The term ‘Pecking Order’ is defined as ‘a hierarchy of status seen among members of a group of people or animals’. The term originated from an ‘order of precedence’ established amongst hens and roosters, during feeding time. I am witness to this precedence every morning, when I venture out from the warm interior of my home to the humongous natural rock table that adorns my front lawn, with the sole purpose of feeding my feathered friends. This activity has now become a part of my daily routine (sometimes hijacked by my wife and grandchildren) to the effect that the abundant bird life on my premises, awaits my appearance through the front door. What then occurs is every nature lovers dream – first to flutter down is a family of mynahs, who begin feeding inches from my hand. As I turn and walk back towards the front steps, a family of tree pies lands on the rock followed by yellow and red fluted bulbuls, wagtails, robins and a host of other species that I am still trying to identify. As I watch from my verandah, the true meaning of the term ‘pecking order’ strikes home. The mynahs make way for the larger tree pies, but retake their position because of their aggressive nature. Then come the bulbuls, who ‘peck’ away any intrusion in their ‘area of influence’, barring the mynahs and the tree pies. The rest of the banquet space is similarly regulated with the smallest or the least aggressive creature tentatively feeding at the periphery. No matter how far I spread the feed, the ‘precedence’ does not change.

The above phenomenon is not confined to birds alone, but is manifested amongst animals, especially those that hunt and feed in packs. We can observe this in homes having a sizeable population of pet dogs or when a kill is made by a pride of lions. Once the prey is taken, it is common for the ‘king of the beasts’ to eat first, even though he takes no part in the hunting process. The females eat next, followed by the cubs. While this ‘order’ is established on the basis of size and aggression, the rationale does not necessarily hold true for a species of dominant mammals that inhabits the earth – humans. Here, in numerous cases another factor upsets the apple cart and this is the female gender. A dear friend of mine from school days is of the view that females in the family have perhaps borrowed and adopted the concept from the matriarchs that call the shots in the elephant family.

The aforementioned gentleman has of late, been bitten by the ‘golf bug’, laying the foundations of a tragedy that will someday be his undoing. The urge to join the club foursome unfortunately conflicts with the view his wife (holding the top spot in the pecking order) maintains with regards to this noble sport. The end result is a man, who in his better days rushed headlong into any fight with fists flailing, now turned to jelly as he tip toes to his car every evening in a bid to join his buddies on the tee. He has my undivided understanding, when he explains this mode of departure by saying that he does not want to disturb his mate during her afternoon siesta. I do not question his explanation, but have always wondered at his genius in concocting a reason that somehow placates the ‘head of his family’ on a daily basis, allowing him to successfully complete a furtive departure.

As far as I am concerned, I need no further proof of the ‘gender effect’, which is amply visible in the plaque fixed on the kitchen door of my sister in laws home – “I am Queen of the kitchen. If you don’t agree – starve”. I am disturbed by this situation, but am helpless to rectify it because of the ‘dictator’ that rules my house. I have tried to organize a resistance movement from within my extended family, friends and neighbors, only to discover that they too are low down in the ‘pecking order’. I have therefore decided on the wisest course of action – keep feeding the birds.

 

The writer is a historian.