The Rooster Did It

15 Dec


The kitchen was his Waterloo.

That damn rooster knew his place in the world – it was the yard in front of the barn, right by the well where the maids still beat dirt out of the day’s laundry the old-fashioned way, amongst the docile white hens that spent their days minding their own business. Out there in the yard, he was the king of all he surveyed. He enforced the loyalty of his dozen or so wives with a vicious beak and a loud crowing that he let loose anytime it suited him. But it wasn’t enough.

The place that rooster wanted to be most of all, was the one place where he had no business to be. The kitchen. Day in and day out, he’d watch the humans as they traipsed in and out of that mysterious room. None of the animals were allowed in there and he knew it. Yet, every single day of his life, he’d sidle his way over when his little beady eyes told him no one was looking, and attempt to sneak inside.

And every single day, one of the servants or my grand-aunt would see him stepping cautiously over the doorstep and chase him out. Out of the kitchen and off the back porch and past the servants’ quarters to the yard where he belonged.

I’d been told to stay away from him. But he was to me what the kitchen was to him. The stray cats that came to feed on fish guts every morning were interesting but they were an aloof presence, lining up silently by their dozens to nibble on the morsels my grand aunt flung out to them before leaving without so much as a meow. The cows were big and smelly, and if they ever left their barn, I never saw it. The dogs were nice but the sweet little Doberman puppy had grown up vicious and I couldn’t get near the Pomeranian or the family of Boxers without bumping into his snarl, so they were all out of the picture for now. The chickens were plain boring except for the little chicks who held some promise for entertainment but scattered too easily at the sound of my footsteps… but the rooster was another story.

Not that I knew he was a rooster back then. I thought he was just a more interesting chicken with his red and gold feathers and his aggressive defense of his territory. He was nearly as tall as I was at age three and ten times as mean. I’d been told a million times to keep away from him because I was too little, too clumsy, too tender, too slow to fight off his beak.

And then one day we bumped into each other in the kitchen. I suppose everybody was busy doing their own thing, because he made it all the way inside unmolested, and I was alone in the kitchen unsupervised even though it was well known that I was a child who liked to get into things that were rightfully none of my business.

I don’t know what I wanted with him – pet him? pull his feathers? study his military prowl around the room? What I remember is running around in circles, screaming my fool head off, once we’d been introduced so to speak, and one of the maids come flying through the pantry with her broom held aloft to chase him out. (For some reason, that’s the image that pops into my head today when I hear the phrase “the farmer had a wife”.)

I don’t think he actually got a chance to peck at me. I certainly don’t remember any injury. I don’t even know if I let him come near enough to think his actions through or if I just went off like a rocket the moment I got close enough to touch him and thus planted the idea in his head. Maybe it was a game I invented on the spot and he became my unwitting playmate.

He sure paid a price for it, if that was what happened. The next day I came out to inspect my little world as usual and there he was, most unusually, tied to one of the pillars of the back porch by a long string. Unlike all the other times I’d seen him near the porch, this time he was looking towards his harem instead of the kitchen, blissfully ignoring him as they went about their business.

From time to time he’d give a rusty little squawk and take a few tentative steps towards his family before the string brought him up short. Some trick of memory, built up over the intervening years, paints me a picture of surprise on his sharp little face. He could feel the string, but he didn’t understand the concept of it, what it was that held him back. Again and again, he’d try; again and again, he’d jerk back when the string choked him.

“What’s he doing there?” I asked the man of all trades. “Is he being punished for being naughty?”

He grinned at me, his teeth very white. “Your grandmother gave the order.”

“But what are you going to do to him?” I persisted.

He grinned again and moved his hand in a slicing motion across his neck. I didn’t understand what he meant but it boded ill for the rooster. I looked nervously at the bird, just a few feet away. It noticed me at the same time and set up a loud squawk, flying up at me in seeming indignation, feathers whistling in the air. Hurriedly I stepped back. I noticed the man was sharpening a wicked looking knife. It resembled a cross between a butcher’s knife and a scythe and was made of iron – he’d let me handle it before to test its weight, enjoying my surprise when I discovered it took both arms to hold up that which he brandished with one hand.

