Meet Deepu, the child ragpicker who calls crows for Pitra Paksha
- Hindus believe their ancestors visit them during Pitra Paksha
- Since they take the form of crows, they put out food for them
- But dwindling numbers of crows is threatening the tradition
- Deepu, a child ragpicker calls crows for Pitra Paksha rituals
- He learned to mimic them while scavenging at garbage dumps
- When he caws, crows leave their perches and flock to him
Deepu, 9, is a ragpicker from Bareilly, UP. He spends his days rummaging through garbage dumps for stuff he can sell. For the most part, people keep him at a distance.
Until, that is, the fortnight of Pitra Paksha rolls around. For 15 days, Deepu and children like him are much in demand.
Traditionally, Hindus feed crows during Pitra Paksha. However, as ecological degradation depletes the crow's numbers, observing the tradition is becoming ever harder.
In comes Deepu. He has a gift to mimic crows and make them flock around him in a matter of minutes.
"Hindus believe their dead ancestors visit the earth during Pitra Paksha and take the form of crows. So, we leave cooked food and water in open places, waiting for the crows to eat," says Rajiv Tripathi, a priest. "It's a blessing if the crows eat it."
Hindus believe their dead ancestors visit the earth during Pitra Paksha and take the form of crows
To draw crows to the food and drink, the faithful call Deepu to the ponds or streams where Pitra Paksha rituals are generally performed. For his services, he is usually paid in cash.
"He is doing an excellent job for us," says Shekhar Shukla of Bareilly. "It is only because of him we are able to perform the rituals to gain the goodwill of our ancestors."
Coincidentally, Bareilly is also home to the Central Avian Research Institute. Its principal scientist Praveen Kumar Tyagi explains why the crow population is dwindling.
"Changing living conditions in cities, rapid urbanisation, depleting green cover; all this is forcing crows to move to rural areas. The conditions in villages and small cities are more conducive to them," he says.
How did Deepu acquire his gift?
"It was at the garbage dumps that I noticed how crows cawed," says Deepu, who took to scavenging to support his family after his father, also a ragpicker, died of tuberculosis three years ago. "And then I tried to mimic them."
It took him a while to get it right. But when he did, after months of practice, he found the crows cawing back to him.
Over time, he got to know them well. He claims the crows once saved him from bullies.
It was at the garbage dumps that I noticed how crows cawed and tried to mimic them, says Deepu
Ragpickers generally demarcate their areas and keep to them. Once Deepu unknowingly went to some other ragpickers' territory. They pounced on him and were about to beat him when Deepu started cawing. Soon, hundreds of crows flocked around Deepu, forcing the older ragpickers to flee. The story may sound apocryphal, but Deepu swears it's true.
"They are my friends," he says with a grin.
Now, when Deepu caws, crows leave their perches in the trees and buildings and descend on the ground around him.
Now that he has won over crows, Deepu is trying to befriend another creature.
"The garbage dumps are also home to snakes," he says, bursting into a wide smile.