We have superpowers. We can make good things disappear from our lives. Ambitious goals turn into pipe-dreams. Exciting jobs become boring routines. Serendipitous affairs crumble into sexual favors. Warm relationships are deputed to cold storage units. It’s not as though we pursue unhappiness. Ruining a good thing is our self-defense mechanism; an inherent villainy.
But the world can show us that it has extraordinary powers too. It balls up a fist, punches us on the bridge of the nose, and announces, “Well, here’s what I can do”. We wipe the blood off and look up to see something beautiful. Some proof that everything will turn out to be okay.
A Malabar Grey Hornbill may then fly past us, holding hostage in her throat – a song to shake the love out of our hair, and to scatter it on a bed of leaves. Instinctively, we will throw our hands up, palms cupping the sun, semi-confused and aroused.
If you squint your eyes, babies look a lot like old people. Their soft and wrinkled skin. Tiny rows of broken teeth. Patchy hair. They tend to behave the same way too. Both need help getting around. They are easily confused. Frightened of being alone. They are likely to get hurt while trying to do things by themselves.
The first thing that I remember of the world is the sight of my mother’s arms arching out towards me. I was ducking under them to avoid getting coconut oil rubbed on my hair. I was about 6 years old then. I can’t seem to recollect anything else before that moment.
Loneliness can be a drug. At times, I find myself surrounded by people, aching for solitude. Just a few minutes of uninterrupted silence. Without the drama and pollution they are capable of.
I can taste their bitterness in the roof of my mouth. Smell their anxieties in the air that I breathe. Feel their frustration in the pit of my stomach. And I want to leave. Just go somewhere. It’s not as though I am running away from them. It is certainly no one’s fault that I want to keep to myself as much as possible.
I just enjoy having the time to pursue things, big or small, that make me happy. For instance, I get to spend a meaningful amount of time with birds.
Writing might feel like a strange purpose when you aren’t paid for it. You should keep at it because improvement only comes with practice. However, a writer’s pursuit for perfection is a never-ending journey. That’s a fancy way of putting it. The truth is that there are neither zeniths for us to attain. There are no moon landings. No timeouts either.
But there are are perfectly-valid reasons for you to stop procrastinating and start writing.
Staring is India’s creepiest pastime. It is either a reflex action or a defense mechanism. We are like frightened and / or frustrated deer caught in the headlights of shrinking geographies and fading belief systems. It isn’t a problem exclusive to women either. Victims include people from other countries and young couples.
A theory is that our conservatism has made us meta-judgmental. Buzzwords like tradition and culture have stitched xenophobia into the fabric of our communities. It is so woven intricately into our mindsets that hyper-sexual gazing is a permissible social activity. Another theory is that we are sociopaths. Sort of like Lionel Richie in that music video in which he stalks a blind girl. And insinuates sexual tension before asking her “hello is it me you are looking for?”.
It isn’t easy to spot Sri Lankan Frogmouths in the wild. The colour of their plumage makes them impervious to eager eyes scanning green and brown thickets. Years ago I saw a portrait of one, and imagined that our first meeting would be a grandiose affair. Or at least a poignant one.
We finally met last weekend. I spent some time with a female Frogmouth. She looked like a autumn leaf frozen in flight. She just stood there, untroubled by the matinee sun. It should have been love at first sight. When I spot a particular species for the first time, I go through the seven stages of happiness. It starts with childlike wonderment and ends with creepy obsession.
This time though, things were different. There was confusion. Some happiness too. But mostly, confusion.
I took a 6-hour detour to visit the Thattekad Bird Sanctuary. I wanted to see the Malabar Trogon. There were supposedly many of them in plain sight in certain areas. I longed to spot just one. Just to be double sure, I booked a local birder to be my field guide for a morning trail.
I woke up at 5 AM, got stung by a wasp hiding in my left shoe, and had the worst tea in a long time. The sky was overcast. I was losing confidence about spotting the Trogon. Negativity was starting to bubble inside me. A short drizzle had me panicking.
To distract myself, I stared at the banners outside the sanctuary gate. They showcased the brightest, bluest and most bewitching of endemic birds. Each looked like it fell out of a dream and straight into a paint bucket.
I share tempestuous relationships with the birds of the Western Ghats. We find each other in strange, comical and beautiful ways once a month. I fall in love with them at the speed of crepuscular light. Then, off they go – as swiftly as they came.
I am left with heartache of the unreasonable kind. It’s silly. For all they know – I might be a giant lizard with portly tongue girth. Or a mongoose without any mobility. I bet they don’t even like me given how often I stalk them.
At times though, some give me the impression that they don’t mind having me around. For instance, one such love story of mine, featuring Rosefinches, had a happy ending.
“Insects seem like they do everything that people do. They meet, they mate, they fight, they break up. And they do so with what looks like love or animosity. But what drives their behaviors is really different than what drives our own, and that difference can be really illuminating”
Marlene Zuk, evolutionary biologist/ecologist, spoke about insect behaviour in a TED Talk episode called What We Can Learn From The Kinky Sex Lives Of Insects. She deconstructed their mating rituals and drew intriguing conclusions about our own. I wish I saw insects the way she did. I can only hope that it dawns on me, one day, just how spectacular and adorable they are.
As a frequenter to hill-stations, insects are regular bed-mates of mine. We do weird stuff to each other at night. I accidentally crush them. They indiscriminately bite me. We can be kinky like that.
I used to write about birds and deduce parallel conclusions in relation to our lives. Lately, it’s been the other way around. I have been focusing on our dreams. The love we borrow. Some of the obstacles we face. The evil we are capable of.
I have shared a lot from my personal life too. The little things I do that makes me special; whatever I have been through that makes me so precious. Ugh. I just want to hug myself so tightly. So eagerly that I fall off the bed, or down a flight of stairs – like a panic-stricken Smeagol, and collapse into a smoldering heap of pain and despair.
But I will be okay. I know that karma can be cruel. I shifted the subject matter from birds to human beings. It’s only fair that now I have to drink soup through a straw for two weeks.