The next time I was out on the porch, perhaps that day, perhaps the next, the rooster was gone. The man was standing over a concrete slab sloping downward at a 45 degree angle, placed, I think, as a butcher’s block on the far side of the back porch. I peeped over the balustrade that encircled the porch but was yet too short to see properly over it. So I walked slowly to the steps, running my hand over the cool green wall with the red balustrade straddling it on top – parrot colors, my ayah called them – to look around the pillar.

I don’t remember blood, but there was a headless rooster being shorn of his feathers. I seem to remember a cloud of them, flying up in the air. And the dark face of the man bent over its lifeless body, brows knit in concentration, no white teeth flashing now.

Later that day, we had chicken curry for lunch.

“I don’t want any, thank you,” I said in a small voice.

“But it’s delicious,” my mother said, her hand hovering over the dish.

Inside I saw the rooster, his bits and pieces swimming in delicious gravy. “No,” I said. “I don’t want any.”

I’ll eat chicken fried, roasted, grilled, baked, in a salad, out of a tandoor… any way you want to serve it. But a chicken curry I will not eat. My inner three year old would rather eat something else, thank you.


Posted by on December 15, 2008 in Desipundit, Personal


19 responses to “The Rooster Did It

  1. memsaab

    December 15, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    Oh this brings back childhood for me…we had chickens, and I used to watch our guy behead them, and let them run around headless for a second, before he’d dump them in a bucket of hot water to defeather them. When little I was fascinated; when older I refused to eat them (although I’d eat other chickens that hadn’t belonged to us, that I hadn’t named)…

  2. Rada

    December 15, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    When I was a child, I could never eat chicken, given that the “raw material” invariably came from our own backyard. Never prevented me from having chicken (in all forms) though, when I grew up and moved on…

  3. ravi nair

    December 15, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    Nice post-I’ll say this much, your post makes me feel guilty now. So much so, that I told my wife that I’d pass on the chicken curry that she made tonight. Smells wonderful, but I’ll have to rethink my position on eating meat.

    It’s been sometime in coming, but maybe this was the push I needed via a blog :-).

    I’ll stick to eating fish for now, as I love Sashimi and Sushi a lot. Eventually that too will stop.

  4. apu

    December 16, 2008 at 12:03 am

    most non-vegetarians want to have their cake and eat it too, no? 🙂 (smiles supercilious vegetarian smile)

  5. wordjunkie

    December 16, 2008 at 12:12 am

    Well, he ended up in the kitchen after all.

  6. Mamma Mia! Me A Mamma?!?

    December 16, 2008 at 1:40 am

    And that is why I buy frozen chicken…

    BTW, there’s an award waiting for you, do collect!

  7. A Cynic in Wonderland

    December 16, 2008 at 2:14 am

    ..Okay now I am off chicken curry too I think. You know that reminds me – I never get those people who go to sea food restaurants and pick out the fish they want to eat. I dont want to see it. I dont want to have anything whatsoever to do with it until its on the plate.

  8. Sujatha

    December 16, 2008 at 5:27 am

    We were driving in Bangalore once and Big N saw a big cage of them outside a butcher’s. He wanted to know why they were caged and I told him. He swore off chicken for ever. Later that evening I asked him what he wanted for dinner and he promptly said chicken.

  9. Hades

    December 16, 2008 at 5:31 am

    Nicely done.

    Completely off topic: For some reason, chicken and rooster (‘cock’ as per the murgiwallah) weren’t interchangebale in our house. Specific dishes required either rooster or chicken. I wonder why.

  10. Nikhil Narayanan

    December 16, 2008 at 5:33 am

    Nice anecdote.
    I have seen headless chickens put in buckets and let to die at those places selling “Fresh Chicken”.
    Anyways, I don’t have it now.

    And you “chickened” out?


