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.
We don’t hold memories of how our lives were, as infants. We can never understand how brittle our bones were. How empty and scary everything was without our parents next to us. How hilarious even the silliest of jokes were, and adventurous — each bathroom trip was. I bet it must have been overwhelming to first see the sun; feel its heat on the nape of our necks. The trickle of sweat. The virgin smell of the rain-fed earth.
But I can’t remember any of it.
If I ever end up dying of natural causes, I know the last few years will be messy. Hopefully, senility will have me covered. And I won’t have to worry about my crumbling self as I take the last few breaths. This occurred to me when I spotted a Peninsular Bay Owl earlier this month. Even if it wasn’t a nail-biting adventure that took me to him, I can’t forget how looked at me, half-asleep at the crack of dawn.
He looked old in an uncommon way. He looked calmer than he did – wiser. And he made me question my own mortality.
I thought about how I would want a short video to play inside my head, as I start to lose sight and consciousness. Each frame would feature a still photograph — a distinct memory. They would represent moments that held special places in my mind. There would be people, birds, and pet dogs. Oil paintings of chance meetings, vignettes of relationships that lasted, and stop-motion animation of little things that mattered along the way.
The memory of a Loten’s Sunbird foxtrotting on a hibiscus flower. The sight of a Great Indian Hornbill holding a solitary piece of fruit for its lover. The flight of a majestic Black Eagle.
The stuff that has made adulthood worth the doldrums.
There are times when I wonder if none of this will actually happen. And instead, towards the end – I get to re-live some of my earliest childhood memories.
Finally, I can laugh at the funny and embarrassing diaper stories. I can see my parents panicking, out of love and concern. I bet I will be surprised at how consistently hungry and sleepy I was.
I will find comfort in the way strangers used to smile at us, exuding warmth and affection. In the taste of a raindrop. In the realization that the beautiful sounds outside the window belonged to Rose-Ringed Parakeets.
There will be so much love in my head that I would grin wide. Given how difficult muscle movement would be then, people may think that I am in pain. They may assume I am asking for a drink of water or the comforting hand of a loved one.
They will never know that I am only trying to tell them how beautiful and exciting everything is.
I want to travel back in time,
like how hummingbirds fly
to find nectar, and signs
of a better life.
(Photographs: Munnar, Valparai, Thattekad, Thekkady, Chennai)