Month: June 2016

Science of life: Of humans, monkeys, and birds

If I were to make a list of the traits that distinguish humanity from other species, I would start with ‘kindness’ and end with ‘cruelty’. Our ability to be harmonious has co-existed with our capacity to be a destructive force. Most of us were Frankenstein monsters in search of the doctor who had created us. Thankfully, some were concerned about the science.

A few days ago, I was introduced to the works of Dr. Yuval Harari – a historian. In his book, Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind, he talks about how we are the “only animals that can cooperate flexibly in very large numbers”. He also opines that the human tendency to invest in fiction is what separates us from the other species.

“…as long as everybody believes in the same fiction, everybody obeys and follows the same rules, the same norms, and the same values.”

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Yours animatedly, Velvet-Fronted Nuthatches

Like many children of the 80s, I used to be an obsessive gamer. My dad brought home an Atari 2600 home console sometime in 1988. It came with two 8-bit games – ice hockey and tanks.  At once, I understood that it was going to be a spectacular end to the decade. And he knew it would be a stressful, annoying and expensive one.

I was introduced to 16-bit games during the early Nineties. It led to a large chunk of my life being devoted to the Mario Brothers franchise. It gave my life a sense of purpose. Not that I was interested in the changing dynamics of gaming technology. I only wanted to save the princess.

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Orange is the new black: Bird photography

I love photographing birds. It feels so exhilarating that I am willing to walk out on any part of my life for it. But first, I must buy a professional camera. Then, figure out a way to make people pay me for it. It’s a pipedream that may take another decade to evolve into a purposeful plan. And even though I can wait, it probably won’t work out in my favor.

Good things don’t happen to those who contemplate. They happen to those who make the first move. And the heart often wants what the brain can’t make sense of. It wasn’t a career I had ever thought about before. Not until I spotted a Black-and-Orange Flycatcher one rainy afternoon.

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The best things in life are feathered and free

I’m not sure what freedom means to me. I may be free, technically, but there are signs that seem to indicate otherwise. I recognize them only while trying to plot an escape from drudgery. The hair follicles on my neck stand up. My throat is parched. My knees feel weak. Sweat trickles down the bridge of my nose. It’s a tense situation.

It’s as though a gun is pointed at the back of my head. I can hear its cold metallic mouth breathing. It whispers into my ears, like lovers on their way out, that all resistance is useless. That non-compliance will be dealt with – swiftly, harshly and permanently. To make matters worse, the gun sounds like Werner Herzog.

Freedom is more than a state of mind. It isn’t even in the heart. It’s in the feathers of birds. I realize it whenever I hear the sound of their wings flapping away from me.

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A single shade of grey: Francolins

Grey Francolins are regular sights for birders during morning hours in the drier parts of the Indian subcontinent. They look like domestic hens dressed in sensible brown suits.

As well-camouflaged as they are, Francolins are paranoid to the point of comic relief. We have made genial clowns out of each other. During my morning walks in scrub forests, I have startled them into skidding down muddy knolls. In return – they have knocked me off my sandals. It has been a match made in a Charlie Chaplin blooper reel.

A year ago, they were also a part of a magical experience I had.
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Home is where the Hoopoes are

The Common Hoopoe  is supposed to be a commonly-found resident in my city of Chennai. But I haven’t spotted a single one in my neighbourhood. I have seen them many times on the outskirts. Every time, they hijack my gaze. Detoxify the air in my lungs. Then, leave me breathless.

I can’t imagine getting any work done if I knew that they were lurking outside my house. I will end up getting fired for absenteeism. Evicted by the landlord for not paying rent. Alienated by friends after ignoring their phone calls. Relatives will frown at me for abandoning a functional life in order to stare at hoopoes. My parents will think I am mad.

Things will be said. Calls will be made. And soon, nice people in white uniforms will take me away to a happier, quieter and more padded place.

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The blogger who doesn’t have a Ferrari to sell

I remember a conversation I had with a friend about blogging a few years ago. I was making light of my attempts during the mid-2000s. In hindsight, I realized that I had made a few assumptions. One was that my older blogs were failures and the second – that the current one is a success.  The third involved my friend’s nasal hair. I doubt if that is either a matter of interest or a point of concern for anyone else but him.

I jumped on the bandwagon sometime in 2004. For a decade, only a handful of people knew of it. I rotted away in digital elephant graveyards. I kept pretending that the lack of readership didn’t matter. I convinced myself that blogging was just a playground for writers.

A quiet place where we showcased our love for language. Shared our eccentric opinions on life. As if readers were predisposed to give a crap about it.

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The answer to life is not 30: Great Indian Hornbills

When I turned 30, I felt insecure about my age whenever I accidentally caught my reflection in the mirror. I groaned as I sauntered past glass-encased pillars and tinted car windows. It wasn’t about the wrinkles, the graying beard or the receding hairline. But in my eyes – there shone, ungallantly, a reminder that things weren’t going according to a sustainable plan. I thought about how much time had gone by in my life and how little it had amounted to.

I wondered each time if it was the universe’s way of asking me to choose the path I truly wanted to tread upon. I couldn’t commit to any sort of significant change back then. So, I did little things to convince myself that there still was hope for a brighter future.

Every time I did so, I felt guilty about being one of those middle-aged people who deal with aging, like babies do with skin rashes on their butts. If you haven’t handled a baby before,  here’s a clue – they aren’t very bright.

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War on stress: A phantom menace

Stress isn’t a loud-mouthed villain. Very often you can’t hear its war cry. You just don’t see it coming. Stress can be a cold and calculated sociopath. It won’t catch you in a bear hug and squeeze the life out of you. It waits for you to go to sleep. It climbs into the bed and snuggles up next to you. Then, it whispers sad haiku in your ears to micromanage your dreams. By the time you wake up, it will be gone, along with a part of you that believes that everything is fine

It will even laugh, moan and rejoice with us. And then one fine day, you will wake up, crumbling like a cornered oatmeal cookie. You will find yourself falling into a downward spiral over minor annoyances. The silliest of things will make you snap, crackle and pop.

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist”

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United we fall: Pied Bush Chats

My country’s problems don’t bother me as much as they used to. The truth is that I don’t feel guilty about being in a better place in life than many others. I am fighting to keep myself there.

What bothers me more is when the unwritten rules of social conduct are broken. For instance, some of us run after elevators even when its doors are closing. We don’t consider it bad luck or a case of karma. Instead, we raise their voices and extend our arms to demand attention.

Strangers in confined spaces needn’t set aside their priorities to deal with ours. We aren’t chasing Mad Max in a lawless dessert. We must appreciate social etiquette. It normalizes us. And it stops me from harassing Pied Bush Chats.

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