Back to the future: A summer of spotting owls

Summer, you were a foe,
a smoked piece of flesh of a lover
and a fiend, with a fetish
for freckles, in tow

Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway made sure I could not romanticize summers while growing up. So vividly beautiful were their descriptions of the crisp summer wind and so deliriously scrumptious their longing to chew blades of grass while listening to songbirds. Life in the city could not even begin to compare.

Kanchipuram

Books that paint pretty pictures about summers suck me into an ecstatic vortex only to regurgitate me in bitter proportions. It leaves me bewildered about how mundane my world is. At least when compared to the wealth of love and learning in-between yellowing pages.

I can’t complain though. I had my share of sweet summer nostalgia. My dad’s family hailed from what was a remote village – until the mid-2000s, in Kanchipuram. I have spent a many summer weekends with my grandparents. Acres of lush-green fields. Women holding, with grace and elan, buckets, of water against their hips. Men carrying huge stacks of hay or rice bags on their bicycles. Children running behind motor vehicles. Ducks and roosters going crazy at the crack of dawn. Sights and sounds that one would associate rural life in India. It was all there.

They had a hen coop right outside the front door. And a large Y-shaped wooden stick that my grandfather used to protect the poultry against foxes, snakes and drunken fools. My grandmother made the best chicken curry-based breakfast. It would always taste better if we had the luxury of not seeing her snap the hen’s neck early in the morning, as the frightened creature screamed bloody murder.

They also had a cow pen, which once doubled as a mini-theater where the locals screened vernacular films on Sundays.

I also remember fondly my dad urging my sister and me to chew on dry neem twigs to clean our teeth in the morning. Once we did that, we ran straight into the neighbouring St Antonys High School compound and sheepishly lurked under a giant tamarind tree. When there was nobody else around, we would hurl pebbles at the drooping branches. Our teeth ached for that tangy brown flesh; that summery taste.

Chennai

Summers in the cities weren’t so pear-shaped. My city is infamously hot and humid during this season. The rapid urbanization over the past two decades has taken its toll. My poor city doesn’t seem to have the stomach for poetry anymore. Now her idea of a quiet leisurely time involves Ikea furniture. And crowded beaches. Or those coffee houses with tacky paintings and every Buddha statue they could find to create a false moment of Zen for the elite working-class.

But again I can’t complain. As humid and sweaty as I felt the summer of 2015 was, I also saw a number of Spotted Owls. Despite having become regular sightings, they still overwhelmed me. Their antics, their glares, just everything.

One time I spotted a Polka-dotted pair whispering secrets to each other (watch video) as they posed magnificently, in the late morning light. I imagined that one was telling the other – “I hope he knows that summers may come and go but we will always be around”.

(Photographs – Kanchipuram, Chennai, Pulicat, Ponneri, Vedanthangal)

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36 comments

  1. I always thought we glamorize the village life too much. Imagine enduring 40 degree plus heat without power and all the gizmos we can afford in cities. But you paint quite a pretty picture here, making me quite curious. 🙂
    P.S. Your anecdote about chicken curry based breakfast is intriguing, too. Do you eat that with Dosa? Is it too spicy?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I grew up in an era where a washing machine was considered a gizmo and I can’t say that we were bored. If anything, it honestly feels like we had more quaint stuff to do, if anything.

      The chicken curry was plate-mates with piping hot idlis. For lunch – it accompanied a serving of rice bathed in it. And one of us always remarked how the idlis were soft like jasmine flowers for some reason.

      Thanks for stopping by, buddy.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Yummm! I’ve been catching up on all the old episodes of Malgudi Days lately and now this post. It’s like travelling to a different time altogether. Keep these coming.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. summers signified holidays in the past where we could go to such places like your grandparents..and me to my aunt’s..now with the professional life devoid of long holidays..they are just sweet memories..but atleast we have them..don’t think two generations ahead will have even those..

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I remember my mom telling me her stories and thinking that compared to them our summers were a bit watered down..

        maybe I’ll do a post..though am not very good in essay type writing..poetry suits me.. 🙂 thanks for the idea..

        Liked by 1 person

      2. whispering secrets to each other ….apt description… they seem so shy…as if a pair of kids secretly discussing something..checking around of anybody is looking at them 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I love your spotted wood owls – they really do seem to be whispering secrets.
    My mother has told me a lot about her summers in her grandparents’ village. It’s a way of life slowly disappearing; I’m glad you captured it in your post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It is fading away indeed, comrade, it has almost become fashionable to talk about how ill-equipped one is to live in rural areas, as thought our inability to thrive, much less survive, in more primal environments is something to celebrate.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I will share everything. Ever since I became active four months ago, I’ve been writing this and that but am still deciding as to what ‘s right about my site and what’s wrong. I know I need to change stuff but don’t know how and what. Any opinion or advice will do.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. My suggestion would be to find a comfortable writing voice first, if you haven’t already comrade. Subjects are shape-shifters. They keep evolving, growing. A writer’s voice, in my opinion, is something that changes a couple of times before settling in. I shall make it a point to read your blog archives and offer my humble suggestions.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Thanks for your suggestions. While I find my most effective voice I am also looking at various themes. Few months ago I myself began with Suits theme due to its professionalism. This one came along later as an experimentation. I’ll continue to work on the external interface as I also improve in other areas.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Adore your sweet romancing owls! You took me back to our summer holidays in our grandparents’ villages. I have a ‘memories’ post on my blog somewhere, on our idyllic childhood that was brought on by a visit back home, although it ends on a different vein. I thought summer in ‘our’ city wasn’t all that bad this year. Most likely past the ‘Hell’ stage already. (Of hubby’s “Hot, Hotter, Hell’ classification of Chennai seasons! 🙂 )

    PS: My woodpecker and parakeets are back!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww aren’t these owls just the best! I am glad I could help stir some summery memories. Will go looking for the post on your blog. And yeah groan, Chennai just isn’t madras. Yaaay for the parakeets and woodpecker. Quite a coincidence too. The same cuties are back in my neighbourhood too. Although the treepie has been inconspicuous with her absence.

      Psst: not using emoticons feels wrong. What is wrong with us hehe

      Liked by 1 person

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