Ragpicker Deepu, nine years old, is in demand during Pitru Paksha — a period to remember departed souls — as he can speak the language of crows, believed to be messengers of Yama (God of Death). This ability to summon them with a real-sounding caw has earned him the sobriquet of ‘crow boy’.
“I can call them any time, they are my best friends,” said Deepu, who lives in a cremation ground in Bareilly, 255 kilometres from Lucknow.
During the fortnight of Pitru Paksha, in which feeding a crow is considered one of the most important rituals, Deepu is a busy boy. “People often call me just to bring crows to the ground while offering rituals on the banks of the river Ramganga,” said Deepu. He does this free of cost.
His friendship with crows started three years ago. “I lost my father in 2012. He was suffering from tuberculosis. Being the only male member in a family of three, I started picking rags to earn my livelihood,” he said.
One such day, while collecting rags from a dump, Deepu came across a flock of crows feeding on waste. “I closely noticed their activities and soon started spending hours observing them,” he said.
“After hearing them daily, I tried to imitate the sound. I was surprised to find crows responding to my cawing,” Deepu said.
This made him try harder and Deepu ultimately mastered the cawing after trying for almost a month. “I even started calling them to the ground to feed on whatever I had for lunch,” he said.
Deepu is now trying to imitate the calls of other birds but it requires a lot of time, something the boy is short of as he shoulders a family’s responsibility.