NIP is a weekly podcast hosted by Shuveb Hussain and me. We pick vague topics and then, talk about (no prizes for guessing) nothing in particular. But I am sure that there is something in there for you. And you. And especially you there – looking as though someone just ran over your puppy. I hope that we can be a part of your car rides, water-cooler conversations, lunchtime discourses and late-evening introspections.
It is true that all good things come to an end. They simply must. Otherwise, bad things will happen. And then, we will be running around, as though fire ants were snacking on our brain tissues, wondering where it all went wrong.
The daily challenges faced by many people in my country do not bother me as much as they used to. Because I let go of the guilt of having had a more privileged upbringing. And I am not skilled enough to fight the system by tweeting about how unfair everything is.
What really bothers me is when the unwritten rules of social conduct are broken. For instance, some of us try to get inside the elevator even when its doors are closing. We do not consider it impolite to ask people to delay their routines because of our selfishness.
Why must anyone set aside their priorities to deal with ours? We are not chasing after Mad Max in a lawless dessert. Unless there is an emergency, we must follow certain rules of social conduct. We simply cannot be inconsiderate of the lives of strangers. Whether or not they can fly is a different matter altogether.
When I am not bird-watching, I like to watch people. Strangers, in particular. I am captivated by their nonverbal behavior. Gestures such as shoulder shrugs, head nods, and hand movements are significant parts of human interactions. They are our inner whistle-blowers that leak out top-secret information about our personalities. Tell the world who we really are, as opposed to the type of person that we aspire to be.
No matter how restless or torn we may be, our actions are always fluid. They seem like a natural extension of our characters; as though they begin where our script ends. They start when words fail us. Or when we fail them.
Listening to people, though, is not nearly as faascinating. All many do is share the messy details of their lives. And it is the same badly-edited story ad nauseam. Everyone is a victim and a survivor. They faced social alienation. Dealt with parental pressure and economic hardships. Overcame drug abuse, smoking, alcoholism, junk food and bad relationships. Moved past broken promises. Suffered. Survived. Rinse and repeat.
As a child, I was in awe of the role that my mother played in my life. But I was baffled that she had the final say on everything I did. She could take decisions on my behalf. Order me around to do chores. Create arbitrary rules I had to abide by. Even though it worked out in my favor, I wasn’t comfortable with the kind of power that this woman could wield over me. It weakened me in a peculiar way that she could correct all my wrongs – without even consulting me.
Only as an adult, I realized how important it was to have had a loving and supportive mother while growing up. I could never adequately convey to her just how grateful I was. I still cannot; at least, not in ways that she may want me to.
I have started to go bird-watching again. My body seems to have regained some of its strength. So, I have been visiting nearby bird-friendly areas; to re-acclimatize myself to their sights, smells and sounds. But, this is not the part of the narrative in which the protagonist reconnects with something he loves. And miraculously – everything gets better. No, no, no. You must have my life confused with a lousy indie film.
The summer of 2017 has its pratfalls. I am angry that my 91-year-old grandpa had to undergo a surgery a few days ago. The last mile should not hurt this much. I am also not thrilled that my trusted camera has decided to call it quits. To make matters more unpleasant, I have been advised against traveling to hill stations until October.
I feel confined, sweaty and unsexy. The weather is getting worse. Life is not a box of chocolates. Because, often, nice things like cocoa butter and sugar have nothing to do with what we go through. But then, there are silver linings. And sometimes, they come in pink.
Black-Winged Stilts are some of the longest-legged waders in the stilt and avocet family. It does not sound like a big deal until you see them. Then, you realize that you may have a foot fetish to deal with, at a later date. Or something which is as uncomplicated and beautiful.
Every movement is a dance move waiting to happen. I bet they do it all the time when nobody is watching them. Just dance. During lazy afternoons, treading far from urban kerfuffle, they waltz their hearts out. At nights – with fireflies for neighbors, they move to the sound of water kneading through tiny rocks.
When I was 24, I swore that I would never use a smartphone. It seemed like an Orwellian abstraction. A sling blade that hurled a hateful stone at the third eye of the collective consciousness. A step closer towards a totalitarian future in which the government implants computer chips in our brains to keep track of us. It felt wrong. More importantly, I couldn’t deal with my parents calling me anytime they suspected I was up to something fishy.
I have since realized how useful and entertaining it is. A talking tin can, a portable media player, a video game console and a notebook. I was hooked. I still am. But I am also aware that it can be damaging. In today’s fast-paced digital age, extreme caution must be exercised while forging a purposeful relationship with your smartphone. Because it could damage those you share with family members, friends, and office colleagues.
Everyone may end up thinking you are a bad person. They may associate you with unspeakably awful things that are undeserving for someone of your fine upbringing and stature. We don’t want that, do we? You deserve better. You always have. So, please download these four smartphone apps to become a better human being.
I first saw Brown-Capped Pygmy Woodpeckers inside a reserve forest in Kumily. But, love was not in the air. Maybe, they were in a hyperactive mood. Or just camera shy. Because every time I tried to photograph them, they would fly away to some other spot. No matter how closely I tracked one, it simply refused to stand still. Disappointed, I left them in a hurry.
Later, I spotted them in Megamalai. Once again, they escaped my camera’s frame by fluttering about, like a kamikaze fleet getting ready for a fight. And I walked away with my head hung low.
The third time was the charm. Two years ago, I stumbled upon them during a rocky climb in Thattekad. They were hunting for crunchy insects inside the bark of a tree. While they continued to be quicker than hiccups, I wanted to try something different. So, I decided to give them an hour or so to warm up to me.
Excitedly, I woke up at 4:30 AM. It was my first visit to the Thattekad Bird Sanctuary. I was there because of the Malabar Trogon – a brightly-colored creature that looks like the afterbirth of a psychedelic experience. With a spring in my step, I walked out of the cottage – as jolly as I could be. I was going to meet a local birder at the tea shop outside the sanctuary.
By 6:00 AM, though, the excitement was gone. Sipping on a cup of watery tea, I thought about what a shitty morning it had turned out to be. First, I was stung by a wasp that was hiding in my left shoe. Then, it dawned on me that the skies were way too overcast. To make things worse, four other people, who had hired the same birder, were going to accompany me. So, I dragged my feet past the front gate. There were banners all over that showcased the brightest, the bluest and the most bewitching of endemic birds. Each one looked like it fell out of a dream.
At a distance, a mynah sang an eerie tune. I tightened my grip on the camera and took a deep breath. Spoiler alert – Everything is going to be okay.