Friday 8 March 2013

Crows - The Mythical Food Tasters



Observing your brain at work is like living in a room with glass walls - fun for a while, but freaks you out sooner. The human brain, no doubt, is the most complex and thereby the most perplexing of human organs. Most of us, naive or not, would have amused at the way our brains act on stimuli; how our thought process non-linearly shifts across planes seamlessly (sometimes meaninglessly) and attempts to connect the dots of our life events. Many a time, I mindlessly wander, and return to sense with some idea or thought; the thought process of which would seem so bizarre. This post is a small anecdote of one such bizarre line of thought, that traveled from Europe to Akbar to pre-historic Indian tribes all of which started with an innocuous article.

The article was innocuous; but not the person it was about - Hitler. The other day, I came across a news article about the last surviving food tasters of Hitler passing away. For the uninitiated, men in power all around the world - Kings, dictators, leaders, pariahs - induct food tasters (testers) to test the food they are served; if the food tasters did not exhibit untoward behavior/symptoms, the food is signaled safe for consumption. This is to thwart attempts to poison the leader (remember Castro?). Hitler, understandably, had employed 12 German girls as his food tasters. As I was reading this news bit, my crazy brain kicked up its non-linear rendezvous into the realms of my memory pulp; thoughts flickered, sparks flew, and the scene of the article transformed into a royal court house. In the middle of the house was Aishwarya Rai - as radiant as ever (L'Oreal?) adoring a regal golden robe, eating food of a large plate. The setup was Akbar's palace; it dawned on me that my mind, in its characteristic style, has linked the food taster image, to the scene from Jodha Akbar movie, where Akbar's step mom (or was it nanny?) doubting Jodha's (Aishwarya Rai's) intentions, forces her to taste the food before passing it on to Akbar. In a jiffy, my brain has seamlessly and subconsciously connected my reading about food tasters to the movie I saw years ago, thereby plotting yet another path on my memory graph. Bravo Brain Bravo!! 

Hold on! The best is yet to come! Jodha wins over the taste buds and tummies of the courtiers; and Akbar wins over Jodha's heart by eating off her plate, and they break into another of Rahman's romantic tunes. Before I could relish in the rhythm of the moment, my crazy brain was back at work, this time, it transformed the locale into the backyard of my home, and Aishwarya Rai transformed into - a crow! For a moment, I thought the fuses have gone off my brains (and have given my wife more the excuse to pack me off to an asylum). How else would my brain relate Aishwarya Rai to the hideous and generally detested crow. But then the correlation slowly dawned as I saw my mom serving food to the crow after pujas (prayers). After the crow had its full and blessed us with its gory 'kaw', my family feasted on the prayer servings. My conscious brain couldn't relate to my subconscious! What made my brain map the food taster idea to the common crow? I couldn't recollect any prior knowledge or memory of observing crows (except for the one musing I once had that crows born in England are also equally dark in color as Indian crows). May be, it's my constant indignation for Indian customs and attempts to dig out scientific rationale behind customs that is metaphorically drawing a path here. Hey, I don't intend to subvert or mock religious beliefs - the idea that food served to crows fortnightly implies serving daily meals to our ancestors in heavenly abode - though a bit out-reaching - yet reinforces the scientifically proven theory of relativity of time with respect to space, which ancient Indians seem to have mastered long before Einstein. 

But still, from an anthro-zoological point, I couldn't stop thinking of the possibility that the idea of serving food to crows (or other animals) was more of an ancient custom of testing the food we foraged from the wild, and making sure it's fit for human consumption. Wild fruits and shrubs foraged in the wild may have been tested on animals we domesticated or lived around with, and the practice evolved into a symbiotic relationship (with dogs, cows, birds and other cattle) and further on taken a philosophical edge and got absorbed into the religious customs of Indians. Stressing the possibility more is the fact that, most of Hindu gods are mythical Kings and food served to Kings/ Gods are tested before being consumed!

This could be just me day-dreaming, with my brain spinning yet another crazy maze of semi-fiction around history and Indian traditions. Crazy as it may sound; but the more I think of it, the more it sounds plausible!!


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