Nobody knows what they are capable of unless the situation demands it. Heroism isn’t hereditary. Circumstances make people do extraordinary things. Most of us would like to think we are capable of some bravery in the face of danger. However, when the threat is posed by a wild animal, valor can be misplaced.
In 2013, during an Indian gaur attack, I ran faster than I ever realized I could. A friend, and a tribal kid were with me. But I didn’t look back to see if they were safe. Instead I took off, leaving a cloud of cartoon smoke. They did too. I knew that if I had turned around, I might have been gored. We were a just few meters away from an alpha gaur. That’s nearly 1000 kilograms of power, agility and anger charging us at an alarming speed.
Sure, I like my friend. The kid had a charming disposition too. But I liked increasing the odds of my survival a lot better.
I have been thinking a lot about death since Raj Kumar passed away last year. He was a close friend. We wrote a film script together a few years ago. The story was centered on how intricately interwoven all our lives are. We were sure that it would have been the first of our many creative collaborations. Eventually, he wanted to travel the world and document people’s lives. And I wanted to move to a hill station and work in ornithology.
But things didn’t work out the way as we had planned it. The movie production was indefinitely stalled, and we had to go our separate ways. Still, we kept in touch since he had nurtured a passion for birding by then.
Raj killed himself on May 23, 2015. He threw one end of rope over the ceiling fan, and the other – around his neck. He was 25 years old; a brilliant filmmaker and one of the nicest human beings. I am hesitant to write about him. It doesn’t feel right. Writing about such personal details feels like distributing emotional pornography.
I used to obsess over spotting wild cats in their natural habits. Leopards, tigers or jungle cats, it didn’t matter. I would feel like a fortunate son of the earth as long as it had whiskers. While I gave up the search in favour of bird-watching, the felidae family members continued to haunt me.
Even now, when I explore the hills of south India, I keeps my ears open for an untamed roar. A guttural cough maybe. Any sign that a darling of the feline variety is on the prowl.
I haven’t seen a single one though. Just pug-marks and poop. But I can’t complain. I have had the privilege of seeing many other gorgeous beasts. Considering that I am not a conservationist or a census assistant, I should just shut up and consider myself a lucky bastard.
It’s as though someone turned my life’s volume knob way down. The bedroom walls are starting to whisper back. Last night, we watched each other peel in strange places. It was unsettling in a sexy way. Or vice-versa. I am unsure. Either way, we didn’t make eye-contact in the morning.
Does the journey really matter more than the destination? It sounds like a consolation prize to me. Why must I emotionally invest in a process when I can figure out what my goals are, and do what I can to achieve them? Last week’s visit to the Meghamalai mountain range left me with some answers. A lot more questions too.
The drive from the foothills of Chinnamanur to this esoteric paradise is a rocky but calming one. Only bird calls and cicada songs interrupt the quietude. Yet there’s excitement in the air. Always the promise of rare fauna lurking by the roadside. But for three winters, Meghamalai had me on a streak of bad luck. As bio-diverse as the range is, it had seemed barren to me.
Last weekend, things changed. I spotted a large Sloth Bear on a balding cliff side. He saw me too. And nobody got hurt.
Most nights I find myself in a staring contest with the ceiling fan. I try and count every circular motion. My eyes can never keep up. I can remember each and every time how it feels to fail at this. I am always sure I have lost count before.
The hours tick by, they roll over like tumbling dice. The television watches me fall asleep. The bathroom door is ajar; the lights – switched on. I hear a muffled sound, and I look around, in vain, for the source – like a confused mongrel. Right then, a well-dressed man screams on television, asking me to please drink Pepsi and be happy like I am supposed to.
Sholinganallur is the nearest birding spot from where I live. It is home to many residential and migratory birds. But I haven’t been there much. I visit places like Vedanthangal, Kanchipuram or Pulicat, which are further away, during weekends. It isn’t easy to wake up at 3:30 AM and leave for a 2-hour drive with bad roads and poor visibility. Yet I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I believe that nothing worth having comes easy. Whenever the universe has been randomly benevolent – without expecting something in return – I have questioned its motive. Karma doesn’t work that way. Even if we may not always reap what we sow, we must keep toiling away in the fields. Especially, during the harvesting season.