Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

The Three Crows

by Jose Antonio Campos

‘I am reliably informed that one of our soldiers felt slightly unwell, at the beginning; then his discomfort increased; later he felt a terrible pain in the stomach; and finally he vomited three live crows.’

‘Vomited what?’

‘Three crows, my general.’

Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha

Jose Antonio Campos (1868-1939) was a humorist, journalist and also a banker from Ecuador. From what little bio-data I could gather, Campos also used the pen name ‘Jack the Ripper’ to publish scathing, wickedly witty narratives on the follies of authority figures and earned a reputation as a literateur in Ecuador. An English translation of a Campos’s crow story appears in ‘Readings from the Americas’ (selected and edited by Guy Cardwell, Ronald Press Company, New York, 1947, pp. 553-557.). It originally appeared in the Inter-America magazine (English edition), vol.5, Dec. 1921.

From childhood days, most of us have enjoyed listening to crow stories from the Aesop Fables. This crow story by Jose Antonio Campos, framed in an army setting, seems to have anticipated the number crunching tales regularly paraded by the publicity-seeking authority figures of Sri Lankan military for the past 25 years. The use of famous names of a Greek general and natural philosophers with military titles, Major Epaminondas [Epaminondas], Captain Aristofanes [Aristophanes], Lieutenant Pitogoras [Pythagoras] and Sergeant Esopo [Aesop], as pegs by Campos is enchanting.

Now, here is ‘The Three Crows’ story, of Jose Antonio Campos to savor. Please note that (1) the words and phrases noted in italics and Latin/Spanish terms, and (2) the dots are as in the original.

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‘My general!’

‘Colonel!’

‘I have the honor to report that something very strange is occurring in camp.’

‘Speak, colonel.’

‘I am reliably informed that one of our soldiers felt slightly unwell, at the beginning; then his discomfort increased; later he felt a terrible pain in the stomach; and finally he vomited three live crows.’

‘Vomited what?’

‘Three crows, my general.’

Caspita!

‘Doesn’t it strike my general that this is a very peculiar case?’

‘Peculiar, indeed!’

‘And what does he think of it?’

‘Colonel, I don not know what to think! I am going to report it at once to the minister. Therefore…there were…’

‘Three crows, my general.’

‘There must be some mistake!’

‘No, my general; there were three crows.’

‘Well, I accept it, although I cannot understand; who informed you?’

‘Major Epaminondas.’

‘Send him to me at once, while I am sending the report.’

‘At once, my general.’

‘MAJOR EPAMINONDAS!’

‘Present, my general!’

‘What story is this, of the three crows that were vomited by one of our sick privates?’

‘Three crows?’

‘Yes, major.’

‘I am informed of two, and no more, my general; but not of three.’

‘Well, two or three, it matters little. The question is to learn whether they were in truth real crows in the case in question.’

‘Without a doubt, my general.’

‘Two crows?’

‘Yes, my general.’

‘And how did it happen?’

‘The simplest thing in the world, my general. Private Pantaleon left a sweetheart in his village, who, according to report, is a dark girl not a little salt and pepper. What eyes she had, my general! They shone like twin stars! What a mouth! How mischievous her glance, how playful her smile, how trim her form, what a deep bosom, and what a delicious dimple in her cheek…’

‘Major!’

‘Present, my general!’

‘Be brief, and omit every unofficial detail.’

‘At your orders, my general.’

‘What was the conclusion of the story about the crows?’

‘Well then: the lad was downcast because of the painful absence of her whom we know, and would not eat or touch a thing, until at last he became very ill, with a pain in his stomach, and he began to vomit without stopping. In one of the spells, pouf!...two crows!’

‘You took occasion to look at them?’

‘No, my general; I am telling what I have heard.’

‘And who brought you the news?’

‘Captain Aristofanes.’

‘Let us conclude! Tell him to come immediately.’

‘Immediately, my general.’

‘CAPTAIN ARISTOFANES!’

‘Present, my general!’

‘How many crows did Private Pantaleon threw up?’

‘One crow, my general.’

‘I have just learned that there were two crows, and earlier they said three.’

‘No, my general; there was only one crow, fortunately; but nevertheless, saving the respectable opinion of my chief, it seems to me that one was enough to cause the case to be considered an unheard-of-phenomenon…’

‘I think the same, captain.’

‘One crow, my general, is in no way remarkable, if we consider it from the zoological point of view. What is a crow? Let us not confuse it with the European crow, my general, which is the Corvus corax of Linnaeus.

‘The species that we know about here is included in the numerous family of the diurnal Rapacia, and I hold that we are dealing with a true and genuine Sarcorhamphus, since around the base of the bill are visible the characteristic feathers, in which respect they differ from the Vultur papa, from the Cathartes, and even from the californianus itself. There is a difference, however, between the learned opinions of the zoologists regarding the word gallinazo.

‘Captain!’

‘Present, my general!’

‘Are we in a class in natural history?’

‘No, my general.’

‘Let us stick to the subject then. What about the crow that was thrown up by Private Pantaleon?’

‘There is no doubt of it, my general.’

‘Did you see it?’

‘I did not exactly see it, my general; but I learned about it through Lieutenant Pitagoras, who was a witness to the fact.’

‘Very well then. I wish to see Lieutenant Pitagoras at once.’

‘You shall be obeyed, my general!’

‘LIEUTENANT PITAGORAS!’

‘Present, my general!’

‘What do you know about the crow?...’

‘Really, my general, the case is remarkable, indeed, but it has been much exaggerated.’

‘How so?’

‘Because it was not a whole crow, that of the case in question, but only a part of a crow. What the sick man vomited was the wing of a crow. I, naturally, was much astonished, and I hastened to report it to my captain, Aristofanes; but it seems that he did not hear me say the word ‘wing’, and he thought that it was a whole crow; and in turn he reported the tale to my major, Epaminondas, who understood that there were two crows, and he passed the word on to Colonel Anaximandro, who thought that there were three.’

‘But…and that wing or whatever it was?’

‘I did not see it; it was Seargeant Esopo. You owe the news to him.’

‘The devil! Let Sergeant Esopo come at once!’

‘He shall come at once, my general!’

‘SEARGEANT ESOPO’

‘Present, my general!’

‘What is the matter with Private Pantaleon?’

‘He is ill, my general.’

‘But what is the matter with him?’

‘He is upset.’

‘Since when?’

‘Since last night, my general.’

‘At what hour did he vomit the wing of the crow about which they tell?’

‘He has not vomited any wing, my general.’

‘Then, dolt of an ass, why did you spread the news that Private Pantaleon had vomited the wing of a crow?’

‘With your pardon, my general, from my childhood I have known a verse that runs:

I have a little girlie with very black eyes

And hair as black as the wings of a crow!

I have a little girlie.

‘Enough, idiot!’

“Well, my general, what happened was that when I saw my mate, who was vomiting something black, I remembered the little verse, and I said that he had vomited something as black ‘as the wings of a crow.’ ’

‘The devil!’

‘That was all, my general; and from that the yarn has gone abroad.’

‘Withdraw immediately, addlepate!’

The brave general gave himself a blow on the forehead, saying: ‘A good piece of work! I think I put five or six crows in my report, as an extraordinary campaign occurrence!’

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