Month: May 2016

Oriental Magpie Robin, Vedanthangal

Magpie Robins aren’t magic tricks

I was shocked when I saw David Copperfield take to the skies on a television show. I couldn’t understand how he did it. Although, back then, the disappearing thumb trick had me tearfully confused too. I was about 7 years old. It was bewildering to see someone defy the laws of physics.

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.

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Grey-Headed Swamphen, Pallikaranai

Never ask a swamphen why it crossed the river

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.

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White-Eyed Buzzard, Puducherry

Be afraid, be very afraid: White-Eyed Buzzards

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.

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Ashy Woodswallows, Chennai

The act of hugging: It’s for the birds

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.

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Brown-Capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Thattekad

A portrait of the photographer as a Pygmy Woodpecker

I couldn’t photograph Brown-Capped Pygmy Woodpeckers when I first saw them in Thekkady. They were quicker than hiccups. Every time I tried, they would disappear behind branches. Soon, I grew impatient. In a matter of minutes, I moved on to the next spot.

In less than a year, I saw a flock of them in Thattekad. Again, they kept fleeing my camera’s frame. But this time, I decided to hang around. And as time went by, they warmed up to my presence. Some were kind enough to strike remarkably curious poses.

I don’t believe that good things happen to those who wait. If you really want something, you must go out there and see if it exists – the way you think it does. And if it is prone to sudden flight, like Brown-Capped Pygmy Woodpeckers are – you ought to hold onto it.

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Black Winged Stilt, Pulicat

Your love is haunting me: Black-Winged Stilts

Black-Winged Stilts are one of the longest-legged waders in the stilt and avocet family. It doesn’t sound like a big deal until you see them. Then, you realize that you may secretly have a foot fetish. Or something which is just as uncomplicated and beautiful.

Every movement of theirs is a dance step waiting to happen. I bet it’s all they do when nobody else is watching them. During lazy afternoons, far from urban kerfuffle, they tap-dance their hearts out. At nights – with only fireflies for neighbors, they move to the sound of flowing water as it kneads through tiny rocks.

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Jungle Owlet, Thekkady

Just the three of us: Jungle Owlets

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.

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Pheasant-Tailed Jacana, Chennai

A water lily that thought it could dance

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.

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Bonnet Macaques, Kodaikanal

Mama said there will be days like this

As a child, I was in awe of the role that my mother played in my life. I found it baffling that she had the final say on everything I did. She could take decisions on my behalf. Order me around to do chores. Create arbitrary rules I had to abide by. Even though this worked out in my favour most of the time, I wasn’t comfortable with the kind of power she could wield. It weakened me in a peculiar way that she could correct all my wrongs – without even consulting me.

I had never understood her influence until much later. Only as an adult did I realize how important it was to have had a loving and supportive mother while growing up. Unfortunately, I couldn’t show her just how grateful I was. At least, not in ways that she might have wanted me to.

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Northern Pintails (male), Chennai

Catfishing in digital waters: What the quack?

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.

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