CHENNAI: The Forest Department of Tamil Nadu and police along with activists seized rose-ringed parakeets from 13 fortune tellers on Marina beach in the last couple of weeks. The officials captured nearly 20 birds and a handful of guinea pigs from these fortune tellers.
“The fortune tellers were charged under Section 4 of Wildlife Act 1972,” said Forest Ranger P Murugesan, who was involved in the operation. “These birds are locked in tiny cages and abused in the process of training and are left with chopped wings,” he said. He added that while birds are being intimidated, even clients are manipulated and cheated.
Around 100 fortune tellers make a living out of these birds in Marina beach alone, estimate Forest Department officials. Some fortune tellers even use guinea pigs to pick up cards.
The ‘Parrot Astrologers’, commonly known as kili josiar, have a different story to tell.
Rose-ringed parakeets or pachakili have been an integral part of Chennai beaches. When the clock strikes 4pm, one fortune teller after another step into the beach. They pace around the beach with tiny wooden boxes swinging in their hands.
The single opening in the front of the box is lined with vertical metal bars. A parakeet or sometimes, even a guinea pig peeps from between the rods. Their fast footsteps falter when they see a couple crouched in the shades of unopened food stalls.
Their face lights up if they see a group of noisy youngsters laughing and making fun of one another. These are hot spots of business. Catchy one-liners grab attention of these curious customers.
“Aana porakka vendiyava, penna poranthutta! (You have the soul of a man, but born as a woman)”, “You will get a husband like lord Ram!” and others that either invoke curiosity or humour. Once they’ve sold their ‘pick-up lines’, they sit down and set the cage on the dune and spread a small cloth or rubber mat. “Jakkamma!” “Amma Mahalakshmi”, “Ayya Manickam”, they summon the parakeets calling their names, from the cage as they set a deck of cards on the mat.
Enter parakeet. After waiting a while, the bird simply walks back into the cage. The fortune teller summons the bird again, only this time, he twirls a grain in his hand. With its eyes glued to the grain, the parakeet picks up one card after another and drops it on the mat. He drops the grain and it finally holds one up signalling a hand-over.
He mutters a prayer to God Muruga and asks the parakeet to pray too before giving a few shards of grain. The bird after eating her fill, steps back into the cage.
"They grow with us like our children. We wake up together and eat rice thrice a day. We keep water in a bowl because we also feed them grains," he said. "Manickam eats Sambhar rice, lentil rice and curd rice. How do you think he got through this summer without curd rice?" he asks. During the day, the birds are said to flutter freely around the house and in the evenings, they are packed in their cages and go with their 'parents' for work.
"This is the only profession I know. Now my Manickam has been taken away," rued Muthukumar. 'Manickam is the Tamil equivalent of Ruby and the gem stone is supposed to bring prosperity to its owner. "My uncle sells clothes in whole-sale. I may take his help and sell clothes door-to-door in some village," he said promising that he may never take up this profession again.
The birds taken away from the fortune-tellers are now being rehabilitated and will be moved to Arignar Anna Zoological Park in Vandalur where they will live in bigger cages with other parakeets.