Soon after, I attended a few magic shows held in Chennai. I grew “curiouser and curiouser” about their powers. They seemed to control the forces of nature. And they kept challenging my perception of time and space.
I convinced myself that comic book superheroes were based on white-skinned versions of Indian magicians like the flamboyant PC Sorcar or the ubiquitous P James. And I started looking up to them. I believed they could rid the world of its troubles if they weren’t busy enthralling crowds.
I didn’t exercise my right to vote this year during the State elections. Because I don’t pee in public anymore. See, I am already doing my bit to improve the community. Next year, I hope to stop wasting water while shaving over the washbasin.
Today, I am just flexing my right to complain about the sweltering summer. It’s getting hotter in Chennai. The weather is like an alarm clock going off at full volume. Except it doesn’t have a snooze button. Hell, there are no buttons. The tune sucks too. It’s really hot. To make matters worse, we keep talking about it.
If it wasn’t for Grey-Headed Swamphens, I might have found posthumous fame as the first recorded case of spontaneous combustion. Or jail time for brandishing a homemade napalm gun.
Many birds feel shy around humans. Perhaps, they are just terrified. Why wouldn’t they be? Our species has a dubious track record. We are like the meteor that killed the dinosaurs, except that we think we can repair the damage. Start all over again. Make everything bloom.
Look at me, for instance. I pollute the air that birds breathe in just by driving to where they live. I also contribute to a process that takes away food from their beaks. Yet I fetishize their existence. And I spend time promoting my passion for them instead of helping conserve their habitats.
Birds needn’t feel shy around me. They should be terror-stricken.
Depression can be a pesky mosquito. I try and swat it when I hear it buzzing in my ears. The feeling disappears for a while but it never really goes away. It just goes into hiding and waits for me to slip again. I find comfort in knowing that I am not alone in this. Instead of squelching the melancholy in unhealthy ways, I drive to hill stations in search of birds.
I seek solace in nature and its magnificent creatures. I am a tie-dye tee shirt away from being a tiresome cliché. It embarrasses me to think about it. But I won’t change my ways. I still want to escape internal conflict instead of dwelling on the details. It helps that I get to see birds exchange love with each other. They reaffirm my faith in humanity despite belonging to a different species.
I can’t explain it. I suppose, therein lies the charm of believing in it.
I have had Casablanca moments with Jungle Owlets. I have wondered why out of all the trees in the world they had to perch upon the ones closest to me. There are two sub-species of Jungle Owlets in the Indian subcontinent – Malabaricum and Glaucidium Radiatum. And I am lucky enough to have spotted them at the Periyar National Park .
One fine morning, I was walking along the edge of a forest. For some reason, I got the feeling that I was being watched. There was a bustling in the thick canopies of shrubs. The wind howled, singing its way through bamboo shoots. I was a hostage to a feeling of heaviness in my chest. My left shoulder started to hurt.
Either I was experiencing the early stages of a heart attack. Or I was in the company of a creature so wild that I became confused about whether I was frightened or excited about it.
I am pretending that summer isn’t in a fierce mood. I am ignoring the sweat dripping down my forehead. The constant buzzing of air-conditioners. The humidity in the air. But I am painfully aware that birding season is over. Many of the migratory birds are gone. The endemic ones are vacating regular nesting grounds in search of water. Last summer, I felt really bad about it. I couldn’t bear the thought of having to wait until November for the next season.
This year, things are looking up. I know this because a birdie told me so. And not just any birdie. But one with tail-feathers so curvy that it can be mistaken for a dance recital that came to life.
It is worthwhile to note that sometimes even if it looks/smells/ swims/quacks like a duck – it may not actually be a duck. Maybe it hid by the river and stared at a duck for a really long time and thought to itself “hell, I could pretend to be one”. Perhaps it went to a duck university. Or ransacked a duck supermarket.
All the duck juice – shockingly, just gone. And now the world is convinced that it belongs to the Anatidae family.
Not shocking whatsoever is my understanding of human behavior that some people hide more than they let out about themselves. Especially, in the digital world.
Whenever I spot rare birds, I am giddy with joy. My confidence begins to build. I realize how much they mean to me. And I start to emotionally invest in them. But if they decide to leave before I can take a photograph, whiffs of anguish flood my nostrils. As they disappear into oblivion – I pull a face and swat imaginary flies. I feel dejected.
It’s like being punched in the eardrum while swimming. I am disoriented.
In a few hours, the melancholic vibe is replaced by a twinge of guilt. I realize, rather sheepishly, that I have spotted three endangered species of birds in southern India. Besides the hundreds of endemic and migratory birds, I have also seen a few – notoriously secretive about their lives.
I travel alone to the hills because it’s how I want to experience the world for now. It’s not as though I am one with the sand and the sky or anything fancy like that. I just feel interconnected to the sum of their moving parts. It also lends itself more to discoveries, life-changing or merely chimerical. The more people I am surrounded with – the less likely I am to feel the pulse of the environment. And it’s not just because how loud and obnoxious they can be.
Exploring a town, a village or the woodlands is an exercise in self-centeredness. I couldn’t be more self-absorbed. If one travels with like-minded folks, it can be a delightful experience. A sharing of primordial sensibilities and digestible proportions of love and laughter.
However, with the wrong individuals, travelling can be stressful. A nuisance like no other.