Sunday Chicken

by RK Biswas

The birds are double packed into foot high wire cages, four feet long and three feet wide, and stacked one above the other. No water bowls and plates of grain.But plenty of poop and feathers. The chickens remain seated, mostly. Sometimes on top of each other. They fight seated. Poop seated. They cluck and shudder. Then they doze. All of them display an indecent amount of raw flesh surrounded by ragged feathers and down. Once in a while they let out hideous crows. Their eyes become pinpoints of terror. They stare at the hand reaching in to pull one of them out. Then they become dull again. Vacant eyes on the slit throat, the headless carcass flopping on the wooden slab.

The butchers are Muslim. Their customers are predominantly Hindus who ordinarily hate the smell and sight of gore, but love chicken curry too much. Some of them are complete vegetarians at home, but go out to enjoy a Sunday chicken with their non-vegetarian friends. At their homes or at picnics at the Casuarina groves of faraway beaches. Chicken 65 is good with the bottles of Indian Made Foreign Liquor that they carry to their stag parties. Followed by chicken biriyani.

Sundays come. Sundays go. Chicken curry aromas flow through non-Brahmin neighbourhoods, announcing the holiday. Sons return home after beach cricket with their dads and uncles and their friends with their dads and uncles. Daughters return from beauty salons or friends’ homes. For Sunday family time with plates piled high with chicken and rice.

Chickens are slaughtered every day, except on Fridays. On Sundays the blood spill is more festive. The butchers hand over change splattered with blood, too busy to wipe their hands on their aprons. The customers don’t seem to mind. They jostle and joke among themselves. They watch the chicken parts split apart and take on edible shapes.

One Sunday, one of the chickens discovers that it can come out of the cage by twisting its body through the wires, some of which are bent out of shape. Unnoticed, it goes to a corner. It raises its head and sees the world beyond. There is a bright sky above and the green leafy branches of a nearby tree. There are crows and mynah-birds. Some butterflies. Everything appears polished and shining. The chicken turns its head. And there are its caged cousins just behind. He looks at the world and then at them. Again and again. The contrast is sharp. The world beyond is full of light, and he can barely distinguish the ones in the cages. The chicken remains, seemingly lost in contemplation.

After a while it walks towards the expanding space, away from its prison. Then it hesitates and begins to cheep. At first in a soft and hesitant manner. But after a while it calls out loudly. And its friends and cousins take notice. They respond by cheeping and clucking. Nobody notices the free bird. Everybody ignores the frantic cries and bustle within the cages. After what seems to be an eternity in chicken time, the bird walks towards the cages. It sits outside, right next to the doomed ones. Pushing its beak into the cage, it eyes its mates. They eye it back. They cluck in unison, as if murmuring their approval. When a butcher spots it and grasps it by its tattered wings, and twists them one under the other so that he cannot fly or flutter away, the caged ones become quiet and still. The bound bird looks at them. They stare back.

RK Biswas is the author of “Culling Mynahs and Crows,” Lifi Publications, India, and “Breasts and Other Afflictions of Women,” Authorspress, India. Her third book “Immoderate Men” is forthcoming in mid-2016 from Speaking Tiger Books, India. Her short fiction and poetry have been published worldwide. Notably in Asia Literary Review (Hong Kong) Per Contra (USA), Markings (Scotland),Flash: The International Short-Short Story magazine (UK), Mascara Literary Review (Australia), Cha: An Asian Literary Journal (Hong Kong), Kritya (India), South (UK), Pratilipi (India), Eclectica (USA), Nth Position (UK), Crannog (Ireland) The Little Magazine – India, Going Down Swinging (Australia) and Etchings (Australia), Muse India among others. Her Novel Culling Mynahs and Crows was listed as one of the 20 most popular books published in 2014 by The Readers’Club, Delhi. Her poem “Cleavage” was long listed in the Bridport Poetry Prize in 2006 and also was a finalist in the Aesthetica Contest in 2010. Her story Ahalya’s Valhalla was among Story South’s Notable stories of the net in 2007. Her poem “Bones” was a Pushcart Nominee from Cha: An Asian Literary Journal in 2010. In 2012 she won first prize in the Anam Cara Writer’s Retreat Short Story Contest. She blogs at http://biswasrk.wordpress.com.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Sunday Chicken”?

    Fishmongers and butchers’ shops in India, by and large, comprise a slab of stone or concrete for the counter in a cubby hole, with racks of chickens or tied up goats kept right outside or behind the shop. The sight is gory and messy, to say the least. The fishmongers are worse. I have hosted many pure vegetarians at home (both in India and also when I lived abroad) who mainly came over for the meat dishes, (some desiring boneless chicken because even though they love non vegetarian they cannot stomach the bones!) I am familiar with the hypocrisy. One day I actually saw a chicken escape and then return to its caged mates. I wondered what it was thinking. I couldn’t get the chicken out of my head; can still see it in my mind’s eye. A long time ago I had read a piece by Friedrich Nietzche about a bird that had flown across an expanse of water and then realised that it was too tired to fly further and was too far from the coast to return. It was so long ago that I am not sure if Nietzche ever wrote such a piece. But it remained in my imagination, has remained ever since. So at first I had titled my piece “Nietzche’s Chicken,” but later thought I was being pretentious by pulling in such a great writer/philosopher’s name. Besides, people do eat more meat on Sundays, and men slink into their non vegetarian friends’ homes for the feast.
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