It was around 5:00 PM. I was tonguing the evening air on a parrot-green grass hill at Mooppanpara in Kerala. Despite the cloudy weather, I wanted to stick around. It had been a long and tiring day. And the scenery was mesmeric. The sun resembled a dusty grapefruit trying to un-blush. It sunk, beneath the jagged shoulders of mountains. I felt calm, as though a blade of grass had found itself in-between my teeth.
But the weather wasn’t having any of it. Howling winds turned into hesitant whispers. The blueness of the sky gave way to a frowning shade of gray, as rain-fed clouds loomed. Unbeknownst to me, the stench of the struggle for survival was around the corner.
In 2013, I saw a large squirrel hiding in-between the branches of a plum tree in Kodaikanal. Bashing its bushy tail against the leaves, the creature stared at me with its beady eyes. Its reddish-black coat shone in the sun. I had never seen anything like it before. The only squirrel I knew then was the three-striped palm sub-species.
When it leaped onto another tree, a taxi driver – standing nearby – pointed at it and said, “There it goes”. He looked at me and asked, “Ever seen a Giant Flying Squirrel before?” I shook my head sideways and mumbled. Words escaped me. I was shaken. I felt like I was on the precipice of something strange and important. It was the only time I ever wanted to write a novel.
Kodaikanal, a hill station in south India, is my happy place. That sweet spot halfway between the gutter and the stars. Her songbirds, smiling faces, street food and silhouettes of trees have filled me with warmth.
She births unsupervised fires in me. Whenever I climb up her turquoise thighs, she holds me in a vice-like grip. She cradles me until I submit to her providence and charm.
Kodaikanal found me when I was lost and without a hill to wander upon. I ended up pressing my nose against her grassy knolls, inhaling the soy-milk clouds drifting down her neckline. Now, we tear apart truths and turn them into poems.
I used to obsess over spotting wild cats in their natural habits. Leopards, tigers or jungle cats, it didn’t matter. I would feel like a fortunate son of the earth as long as it had whiskers. While I gave up the search in favour of bird-watching, the felidae family members continued to haunt me.
Even now, when I explore the hills of south India, I keeps my ears open for an untamed roar. A guttural cough maybe. Any sign that a darling of the feline variety is on the prowl.
I haven’t seen a single one though. Just pug-marks and poop. But I can’t complain. I have had the privilege of seeing many other gorgeous beasts. Considering that I am not a conservationist or a census assistant, I should just shut up and consider myself a lucky bastard.
I hope the people of France are safe. I wish them a speedy recovery. But today I support my state of Tamil Nadu. She has been ravaged by heavy storms. People have been losing their homes and livelihoods, and others – their lives.
For the past 12 hours, there have been nonstop thunderstorms in Chennai. My city has turned into a helpless, soaking-wet mongrel. Her roads have turned into death-traps and her buildings – into dirty sponges. Trees have been falling by the wayside. Electricity is a problem as is public transportation. The rumour mill has been working overtime, spreading paranoia.
I used to find myself drawn towards the ocean and her charms. The crackling of waves. The distant chatter of fishermen. And the frothing of her tides. The ocean often had me entranced.
I was fascinated with aquatic life-forms back then. It thrilled me to find them near ocean-beds. But most were dead by the time I stumbled upon them. Yet I have caught myself staring their corpses, feeling exhilarated about life.
If it weren’t
her wounds would make for
better classroom lectures
than life’s lessons.
Many I know consider rock doves / pigeons to be a major public nuisance. These feral birds are accused of being uninvited and parasitical guests to cities. They are despised for being noisy and intrusive. Other items in the list of accusations include spreading diseases, destroying air-conditioner units and pooping just about everywhere.
When I visited the Periyar National Wildlife Sanctuary in 2013 with a friend, we opted for an expensive and grueling 9-hour paid trek around the border of the jungle. There was a couple from France who accompanied us. We were chaperoned by four armed forest officers. Obviously I would have rather gone solo to chew on dead sunflower stems in the heart of the jungle. But I would have been dead by morning.
One needs training, not tacky sentimentality, to survive in the wild. We were there because of our desperation to see a tiger in its natural habitat. Instead we were ambushed by a herd of elephants. And I ended up with one of those life’s lessons.