Archive for » February, 2014 «

Love for the birds?

An incident happened, no sooner than I had finished my last entry (below) about English versus Tamil love, to show me what love is for the birds.

A recent cacophony brought to the attention of a visiting friend a violent attack by flock of crows on an isolated drongo. The drongo was fluttering around helplessly on the grass, trying to avoid murderous pecks by the horde. My brave friend managed to grab the stricken drongo and bring it indoors to safety, willingly accepting some serious pecks by the rescued bird in his grasp. The bird was taken to a vet to have some partially broken feathers excised, found a cage for temporary residence, fed and protected. And it was soon moving actively within the confines of its cage.

It became evident that our rescuee was a nestling of a pair of adult drongos that kept whistling and calling in the vicinity. The cage was kept outside so that parents could connect, while the baby recovered. Soon, mother and father bird were perched on the outside of the cage and communicating with the recovering offspring in the highly varied vocal repertoire that drongos possess.

Junior appeared strong enough the next day to be let out experimentally during a parental visit. It took a few hops under watch of mother (or father) but showed no wish to fly right away. Mother (or father) flew off after a few seconds only to swoop back in, on an attacking dive, at the kid. The screeching nestling had once again to be rescued – this time from a murderous parent.  It was, but was found dead in its cage the next morning.

We later heard stories suggesting that the drongo parents may have poisoned their stricken offspring. That may or may not have happened here. But there was no mistaking the intent to kill, in the physical attack on the offspring, as soon as the parent decided it was beyond its capacity to bring up.

So what gives? Birds clearly have no conception of nursing ailing kids back to health. But they certainly do seem to believe in euthanasia. I wonder whether you have seen or heard that this expression of mercy for disabled offspring is found among other species?



A friend provided the response that the baby drongo may have died the next day as a result of the emotional shock. I suppose a human could have reacted this way if its mother suddenly flipped from fond carer to mortal enemy. Sounds plausible even for a drongo kid.

Sinhala and Tamil love

Is love different for someone who is primarily Tamil speaking versus someone who is Sinhala speaking? I think not. But I do think it’s different for someone who is primarily English speaking. Pity the English speaker.

The English ‘love’ does not help distinguish romantic love from its other forms. In Sinhala and Tamil we have love of the generic kind in ‘anbu’ and ‘adaraya’. Romantic love on the other hand is distinct – ‘khadal’ or ‘premaya’. I am therefore rather more fortunate than a Scot. To have a special word for that qualitatively different and uniquely exhilarating kind of love is a great benefit. (Words such as affection and liking refer to variations in intensity, not quality.)

How can Scots convey intense khadal or premaya? They may say, ‘I am consumed by love for you’, and leave it to context for the recipient to gather what kind of love is referred to. Those of us who have a specific word available know that their option does not quite compare with the feeling that khadal (premaya) offers. To get the punch of khadal or premaya the Scot has to say, ‘I am consumed by romantic love for you’. The need for this contortion does not even occur to the Scot, who is unaware of the nuance that our explicit khadal/premaya option offers.

(Speaking of Scots, don’t you find them, and the Irish, gentler than the English and Americans? To take this silly stereotyping even further, I’d claim that Canadians and Australians too are close to the insufferable end of the spectrum. New Zealanders are probably closer to the tolerable end.)

In our eagerness to become more and more English (= white?) we shed valuable stuff along the way. Some of us are given to looking down upon or condemning values and ways of relating that we drop as we become whiter. Loads of subtle, and not so subtle, feelings and experiences that ‘non-English’ cultures offer have already become extinct in the universalization. The saddest examples are from among original inhabitants of the Americas and Australia. There is more that will disappear as we continue to venerate uniformity as progress.

We aren’t sensitive enough to the (mostly unseen) losses we suffer whilst we eagerly further westernize and enjoy the (usually visible) gains that result. Loss of words leads to loss of nuanced experience. The flavor of experience linked to ‘metta’ or ‘anbe Sivam’ is lost in the translated ‘universal love’.

The ‘western’ juggernaut blindly crushing these cultural treasures is not aware of what it seeks to destroy even further, so no trace shall remain. Hindu and Buddhist cultures offer an experiential form of pity that is appropriate to direct at such unstoppable transgressors. But Buddhists and Hindus shall remain speechless as they are rescued by the relentless global civilization. They don’t have words that the rescuers understand.


p.s. (1 March 2014):

I am happy about having had responses to this post already. Among them was that of a friend who recalled a quote of:

… John Fowles (an English person) which goes something like this: It is not only species of animal that die out but whole species of feeling. Don’t pity the past for what it didn’t know but pity yourself for what it did.

(… I couldn’t find it, though, so I might misquote him.)

In the process I found another quote, by William Dalrymple (another English person): “Despite a dazzling variety of Sanskrit terms for every shade of sexual arousal, no modern Indian language has a word for orgasm.”