I think everyone is born a morning person. We just uneasily grow out of it. There is a certain fluidity to our productive capabilities that crumbles into uncomfortable silos as the day progresses. There is some charm to it too. Cities look cleaner. People smell nicer. More importantly, birds show up in the largest possible numbers.
The dawn has me awake and impassioned about the remaining hours. It doesn’t matter if the excitement wears off by the time dusk comes calling. A few hours of radiance is all it takes to build a powerful case study about the universe.
But we must choose to first start with how things aren’t all that bad.
Coppersmith Barbets don’t look like they belong in metropolitan cities. One might assume they reside in secret fruit gardens. Watched over by wood elves and courted by cellists with sunflower stems instead of strings.
A year ago I had an unforgettable experience with one in my city. I noticed an emerald bum jutting out, rather comically, of a hole in a tree stump. A Coppersmith Barbet was playing peekaboo with the midday sun, and the monster in me.
When I first spotted Painted Storks, they were way up in the sky, like militant inkblots on a mission. As they were descending, unstitched from the horizon, I could see their impressive down-curved beaks.
They found an open marsh below, about half a kilometer away, and noisily settled down. Their heads resembled summer peaches with scooter helmets on. I noticed just how large their wings were too. So I sauntered, whistling out of tune in excitement, towards the cackling flock. I wasn’t cautious about frightening them away because I didn’t know better. And so – away they flew.
I haven’t had a satisfying day of birding in a long time. Two weekends ago, the rains came uninterrupted and washed my chances away. And then all through the week the sun was out, bright and proud.
Last Friday night saw the city shrouded in gloom again. I drove about 50 kilometers away from the city on Saturday morning anyway. The sky pointed and laughed at me, and howled furiously, garden-hosing the ground below. My chances of spotting a bird other than one of the usual suspects were slim. I drove back, feeling like a wet mongrel, embarrassed about my optimism.
Nilgiri Tahrs (or Ibexes) are goat antelopes exclusively reside along a 400 kilometer in-between the Nilgiri Hills and the Ashambu Hills. Found at elevations of 1000 to 2500m above sea level, they are cautious, tough as nails and dashingly-handsome. The last time I saw them was early this year in Valparai. It was unexpected since it was late in the morning. They are known to disappear into the thickness of shola forests during these hours.
The three years I spent in college felt about two-and-a-half years too long. Since I possessed none of the characteristics of the Tahr, I needed a happy place to survive. A shola forest would have been perfect. Not to escape the soulless drudgery of the modern education system. Just to hide behind a tree. Stay there until the smoldering heap of embarrassment that was my pursuit of individualism turns into sawdust.
There are several Rufous Treepies in Chennai. During winter, many of them visit the guava tree in my neighbor’s backyard. They sound like singers with speech impediments. But people just don’t seem to notice them.
I struggled with a severe stammering problem for about two decades. I could barely speak a few words without a prolonged stutter. Unlike the treepie, I drew attention to the muffled staccato notes. It was the first and last impression that I left people with. Nobody could see past the stuttering, including me.
I haven’t connected with waterbirds like I have with the rest. Flamingos have been the only true exception. And that’s because they look like long-legged milkshakes. I can only assume it has to do with the presence of waterbirds in large numbers in and around my city. Even before I had started birding, I used to see them in familiar areas – Pelicans, Herons, Egrets and Darters.
While they have won me over with their incredible ways, we still remain a bit distant. Not that these pescetarians should care, but it bothers me that there lies a disconnect. Like water, we should ebb and flow. Without inhibitions about our capacities to give and receive love. Now this is no reason to listen to me talk on SoundCloud again. These things just happen.
Snakes have a nasty reputation because of widespread ignorance about the nature of equilibrium in the wild. And our impact on the environment. They aren’t superficially considered cute like baby seals or magnificent like tigers either. The truth is that they are beautiful and peace-loving creatures who want nothing to do with us.
We don’t leave them in peace though. We take from this planet beyond what we need. We give back nothing. Even animal conservation, in many places – especially third-world countries, is a cruel joke. One that finds its roots in pretentious altruism and the commerce of greed.
I have wanted to write about modernized existential despair for long. How it seems to be a generational malady, thriving on our indifference towards discovery as opposed to invention. I didn’t because I was unable to succinctly encapsulate a short introduction I had in mind into words. Instead I had a sound-bite for it. A piece of guttural noise.
The English language kept failing me (or vice versa). So I decided to move on. Only lately did I realize that it was 2015. It is so easy to record and stream digital audio these days. Even by people who spell “your” as “you’re”. And I had broadband connectivity and laughably low expectations.