Poetry

Good things happen to those who anticipate

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.

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Goodbye, Mr. and Mrs. T

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.

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How I met my grandfather

Lately, my maternal grandfather – Mr. Clarence Motha – has started to bear a slight resemblance to Spotted Owlets. Especially, the curving slope on his cranium. These days, it looks smooth and swollen, like the skull of an elderly owlet.

My grandfather is 91 years old. His health has been deteriorating of late. He has been referring to this phase of his life as the “sunset years”. Bed-ridden for most of the day, his body and mind are crumbling. All that seems left of him is a ghostly reminder of someone I once knew.

When it is time, I hope he finds the inner strength to let go of the life that he had led for close to a century. Because I don’t want him to suffer much longer. Despite not having exchanged a word for about 10 years, he has always been a driving force in my life.

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Best friends with deficits

Pond Herons are one of the easiest birds to spot. They can be found all over the city. But I have never written about them. I barely photograph them. Every day I see them, alongside the distressingly-polluted Cooum River. They saunter through shallow waters, like stoned tap dancers, and hunt for crustaceans and small fishes.

Profundity has been amiss; the mind – adrift. I have nothing special to tell you about them. Because I haven’t learned anything valuable from them.

Whereas spotting a notoriously shy bird is an incomparable thrill. It is better than sex on a wintry morning or a really good sneeze. There are hurdles in traveling to a new location in search of some rare bird. The urge to overcome them is addictive. Especially, when there are dangers involved. Then, it gets exciting.

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Republic nation of rape

At an outdoor event a few years ago, a group of youngsters was promoting awareness of the rising number of sex crimes in India. They were strongly urging those nearby to just say “NO” to rape. The first thing I wondered was whether anyone had walked up to them and nervously insisted on saying “YES” instead.

The slogan makes no sense to me. The average Indian must be aware that rape is a heinous act. But sometimes, knowledge isn’t even three-quarters the battle won. People know for a fact that junk food is bad for health. That doesn’t stop them from clogging their arteries.

The problem is that many Indians don’t understand what rape is. And it causes them to either subliminally encourage it or passively ignore it.

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Speed dating with Crow Pheasants

Often, we fall in love with the idea of what people may mean to us rather than with the type of person they actually are. You measure the value that they bring to your life instead of being attentive the way that they lead theirs.

You yearn to be analyzed by them. Cherished. Destroyed. Rebuilt. Again and again. You never want to be let go of. Because you realize that they can make things better for you. In the process, you forget that priorities can be aligned but they can also, just as easily, change. Distracted, you only pay attention to yours.

If it all comes crashing down – you lose your individuality.  Your aspirations. Whatever it was that once made you happy. You turn into a shell of yourself. And you listen to a lot of Ed Sheeran before going in search of your next parasitical endeavor.

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Something about their beaks felt like 1968 to me

As much as birdwatching lends itself to transcendental possibilities, I am painfully aware that I don’t speak the same language as birds. But, it has never stopped me from talking to them. I try to keep it short and one-sided. I tell them about the little things that pass, like thunderstorm clouds, through my head.

Either they ignore me and continue their daily businesses. Or they turn extra attentive about perceiving me as a threat to their nesting areas, and they become frightened and annoyed. It may be a selfish relationship, but nobody gets hurt – so, I don’t feel bad about it.

After all, my biased interpretation of what is right or wrong is more important than anyone else’s. Simply because they are mine. All my world’s a chicken coop. I will poop wherever I want to.

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A house that built me

Many of the houses I grew up in never felt like home to me. No matter how sturdy their foundations were. How well-cemented the bricks. All the fine craftsmanship that had gone behind them. They lacked the comfort and warmth I wanted under a roof. Or they belonged to an ecosystem that seemed alien to me. Their walls were sturdy but they held grudges. The ceiling fan was too loud. Beyond the front door, privacy was in absentia. And the view outside the window often a peek into the lives of my neighbors; how unhappy they can be when they don’t realize that somebody is watching them.

But in the winter of 1988, I found myself in a four-storied residential building in Chennai called Joy Apartments. My parents had rented a flat on the third floor. No matter the weather, its ambiance was stuck halfway between a siesta on a rainy day and a funeral procession of woodland creatures. It was tranquilizing and charming. On Sunday afternoons, one could hear the rustling of leaves, in the streets, under a broom. Or the sing-song squawking of the fish vendor as he crooned his way into our bellies.

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Birds are not musicians; they are songs

White-Throated Kingfishers sound like a jackhammer in the hands of a jazz drummer. Asian Koels can be mistaken for star-crossed Shakespearean strangers cooing goodbye one last time. Black-Winged Kites shriek as though they are auditioning for musical satires. If the world was any crueler, music labels would hire poachers to hunt down Malabar Hornbills, and steal their summer playlists.

The most beautiful bird call I have ever heard belongs to a whistler in an electric blue coat. Found in the Western Ghats, it is the Beethoven of alarm clocks.

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Sexuality in India: Please don’t try this at home

Sex and language can be inconsolable bed-mates. Best friends with benefits. They can go out for a coffee, talk unabashedly about life, and get drunk on each other. They can wake up in each other’s arms, with one pretending to have already freshened up. And the other playing along for the kisses and giggles.

But I used to feel odd whenever I have tried to write about sex. However uninhibited I may have thought I was, I found myself in a state of imbalance. And I ended up regurgitating bedtime fantasies. Like the rose petal scene from American Beauty. It is the most Indian-influenced piece of Hollywood. I expected Kevin Spacey’s leg to tip over a glass of milk, as nine months go whizzing by and then – a baby’s squeal is heard behind closed doors.

Perhaps, it is because of where I grew up. The land of the Kama Sutra and the home of the prude.

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