Photography

Eurasian Spoonbill, Chennai

The laborious bastards

Some choose to break free of their comfort zones late in their lives. Having been on auto-pilot mode, they feel tired and demotivated. The uninteresting routines. The cumbersome responsibilities. Each one saps a part of them dry and leaves them ghosted or shelved.

And one stray morning, something happens. The rubber band snaps. They realize that they are not happy; that time is not on their side. Frightened, they look to break to their routines. Make little changes that will pave the way for bigger and bolder transitions. Demand a butterfly to flap its wings one more time. Seize control of the future – without forgetting the past.

The determination lasts for a few months before their plans go kaput. And it occurs to them that it probably wasn’t a great idea to invest so heavily in a plan that sounds similar to Time Cop. Especially, when they can’t do half the things that Jean-Claude Van Damme does.

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Purple Sunbird, Chennai

Look who’s talking: Purple Sunbirds

Conversations with children below the age of five and animals can be more heuristic than those with adults. Sometimes, halfway through a grownup discussion, I lose track of the plot. I slip and fall on the regurgitated mess of inorganically-acquired information. If the other person looks close enough, the sheepish bewilderment is evident on my face. I used to think it was because I was smarter than most of the people I had met. Then, I grew up. And it became clear that I was as dumb and distracted as the rest. Possibly I have been more deluded for having believed, for so long, that I was different from anyone else.

I love talking to children and animals because there are no clear agendas. They are jazz compositions. Free-flowing and nimble discussions. With neither the conformance of structure nor the pressure of outcomes. Also, if I get bored – I can walk away without feeling like a mean bastard. But, I don’t ever see that happening. At least, not when I am talking to birds.

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Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Ponneri

With my back to the future: Asian Paradise Flycatcher

I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that I have finally spotted the fully white-morphed Asian Paradise Flycatcher. A mere week after the wild cat sighting, the flycatcher flew into the crooked window of my heart for the very first time.

During the Christmas weekend, while in Ponneri, I saw the flycatcher breakfasting on a large moth. It was a breathtaking sight. How beautifully its iridescent crest glistened. The whirling dervishes that were its milk-white tail-feathers. Unable to contain my emotions, I cried. Not in a way that makes passersby smile at how kind and wonderful this deranged blue planet can be. It was sort of awkward. Weird-sounding. There was definitely some reverse-blowdrying of the nose. I had been waiting for the moment since 2013, after all.

On January 2, though, bad news arrived. I was diagnosed with a disc prolapse in my lower back. And it had struck a nerve that is connected to my left leg. There isn’t a cure for the condition. However, with the right treatment, I may be able to return to my routines.

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Great Indian Hornbills, Anaimalai Hills

How I mess up the parenting habits of birds

Great Indian Hornbills look visibly upset when they sense danger in their surroundings. They let out a guttural cry as they take flight like wondrous paper planes, to find a vantage point. They aren’t scared easily, though. They are one of the largest hornbills in the world. Any predator would think twice about pissing them off. Malabar Trogons panic, like most smaller birds, when their nests are under attack. With one swift movement, they position themselves at a safe distance. Then, they stare at the intruder, dead in the eye, and purr softly – like a spellbound cat.

Earlier this year, I had the dubious distinction of interrupting the feeding sessions of these gorgeous birds. Yet I was spared the guilt of being a nuisance, and the Hitchcockian tragedy of being pecked to death by birds.

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Valparai

Paradigm lost, Panthera Tigris found

On December 5, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu had passed away. The city of Chennai came to a screeching halt for 24 hours. The stillness was eerie. It didn’t help that we were already dealing with demonetization, the government’s mischievously impotent strategy to fight corruption. It was a stressful day. But it was nothing compared to how the city would look a week later.

On December 12, we were bruised by the state’s worst cyclone ever. The wind was howling at speeds of 150 kilometers per hour. Roofs and panels were getting blown away. Glass windows shattered, trees uprooted, and power lines disrupted. Ten people died. Many livelihoods were lost. It was our second consecutive winter of managing a calamity. Last year, we were put through a flood crisis. It has not been a good winter for us so far.

