I have a tumultuous relationship with Common Hoopoes. Whenever I see one, disaster tends to flirt with me. I end up hurting myself, causing damage to property or making people suspicious of me. And I hear a sad violin solo playing in the background, as the bird flies away.
I was riding pillion on my friend’s motorbike when I first spotted a Hoopoe at a bird sanctuary. It appeared on the branch of a papaya tree. I hopped to the ground for a closer look. But I slipped and burnt the skin off my ankle on the bike’s muffler. I shrieked. Distracted, the bird flew away.
I was aghast when I realized what I had done. I made unhappy noises. My friend could have possibly thought to himself, “So this is what it sounds like when doves cry”.
A few months later, I spotted another during a long drive to the city outskirts. A beautiful damsel wind-drying its scarlet crown on the terrace of an abandoned building. I parked the car by the side of the road and tip-toed towards the Hoopoe. I took a few photographs. Then, I sat down to admire its plumage.
Feeling good, I returned to the car. Except that the car wasn’t there where I had left it in a few minutes earlier. I freaked out, like a confused mime unable to find a way out of an invisible box even after the show is over .
Finally, I noticed it parked haphazardly by the side of the road about 500 meters away. I hadn’t used the handbrake before getting out. Luckily, it had crashed onto a haystack – suffering very minimal damage.
I spotted a Hoopoe in my city at a traffic signal in a beach-side locality. The light turned green as I struggled to get the camera out of my bag. But I couldn’t. So, I drove on to take a U-turn at the next signal. I went back to the spot but the traffic lights weren’t in the mood to entertain me. Again, I couldn’t stop to see her.
I decided to take the U-turn once more. Finally, I made it on time. But I was interrupted by traffic police who thought that I needed directions. They looked at me suspiciously too. It also turned out that my car insurance had expired.
During a visit to Kodaikanal, I had a Hoopoe for a rooftop neighbor in the cottage I stayed in. Enthralled, I climbed on a stone bench for a better view. As I moved towards the edge, I tumbled over its arm-rest and fell onto a bush. The caretaker’s wife came running out upon hearing the thud. Gingerly, I told her about it. She looked at me like I would the Pythagoras’ theorem. Or anything more arithmetically complicated than multiplication. She quietly ushered herself away from me, as I stood there – feeling silly.
Later that day I noticed that she had two daughters living with her. I wondered if she had assumed that I was a creep. I wish I could have told her that I enjoyed stalking birds, and staring at them. And people just weren’t worth the effort involved in all that planning.
I have seen the Hoopoe many times without something weird, awkward or painful happening to me. But I don’t remember much about them.
I will be angry with myself if I figure out later that it is a conscious effort of mine. What if I hold onto the painful bits of whatever I go through because it is easier to write about them?
It won’t be any fun if you turn out to be the reason why I feel this way sometimes.
We were just getting to know each other a little better.
the tort of deceit.
(Photographs: Chennai. Kodaikanal, Valparai)