By Nury Vittachi IANS | 3 months ago

I wish human beings were like internet ads, silent but with optional buttons saying "Replay with sound". This thought came to mind as I half-listened to a friend called Rahul giving me column ideas. Most were dull. But then he said the magic words "talking chicken".


Farmers at a food market in Africa were shocked when a chicken started speaking fluent Arabic, said the report he showed me from Nigeria's Daily Trust newspaper. The miraculous hen was taken to a police station in Makurdi, capital of Benue state. A woman named Aishetu said: "I heard that police have taken it into custody and that is why the station is so crowded."

Rahul pointed out that observers only went wild because the chicken was speaking Arabic, "suggesting that poultry fluent in other languages, i.e., English or Latin or Klingon, were too common to be of interest". He also noted that they didn't take the chicken to scientists but to a police station, presumably concerned that the laws of nature had been broken.

Rahul, a science student, said that the chicken's Arabic-sounding squawks would be a genetic mutation: "And since it's a mutation which prevents it being eaten, natural selection could ensure that eventually all chickens will be Arabic-speakers." At first I thought this sounded far-fetched, but then recalled that there are 19 billion chickens on earth, and they start laying eggs at the age of six months, so chicken evolution goes extremely quickly, like the life cycles of mayflies, Thai Prime Ministers, Korean Boy Bands and the like.

An animal lover hovering nearby was shocked. If there were almost three times as many chickens as humans, she said, why was planet Earth not designed to be more poultry-friendly? Did city planners know they were discriminating against the world's majority population? Rahul began to point out that there were more bacteria than chickens but I shut him up before he started campaigning for the rights of the Staphylococcus and other such.

Talking of science, technology may solve the Dancing Grannies problem in China, according to an editorial sent to me by a reader later that day. For centuries, mature women have gathered in public places at dawn to do tai chi to the sound of bird song. These days they do line dances to techno-pop. In Wenzhou and other cities, this has led to pitched battles between Dancing Grannies and youngsters for whom lie-ins are a matter of life-and-death importance.

Scientists at Fudan University are working on a sound system that projects music which can only be heard at specific spots. Grannies can deafen themselves and everyone else can sleep. Love this idea. I would use it to record an Arabic speech and project it at a live chicken market, just to see what happens. "Ah-ying, that chicken just said: 'Falafel, algebra, baba ghanoush.' " "Quick, raise the recommended retail price."

On the morning of writing this, I went to the Nigerian newspaper's website to look for a follow-up but there was none, leading me to believe that the chicken's desirability as a lunch item eventually outweighed its interest factor as an orator, tragically halting an exciting new branch of evolution. Shame.

(09.05.2014 - Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveler. Send ideas and comments via www.mrjam.org)

(Posted on 09-05-2014)