Bird-watching vs people-watching: The sanity defense

When I am not bird-watching, I indulge in people-watching. I am captivated by our nonverbal behavior. Gestures such as shoulder shrugs, head nods, and hand movements. They are significant parts of human interactions. Our inner whistle-blowers. They leak information about our personalities. Subconsciously, they present a more honest picture of who we are. Rather than sell the idea of the person we want to be.

Whenever emotions run high, in places such as airports, hospitals, and funeral halls, the body language of people is mesmeric. No matter how restless or torn they may be, their actions are always fluid. It’s as though they are acting out unfinished haikus. I am connected to them in an incongruous yet satisfying way.

Listening to people talk, however, isn’t nearly as captivating. Especially, when all they want to do is share the messy details of their lives. I feel bad for them. In a feeble way – for myself too.

Because it turns out that everyone has been molested at least once in their lives. Dredged out of social alienation while growing up. Faced economic hardships as adults. Drug abuse. Alcoholism. Too much junk food. Broken promises. It’s the same badly-edited story ad nauseam.

Still, I feel really bummed out every time I hear one.

Oriental Magpie Robin, Vedanthangal

It isn’t that I am an empathetic human being. Halfway through the conversation, I am probably thinking about one of my own problems. Even if mine isn’t in the league of theirs, it still means the world to me. I am just a self-centered person who internalizes other people’s issues.

It’s my superpower. Except I won’t save anyone. And I can’t fly. Outrun a bullet. Or jump from one building to another without plummeting to my death. Okay, fine. It’s not exactly a superpower. Perhaps, a self-defence mechanism.

I am not finding fault, though. I understand why they plan a ceremony for the pain. It is a delicate and therapeutic process of unburdening the sorrow. The loathing, and the longing. They need it to be sure that the universe may not be a cold and lonely place.

Otherwise, there will be anarchy on the streets. If we weren’t allowed to spill our guts, we will be thwacking strangers on their skulls, with steel pipes, every chance we get. Throwing heavy objects at the ones we love – five seconds into a conversation about where to brunch.

It will be absolute chaos. It’s why we should learn to listen to people when they are feeling down and blue. Because anarchy is a lot of work. And brunches are stupid.

For me, watching birds go about their daily lives is a healthier activity to indulge in. I don’t have to think so much. I make eye contact with a bird. It sings a song. And the rest is biology.

Some of the most memorable moments are when I spot it first. My heart skips a beat when I find a bird still asleep. It feels special.

Maybe I should stare at people after they go to bed.

Okay, maybe not.

Look  at me,
look away.
Be my stranger,
my summer,
without symmetry, 

right when
it starts to rain.

(Photographs: Tamil Nadu, Kerala)



  1. “thwacking strangers on their skulls, with steel pipes” — very very visual (and specific) that!

    People watching is captivating. There are volumes that ooze in the unspoken. Wonder what makes people not pay as much (if not more) attention to it then, no?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. About the thwacking – “you may say I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one”. Ahh, sweet silver linings, comrade!

      Either people are closet exhibitionists or the feeling that they are being watched, but seldom judged, makes them react more honestly to their social ecosystem. Perhaps, it is why writers enjoy the anonymity tag too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yep. People watcher too (not as much bird watcher, other than “will that bird poop on me when I walk under the branch” watch). Especially youngsters. Their facial and bodily animation speak epics.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Heh if it’s a crow, then yes ma’am – they will poop, and that they shall.

      Epics, for sure. Some as loudly decadent as the Mahabharata. Others – more flamboyant as any Viking conquest. If only, my friend, some amount of depth was a part of the package.


  3. “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.” Little Ishmael, I’ve read whole books that don’t pack so much punch within them as your post.

    Liked by 1 person

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