spoken language of man, even though I can’t speak it. So I will go there, perch on the roof of his house, and learn from him all the nuances of the language. I will then apply it to our crow language to formulate our own prosody. My main purpose is to compose songs and epics in our language. Is it appropriate to call a crow a crow if it has no love for its native land and tongue? It can only be called a little living black carcass. No wood in the world is as clean and fertile as our wood in Kutraalam. It is deathless. No other language is as great as our crow language. As I am born in this wood, I should contribute my share to the growth of this wood and my language. If I happen to die before my desire is fulfilled, I will have to die with regret. Hence, I have decided to prepare our crow language and develop its potential for poetry.”

“What?” retorted the wife, “Just a few seconds ago you said no other language is as great as our crow language. But now, you say you want to adapt the nuances of the Tamil language into ours to compose songs. So you support the view that our language is inferior to Tamil?”

“Tamil is the language of human beings. Don’t be so stupid as to compare our bird language with that! What I meant was our crow language is superior to all other non-human languages. All right, it is getting late. I should leave now. You go home,” said the crow.

The wife tried another argument. “You don’t have to go all the way to Vikrama Singha Puram for this! Let us go home. I will teach you, because I know.”

“What do you know?” demanded the crow.

“All the rules for composing poetry.”

“Where did you learn them?” asked the crow in astonishment. “You may think you were the first to whom such an idea occurred.

“Not so! My father too nurtured such an idea. He sat on the roof of a master-poet’s house and learnt the nuances when the master taught his students every day. He never missed a single one of the classes which ran for six months. At the end of the course, my father mastered Tamil poetics and prosody. Following those rules of grammar, he formulated several strict rules for composing a thousand variations of poetry. Unfortunately, he did not live to present his work for acceptance in the learned assembly hall of the crow king. And so, the new theory of poetry in our language languished in our home itself. I am my father’s only daughter. He had no other child, male or female. Our law forbids the female from presenting this new theory before the learned assembly and give a new outlook to our language. But I am ready to teach you the theory. You can learn it from me and then present it before the assembly.You will be rewarded for that in the king’s court. You will become world famous. So come home and I will teach you for two hours every day. In two months you will receive the highest honours from our crow king,” said the wife.

“I am a supporter of the Republic party. I do not care for the honours and awards of the king,” said the crow curtly.

“So let it be...” replied the wife, “as you said earlier you can contribute to the growth of our language and you will be remembered even after your death. For the sake of that at least, come with me. I will teach you the art of writing poetry.”

As the crow couple flew back home, that is to say, towards their nest, Manmadhan was moving in the sky, a little distance away from them. It was drizzling on theWestern Ghats,a command from Nature to compel the male and the female to unite in love.

In such weather and in such a place, the god of love would be extremely busy. And so, he had already spent most of the arrows from his quiver and was rushing to his own world to unite in love with his beloved Rathi Devi. There were only two arrows left in his quiver. He drew out both of them and sent the love darts to the crow couple, one for each.

Before the crow couple could reach their nest, they began fondling and kissing each other. No sooner did they enter the nest that they, unable to control their passion, began to make love.The very thought of learning the art of poesy left the crow’s mind. They were so deeply immersed in their passion that they were awake till daybreak. Then they slept like logs and woke up only on the morning of the next day. Before the thought of hunting for food flashed across the minds of the crow couple Manmadhan passed that way again. All that had happened in the nest a day earlier began to repeat itself. Several days passed in this manner.

The male crow completely forgot all about learning the prosody in crow language. He did not study the art of poesy. He began, instead, to study the art of love.

Translated from the Tamil by P Raja.

The Greatest Tamil Stories Ever Told

Excerpted with permission from The Greatest Tamil Stories Ever Told, selected and edited by Sujatha Vijayraghavan and Mini Krishnan, Aleph Book Company.