It was a cold start to the day in the sleepy village of Kurangu Mudi in the Anaimalai Hills. The sun wasn’t up yet. I was sipping on hot beverage outside a tea shop, petting an old mongrel. We were watching the mist disappear from moist skirts the forest wore that morning. Suddenly, out of nowhere, ghostly cries hijacked the air. I looked around and saw only the sleepy stare of the shopkeeper.
So, I craned my neck upwards to see if they were birdsongs. I noticed that a flock of pigeons had taken to the skies, and they were heading towards the other side. They were too quick for me to identify them by name at that moment. And so I ran after them until I reached a fence safeguarding the wild animals from people and vice-versa.
Kodaikanal, a hill station in south India, is my happy place. That sweet spot halfway between the gutter and the stars. Her songbirds, smiling faces, street food and silhouettes of trees have filled me with warmth.
She births unsupervised fires in me. Whenever I climb up her turquoise thighs, she holds me in a vice-like grip. She cradles me until I submit to her providence and charm.
Kodaikanal found me when I was lost and without a hill to wander upon. I ended up pressing my nose against her grassy knolls, inhaling the soy-milk clouds drifting down her neckline. Now, we tear apart truths and turn them into poems.
Scaly-Breasted Munias, like many other finches, are prostituted into the pet trade business. I’m not surprised that people are illegally selling them. I know the kind of things that people are willing to do for money. We all do. It’s why the seller doesn’t bother me as much as the buyer does in this business.
I wonder how anyone can find love in a caged bird. Do they find perverse pleasure in clipping its wings? How can they romanticize slavery because it involves creatures that don’t speak our language of pain? Is it a manifestation of their messiah complexes?
Summers are hot and humid in the plains of southern India. It’s a tough season. We sweat, like incompetent lawyers, the moment we step outside our front doors. We feel dehydrated every few minutes. The tar on the road angrily gleams, barbecuing the soles of our feet. Suddenly, the sun assumes that we are all direct descendants of Icarus.
It’s a brutal season for the birders too. Starting mid-April, it won’t be easy to find non-endemic birds. Many will be gone until November. But I am ready for the drouth. I just returned after spending a few days in the Anaimalai Hills. I can handle it. I have enough love in me to take over a small Polynesian Island. I swear that I can turn summer into mango-scented curd.
You can find love in places that you can’t in people. A broken estuary or a canopy of trees will seldom disappear hastily from your life. When they gradually do, they are replaced in ways you may not even miss them.
Wet grassy knolls, filled with butterflies and bee-eaters, might turn into muddy breasts – with falcons circling the roundest cobblestones. A waterfall, angrily frothing from its mouth, might one day decide to dry up and leave the poetry to the stars bathed in crepuscular light.
Nothing is ever cruel in the bird kingdom. It’s not as though they hold talons and waltz their differences away. They can be vicious too. They kill their own babies. They invade foreign territories. And wreck each other’s air travel plans. But they do so only for survival.
The most brutal attack I have seen took place two years ago at Pulicat. Two Jacobin Cuckoos invaded a Baya Weaver nest colony. It was agonizing to see them tear to shreds each painstakingly-woven nest. I was also confused. They are known to feed on insects and fruits only.
I was once privy to a fascinating dialogue between a pair of Racket-Tailed Drongos in the semi-evergreen forests of Vagamon. I had no idea what they were chirping about. But it looked like a heated debate. One seemed to intimidate the other. There was some dancing. It was theatrical.
The conversation lasted for about three minutes. They made up and flew away together. It was as though they suddenly realized they were late to a gathering of pixies. And that life was too short and difficult, and the universe – too unimaginably magnificent, to be wasted on disagreements.
Arguments between people stretch a lot longer than that. Many of them end on a sour note too. It’s like dealing with auto-corrections while typing on the phone. It doesn’t matter what one wants to say, the other will misinterpret it.
I wish the dead could speak. I don’t want to listen to family members talk about how much it hurts that they are gone. Or whatever their friends have to say about all they have left behind. Instead, I seek to find what went through their minds during the last few minutes of their lives. And I want to hear about it from them.
I dearly hope there was some pleasantness in the process. Perhaps, a well-produced vignette, capturing some of the best moments of their lives. A beautiful and haunting cello composition that picked up its pace for the second half. Faces of children, lovers, and pets. Sound-bites of promises kept. Pencil sketches of childhood vacations.
I have complained about being victimized by Captain Edward Murphy’s Law. And I have felt very silly about it. Bad luck is subjective in the long run. The timing is often random too. It doesn’t deserve to be mulled over. We choose to obsess over what we are denied. We pay attention to neither love nor luxuries that come to us on silver platters.
We are all lucky in some way or the other. For instance, two weeks ago – I spotted a vulture. I didn’t know I had until a few days ago. A friendly birder identified it as the Red-Headed Vulture after seeing the photograph. It was my first vulture sighting.
I realized that the best things in my life are not free. But sometimes, lady luck has me covered.
I traveled to the Palani mountain range over the weekend. I went birding in its moist deciduous forests. From Flycatchers and Flowerpeckers to Sunbirds and Bulbuls, they came to me, brimming with love. Raptors of different sizes graced the skies. A large blue butterfly dropped by to enchant me. Also, I saw an Indian Rock Python scampering across the road at dusk.
But I was preoccupied all the while. Given the company, I was unexpectedly distracted.
I blame it all on Jean-Paul Sartre. I was reading Intimacy during the overnight bus ride. I stumbled upon something so beautiful that I had to put the book down. It sent shivers down my spine; the way a winter morning blows cool air into a bird’s nest and bristles its twigs. But then, it poured gasoline all over me and burnt to crisp any half-baked clarity I had about the universe.