By Adarsh Madhavan
In the dead of night, I hear the message that a lone owl sends. Not a Whatsapp message that goes ting at the receiver’s end.
But a hoot.
An ominous cry, as they say.
I care a hoot.
But, my mother, who is afraid of so many things, also counts the owl as something to be scared of. I don’t know what order it comes in her list, but she is quite scared of it – it’s cries, I mean.
Against all things owl
I once showed her an owl video on the phone where this bird of prey turned its head slowly to look at us. I thought it was impressive.
My mom said “Ugh. I don’t want to see it – it’s an owl!”
And then I realised my mistake. She was against all things owl. She believes an owl alighting on the top of the house or on a tree in our compound was a forewarning of death. When it hooted, she said oh it was a call of death. And she wouldn’t sleep all night, falling sick all over again.
Victim of superstitions
What was in an owl that evoked such a response?
It’s bulldog fierce eyes? Maybe, because it flapped its wings silently in the blackness of the night, which was still and mysterious. I was also a victim of the fables and superstitions that surrounded the poor owls. Until recently, I was also under the impression that an owl cry was death announcing itself with a call. I would hear it and I would freeze. For years I have been told many things, about black cats crossing, or home pets and street mutts howling away into the night. On ‘howly’ nights, my mom would mutter under her breath, “God, something bad is going to happen.”
Harbinger of death
What has to happen will happen, unfortunately its timing used to be perfect with the hoot of the owl or the howl of the backyard mutt. When you grow in an ambience of fear and superstition, even a small bird of prey’s harmless cries are seen as a harbinger of death.
‘Owl’ did it know my name?
For the last few months, the owl’s late night or early morning call has been a constant feature. Since I stay late into the night, I would quite often hear it. Was it calling out my name, I wondered.
Mysterious figure of the dark
Sometimes, when I am in the compound of the house that I am staying in, I would try to trace the call to the owner, but although its strange voice was heard, I never manage to see it. Somehow it hid behind the thick foliage that surrounded the house where I am now living. There, on the tree something dark stirred. The dark stirred into more darkness and the mystery figure remained mysterious.
Tales make great read
The superstitions surrounding the owl were fascinating and made the bird also equally interesting. In the sense, I wonder how and why many considered it to be an evil omen. Why its cries were associated with death and why it was considered to be an omen of doom. Why would the spirit of a human being pass into the owl upon his or her death? Of course, I was not put off by such tales as it always made a great read. But then I got put off by my own earlier belief in these tales.
Blessing she can’t hear it
My mother has company. For, there are many others who are afraid of the owl and its ‘ominous’ cries. It is a blessing now that my mother’s hearing issues prevent her from hearing it hoot in the night, and, sometimes rarely, at the crack of dawn. Maybe it is a night owl like me.
Care a hoot
I am sure my cries in the dead of the night would also sound ominous.
Luckily, no one hears it.
Or, if they do, they care a hoot. And, as the darkness surrounding the cries swirled wild, I quietly slip on my dried bat wings and flap-flap off into the night.
I also care a hoot.