When I was a kid, people kept asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I never had the fortitude to tell them that I just wanted to be an adult. Because I was excited about growing up. I thought that adults had it all figured out. The bread and butter, and the bells and whistles, of leading a healthy, wealthy, and happy life.
Into my 20s, I noticed that grown-ups had no clue about it. Except they had a set of archaic instructions to follow. It made their aspirations seem machinated and mundane. In the race for normality, they collected participation certificates in recognition of compliance to speed limits.
I wish they had set higher standards. Left us with information that mattered. For instance, if I had known there were about nine types of bulbuls in South India (22 across the country), I might not have taken this long to spot six of them.
I first saw the Red-Whiskered Bulbul outside a lodge in Megamalai. It is a commoner in the greener parts of the city I live in. But I hadn’t known its name then. Or had the chance to cherish its cherubic face. Clad in an orange vest, the bulbul sported whiskers in colors of red, black, and white. With a crest that could pass for a Mohawk, it gargled sweet melodies.
We shared a minute of silence, as one of us breathed a sigh of relief when it was over.
I spotted the Red-Vented Bulbuls at the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary. I remember that they looked more fashionable than beautiful. They were dressed to dance. From their crimson trousers and double-shaded sweaters to their sexy Ushanka hat-like hairdos.
I was in the company of a mover and shaker in the fashion world for birds. Embarrassed, I tugged at the sleeve of my dull green T-shirt, and ran my fingers along the lining of my dirty jeans. Also, I was reminded that I had arms instead of wings.
Square-Tailed Bulbuls weren’t something I was prepared for. They just showed up during a visit to Munnar. They resembled Hill Mynahs that were decked up, in formal wear, for a funeral procession. Their head-gears rocked with the wind before remaining still – with the tenacity of a dream-catcher.
And their beaks must have been dipped in the squishy orange-pulp sections of a sunset. I had neither the courage nor the patience to think of a different explanation for its color.
A pair of Yellow-Browed Bulbuls borrowed a piece of me in Kodaikanal. They are yet to return it. Those gorgeous thieving bastards. There was poetry in the way nature hid them from my eyes. I had mistaken them for yellowing pears and well-aged leaves.
While I have little proof to offer, I believe they can make the morning sun blush, and then, bleed.
In Valparai, I found the Flame-Throated Bulbul. It had tamarind seeds for eyes and a thick slice of lemon in place of a plumage. To make matters a little more spectacular, it had a ruby for a chin. I was unable to photograph it the first time we had met. The bulbul was too quick. Too pretty for me to stay focused.
Two days later, it decided to show up and pose like only a Flame-Throated Bulbul could.
The White-Browed Bulbul was the most recent sighting for me. I saw one, about a year and a half ago, in Kumily. I noticed that evolution had been kind to its summer clothes. I fell head over talons with the bulbul’s olive gray breast and white-rimmed spectacles.
There was love lurking in those irises.
I hope to see them soon. And if I don’t, I will be put in the awkward position of doing something unbecoming of an adult.
You better show up, bulbuls. Or else I am going to tell my mommy.
to be wonderful.
(Photographs – Kodaikanal, Megamalai, Munnar, Kumily, Valparai)