  11. M

    December 16, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Heh – wsn’t sure what to say to this post, being life-long vegetarian and all, but I think Apu’s comment says it for me! 🙂 🙂

    But really, incipient wish to be “cool” in college and eat non-veg dissipated as soon as I went to the butcher’s shop with a friend 🙂


  12. sachita

    December 16, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    I love the way this was written:)

  13. tanay

    December 17, 2008 at 5:17 am

    i think the 3 year old indiequill, had a sharp memory for these details and the grown up indiequill, has a splendid quill power.

    also brings to my mind, the memories of my cousins and myself in my childhood. we would eat chicken curry if chicken was got from the market in the dressed format but once we saw how the processing and cleaning was done, we never touched it for a couple of weeks….again after a few weeks, back to chicken taste..

    hey, have you read ‘the white tiger’ by now, as two words that you have used in the post find extensive use in the book. guess those 🙂

  14. naren

    December 17, 2008 at 10:21 am

    this is so well written!

  15. Amrita

    December 17, 2008 at 11:45 am

    Memsaab – I’m simultaneously horrified and envious of the headless chicken story 🙂 I don’t remember our chicken being named but then I was strongly discouraged from hanging out with them.

    Rada – glad I wasn’t alone in my revulsion. It was just the connection of dots between food on the table and the animals in the backyard. Once I got over that, everything was easy peasy.

    Ravi – awww! Now I feel bad! Esp for your wife who cooked the curry 😀 This wasn’t a call to vegetarianism, so keep chowing down the sashimi.

    Apu and M – $#%^#%&& vegetarians! I shake my fist at thee. Also, never go to a butcher shop unless it’s something upscale where they do their work in the backroom.

    Wordjunkie – AHAHHAA!!! Yeah, be careful what you wish for, I guess.

    Mamma – me too! My aunt keeps telling me I’m missing something by not buying fresh and I tell her that something is called “bird flu”.

    Cynic – yeah, me neither. I don’t want to eat the aquarium, you know? Speaking of, my dad once came back from Hong Kong traumatized because not only were they eating fresh seafood there but his dinner meeting took place in a restaurant where you could choose your snake and once he’d seen it boiled alive, skinned, chopped and served, he no longer wanted to eat anything anywhere. Turned vegetarian for a while there.

    Suj – N is like me! 😀

    Hades – Huh, I wonder why too! Maybe roosters have more muscle and are therefore tough to chew?

    Nikhil – nope, not in the least! It’s the flaccidity of the flesh in the curry that makes me want to throw up. It really feels like I’m eating a corpse.Blech.

    Sachita and Naren – thanks 🙂

    Tanay – it’s kinda weird but my third year seems stocked with a number of memories that are crystal clear to me. Of course, I don’t know how many of them I’ve embellished over the years to make more sense of them but … I haven’t read it yet, no. Been caught up in some stuff. Hopefully, I’ll get to read it before the end of the year and when I do, there will be a review. (famous last words, I know!)

  16. M

    December 17, 2008 at 12:58 pm


    What, you didn’t get the memo? Vegetarianism is the cure for all ills, and will bring world peace in the long run???

    Small towns in S.India (where I went to college) don’t have upscale butchers that I know of….plus the friend was a die-hard non-veggie who needed to make sure the bird was “fresh” – ok, that memory is grossing me out (sorry) – so will stop…and I do sympathise with your father – DH went through something similar on his trip to China as well…the snake meal was presented as a special thing for the non-veg eating members of the group (official trip) – and the poor guy went off all food for the rest of the trip!



  17. Kanan

    December 17, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    Oh man!

    It amazes me how little childhood incidents stay with us forever.

  18. Amrita

    December 20, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    M – I knew I’d missed out on something!! 😀 also, that’s totally gross! This fresh thing freaks me out – I have an aunt who refuses to buy packaged mutton because she’s afraid it might be beef. So she’ll actually go to the butcher’s and make then chop up a goat for her. Like that’s so much better! Ugh. I’m sorry for DH’s pain!

    Kanan – yup, and then you write about it! 😀

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