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.
Pied Bush Chats are small passerine birds that are widespread in Asia. Once a part of the Thrush family, they are now considered as Old World Flycatchers.
I have spotted many of them all over South India. I first encountered the male at the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary sometime in 2013. I thought he was the largest and strangest-looking Indian Robin I had ever seen. Few seconds later, the female appeared from behind the bushes. She looked like a fat sparrow – wearing a fur coat.
Only upon reaching home and googling did I manage to find out what their names were. I saw them again on several occasions that year. Every time, I stalked them until I was sure they were Pied Bush Chats and not some other bird with weight issues.
In 2015, they became the first birdies I decided to stop photographing for good. I have to stop bothering a few species at least. Because that’s what birding can be, if you bring a camera often enough – creepy, voyeuristic and intrusive.
I took my last photograph of them during a misty morning in Vattakanal. I stood outside a cottage, trying to shoot a pair one last time. It wasn’t even a debate in my head. I knew that I wasn’t going to follow them around with a camera again.
It used to be so much easier to pick a point of view about the state of national affairs too. I was sure that mine was shaped by those who had India’s best interests in mind over anyone else’s bank accounts. Today, I lack the confidence even to exercise my basic right to vote. Whether I turn left or the right, I seem to be contributing to the decay of civilization, as I know it to be.
The mindless hypocrisy of special interest groups seems just as harmful as the oppressive attitude of the close-minded. I still worry about archaic ideologies being enforced under the guise of patriotism. But every time I want to raise my voice against them in a way that matters, I learn something fresh and horrible about social activism.
I sense there’s something more sinister to human beings than the sum of our love and kindness. And I stay away.
But if I am ever late to an elevator, I stop in my tracks and smile at those inside while the door closes, with neither a sound nor a gesture.
I do it for the Pied Bush Chats. I do it for a better nation.
United, we fall.
Divided, we seek
(Photographs: Vattakanal, Chennai)