The expression a “cuckoo in the nest” has a range of meanings. It can mean any person or thing found where it doesn’t belong and is also used to indicate any problem that snowballs, consuming resources needed for other purposes. Also, the term is sometimes used to refer to an illegitimate child.
How did all this begin? It began with the fact the Cuckoo puts its eggs in the nest built by the Crows (in some areas different birds). I was trying to find out scientific reasons for this but could not find any logical explanation. Cuckoo is smarter than a Crow. But I also understand that crows are smart, but they are not smart enough. The Cuckoo puts the eggs in the Crow’s nest when the Crow has gone out.
Cuckoo thinks that this fellow Crow is building the nests for him, so why should the Cuckoo waste his time on building the nest. They act like humans and try and conserve their resources. Cuckoo’s eggs hatch early and then Cuckoo’s try and ditch the host’s eggs. The young ones in some cases look similar in the initial phase to that of Crow’s young chicks. They make a lot of cacophonies so that the crow feeds them early and more. It’s like the small babies; the mother gives them milk when they cry. Another theory I have read is that the Cuckoos are vegetarian and they ensure that their young ones get the proteins in the form of bugs from Crows.
All this discussion leads to a question about parasites. A parasite is an organism that lives within or on a host. The host is another organism. The parasite uses the host’s resources to fuel its life cycle. It uses the host’s resources to maintain itself. Parasites vary widely. Around 70 per cent are not visible to the human eye, such as the malarial parasite, but some worm parasites can reach over 30 meters in length. Parasites are not a disease, but they can spread diseases. Different parasites have different effects.
We see parasites in the human race too! My first interaction with human parasites was when I was in engineering college hostels. We used to be three per room. But in some places, more than three students lived. These students lived in the hostels for a couple of reasons. There was a music lovers‘ gang. They would have music sessions on many nights. Sometimes these sessions would continue for a few nights at a stretch. On those days, some would sleepover and continue to do so for weeks. Those were pre-security or terrorism days, so nobody bothered who lived and who went back home. Last year my buddy Nayan and I visited the hostels out of nostalgia and were required to make the gate entry, inform the purpose of visit. We also had to wear a security tag. Then there was another set of parasites, though in small numbers. They were from families with financial constraints and would live in their friend’s room right through the year. Nobody would even discuss such an act (which could be called illegal!), but these folks were parasites out of compulsion and could be called good parasites.
I remember a very distinct system from my school days. I used to come to Pune sometimes for holidays to be with my grandparents. In those days, there was a system called “Madhukari” (माधुकरी). In my grandparents’ home, a couple of young students used to come for lunch every day. I would not know the basis for choosing such persons for lunch. They were obviously from low-income families and had got themselves attached to different families for getting invited for a meal, on different days of the week! The Marathi term for this is “वार लावुन खाणे.” Technically, these young people were parasites, but they were invited by the family due to an act of charity. It was resource sharing by the family with these unfortunate young people. I shudder to think when I remember this system.
Cuckoos are smarter and many times larger than the hosts. The same analogy can be applied to business organisations who follow a very similar concept. I know about a particular organisation which is massive. They have businesses in many spheres. When they find that an individual small, agile and smart organisation is challenging them in a business area, they compromise with them in that area. But in other business areas, they compete aggressively with the same small organisation. I am not sure whether to call such organisations savvy or smart or aggressive. They conserve their resources in certain areas to compete like hell in the other areas! These large organisations cannot be called parasites, but the act of conserving resources is a part of the definition of parasitism!
There is an old fable of the ugly duckling. It is a story of accidental parasitism. By some accident, a swan egg becomes part of duck eggs family. The eggs get hatched, and the swan gets treated as a duckling. It looks different than the ducklings and is treated like an ugly duckling. The ugly duckling cannot quack like the other ducklings and looks very different than others in the family as the ducklings grow. Once the ugly duckling looks at its image in the water. It realises that it has turned up into a beautiful swan. We know and hear of such fascinating stories in real life too!
Take the case of Jasprit Bumrah. The Gujarat cricketer has an unconventional bowling action, and when he started playing in IPL for Mumbai Indians, experts gave him a couple of years to be around. They all predicted that he would not be able to sustain his action over a long period. But look now where he is! After five years of Cricket, he is very much around and has become the number one fast bowler in the world. He has taken advantage of his asset/resource of different bowling action and is expected to be around for years to come. Conversion of ugly duckling into a Swan?
Talking of Cuckoos, I always used to wonder about the word Cuckold. Diving a bit into the background, I found something interesting.
From the word Cuckoo, an interesting word Cuckold has been derived. A cuckold is the husband of an adulterous wife. In evolutionary biology, the term is also applied to males who are unwittingly investing parental effort in offspring that are not genetically their own. In the days of when DNA testing was not available, it would be straightforward to get Cuckolded. When the child was conceived, only the mother would know the birth father.
I must share an amusing story. In olden days, when the kings would go on wars, they would use the Chastity belt on their wives. The belt design was such that it would allow the wives to continue with their ablutions, but it prevented them from having sex. A king prepares to go for a war. He gets a chastity belt for his queen. He locks it and hands over the key to his trusted servant so that it could be handed over when the king came back from the war. The king was about five km from the town, and he heard the sound of someone riding the horse. The king is surprised to see his trusted servant. He comes next to the king’s chariot and says, “My Lord! You have given me the wrong key”!