India

White-Browed Wagtail / Common Mynah, ECR

Land of the free, home of the grave

I read what people have to say about national politics on Twitter. During lunchtime, I browse through newsfeeds that unattractively hog TV screens. That’s as politically-inclined as I can be. But I pay my taxes. And I form opinions. I don’t have kids. So I tend to take things personally. Especially, my ideologies.

Some nights I stay awake because of them. Thankfully, I don’t have to wipe their butts or pay for their education.

Since yesterday, I have been hearing about the recent India-Pakistan conflict from different sources. I wanted to offer an elaborate view on an age-old rivalry. Then, I realized that Edwin Starr had already sung, “War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing”.

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shutterstock_297059441

Born to be Wilde

Writing about social issues used to give me fake powers. Arms stretched out, I jogged across a building terrace – pinching the loose ends of my superhero cape. I was on a mission way to save lives. Tackle injustice. Analyze political quagmires. Make bold statements about societal norms. No fear of consequences. Always ready to fight the good fight.

When I reached the terrace’s edge, I put one foot up on a raised platform. I folded my left elbow and cupped the right shoulder with the center of my palm. I looked up to the sky before peering, heroically, at the city below. I saw all the people on the ground. So many of them needed help. They wanted to be rescued.

Sometime in the 18th century, playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton had suggested that the pen was mightier than the sword. It is hard to disagree because writing can be a potent instrument of change. At least, as long as writers don’t take themselves too seriously.

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Custard, Kodaikanal

I woof you too

I have mixed feelings about pet dogs. While I want to kiss every dog I meet on its wet nose, I am unsure if it is a deep and purposeful bond.  It seems to be a symbiotic bond between two emotionally-needy creatures. The Homo Sapien and the Felis Domesticus.

I had a pet Pomeranian called Terry. We grew up in the same household for 12 years. We were family. He came to us when he was two weeks old. Instantly, we became best friends. Because I lived in a neighborhood where there weren’t any other kids to play with.

He was mellower than the average Pomeranian. A goofball despite born an animal without a sense of humor. I loved him because he gave me a lot of attention. I suspect that he followed me around because I was a recurring part of his ecosystem. We felt safe around each other.

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Indian Roller - Vedanthangal

My city was once a blue jay

I am one of those 30-year-olds who believes that things were better when I was growing up. I have a romanticized interpretation of the good old days. Like many, I want to remember the past for the lessons it taught me, not the scars it gave me. It adds more credibility to the life I lead, and the decisions I continue to take.

Many of the memories I recollect comprise mushy dribble. A tacky sequence of events that made no sense back then. In hindsight, it was as though the past had been engineered just to make me a wiser person. It’s a bunch of nonsense. A game of Russian roulette without any bullets.

But some of it feels warm and genuine. Unbroken and unedited. The month of December in the city of Chennai during the Nineties is one of those things.

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Fruit Bat, Theosophical Society - Adyar

When death becomes air: Fruit bats

During late evenings, colonies of fruit bats fly across pale orange skies in my city. With militant grandeur, they soar. With purpose and showmanship. But I see them so often that I don’t look up in admiration anymore.

The only time I notice bats is when I see one electrocuted – having made fatal contact with some overhead power line. Electric grids are a menace to these creatures. They die from cardiac fibrillation, electrical burns or starvation.

But it makes for a beautiful sight. The resilience with which its cold claws still clutch onto the wire. The fragile grip of its melted rubbery skin on the rotting skeletal frame. As if the two were star-crossed lovers in the middle of their last dance. Or perhaps, the tenderest end to a quarrel. And all they want to do is never let go of each other.

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Napier Bridge, Madras

13 reasons why Madras wasn’t just about the filter coffee

It is tough to pigeonhole Indian metropolitans. They are Dickensian by nature. Often, their identities shift, like tectonic plates, under the pretext of urbanization. All the while, they play a game of cat-and-mouse with the past, whether good, bad or ugly. They are works in progress or experiments in terror, depending on how you see it.

Similarly, citizens of metros can seldom be typecast. I figured it out a week after my city suffered from its worst natural disaster ever. During the chaos, we bonded together, like squealing piglets suckling on a giant loving mammary gland. Everyone talked about how brave and selfless we were. A mere week later, we went back to being weak and indifferent – with flashes of politeness. But nobody was paying attention to us, by then.

I was born, bred and fed in this city. I am a son of the soil, for all practical purposes. But I don’t like filter coffee. I have no memory of attending any Carnatic music festival. And maybe, I have been three temples throughout my life.

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Grey Francolin, Pulicat

A single shade of grey: Francolins

Grey Francolins are regular sights for birders during morning hours in the drier parts of the Indian subcontinent. They look like domestic hens dressed in sensible brown suits.

As well-camouflaged as they are, Francolins are paranoid to the point of comic relief. We have made genial clowns out of each other. During my morning walks in scrub forests, I have startled them into skidding down muddy knolls. In return – they have knocked me off my sandals. It has been a match made in a Charlie Chaplin blooper reel.

A year ago, they were also a part of a magical experience I had.
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Indian Peacock

Beauty doesn’t lie in the camera of the beholder

Staring is India’s creepiest pastime. It is either a reflex action or a defense mechanism. We are like frightened and / or frustrated deer caught in the headlights of shrinking geographies and fading belief systems. It isn’t a problem exclusive to women either. Victims include people from other countries and young couples.

A theory is that our conservatism has made us meta-judgmental. Buzzwords like tradition and culture have stitched xenophobia into the fabric of our communities. It is so woven intricately into our mindsets that hyper-sexual gazing is a permissible social activity. Another theory is that we are sociopaths. Sort of like Lionel Richie in that music video in which he stalks a blind girl. And insinuates sexual tension before asking her “hello is it me you are looking for?”.

I don’t think so, creep.

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Nilgiri Tahr, Valparai

When humans attack

Nobody knows what they are capable of unless the situation demands it. Heroism isn’t hereditary. Circumstances make people do extraordinary things. Most of us would like to think we are capable of some bravery in the face of danger. However, when the threat is posed by a wild animal, valor can be misplaced.

In 2013, during an Indian gaur attack, I ran faster than I ever realized I could. A friend, and a tribal kid were with me. But I didn’t look back to see if they were safe. Instead I took off, leaving a cloud of cartoon smoke. They did too. I knew that if I had turned around, I might have been gored. We were a just few meters away from an alpha gaur. That’s nearly 1000 kilograms of power, agility and anger charging us at an alarming speed.

Sure, I like my friend. The kid had a charming disposition too. But I liked increasing the odds of my survival a lot better.

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Northern Pintails (male), Chennai

Get the duck out of here: Rohith Vemula

India is talking about Rohith Vemula’s suicide. Many are calling it a murder. People want heads to roll. They want to taste the winds of change on their fat tongues. After all, the right to protest is crucial to societal advancement. Even Pythagorean cups must spill over, if need be.

But I don’t understand why Rohith is seen as a martyr. He killed himself, unable to cope with caste-based discrimination in the education system. The young man gave up on the fight. Even if he intended to make a statement on victimization of Dalits, it still meant there is one less person now, committed to change, in the country. His death, while it may not diminish the cause, will add precious little towards it.

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