I won’t ever forget it. But it isn’t because nothing eventful ever happens in the city. Or because I live in a third world country in which the progress is adjudged on the seamless accessibility of Starbucks and 4G. It is because I finally spotted wild cats during the first weekend of this month.

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Black-Hooded Oriole, Thekkady

Yellow is the new black, Frost is an old man

Seeing Orioles makes my insides flutter. They look like they are on a mission from another planet. Perhaps, they are here to tell us that there is such a thing as too much yellow. Or that our ancestors weren’t primates; they were plants. And how silly it is that we move around so much instead of sitting still and reforesting our homes.

I bet it was something our ancestors had never bothered to listen to. It is probably why the Orioles gave up and turned into earthlings. Eat. Poop. Procreate. Sleep. Repeat. No more spilling of universal secrets through subliminal birdsongs.

I have seen three different sub-species. The Golden Oriole, the Black-Hooded Oriole, and the Black-Naped Oriole. They haven’t yet asked me to take them to our leader. Perhaps, they know how poorly governed we all are.

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Common Hoopoe, Chennai

Heart-shaped scars and Sylvester Stallone movies

I miss movie montages in which protagonists beat insurmountable odds. The storyline progress at a breakneck speed. Pulsating synth-infused rock music erupts, without fair warning. Friends and well-wishers encourage and applaud. One of them will fist-pump the air, as squealing guitar sounds build to a crescendo.

Watch any movie starring Sylvester Stallone from the 70s or 80s. Halfway through them, his character skyrockets over one of his short-term goals. In Rocky I, II, III, and IV, he gets into shape for the big fight. Lock Up sees him build a car with prison inmates. In Cobra, an antisocial cop figures out the city’s psyche while a robot and a model get acquainted during a photo-shoot.

It is easy to mock them for being cheesy or just strange. Often, their inelegance is inconsolably consistent. But, imagine if we could use such time-warped narratives to deal with our own problems. How great would that be?

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dscn7287

Not because the supermoon said so

I have tried before to harness the power of positive thinking. But I used to feel worse than I already did. I became angrier over how things never worked out the way I wanted them to. So, one fine day, I just stopped. I am unsure when exactly it happened or what led to it. I only know that letting go of positivism, during certain times, was the best decision I could have made.

It liberated me. It taught me that karma isn’t some magic trick. Nobody owes us anything. First, we see the rabbit. And then, we don’t. But there is no argument over where the rabbit is.

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Rufous-backed Shrike, Vattakanal

Year 1 of birding: This time I went too far

Over the past 11 months, I have spotted and photographed 200+ birds in South India. I have also spent the year working on two documentaries. It means that I was not gainfully employed. So, time was on my side. I got to watch birds every single day. I was on the lookout for bird poop that drizzled from above. The thin branches that swayed when all else remained still. Dancing phone lines, scissoring through cities and forests, on which they perched upon. Quick movements in shrubs and bushes.

But, it was mostly several gigantic strokes of luck. I saw them wherever I went. Soon, I started to believe that the birds found me as often as I searched for them.

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White-Throated Kingfisher, Padur

Winter is unbecoming

Over the past two weeks, Lady Luck has been on my side. I saw nearly 50 Ashy Woodswallows. Over fifteen Spotted Owlets. Three spiffy Sparrowhawks. A flock of hyperactive Eurasian Spoonbills foraging for food; they looked like giant headless chickens, clad in priestly gowns, playing ice hockey. A White-Throated Kingfisher at war with a pond crab. And a Glossy Ibis finally decided to let me close enough to photograph it.

If my semi-charmed life was a movie, these sightings could be indicative of some grand design. But the truth is that birding season is a month away. The first fleet of winter visitors has already descended upon burnt soil of ours. Even the local bird sanctuary has opened its gates earlier than usual; its lake brimming, despite the scarce rainfall.

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