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.
I ache for solitude. A few minutes of uninterrupted silence. I want it so badly that I can taste it under the roof of my mouth. I can smell it in the air that I breathe out. And I want to make a dash for it. Kneel before its fountain, and tongue its sweet nectar; wincing as I feel it on my skin.
Because solitude is not a rash. I cannot scratch it, and make the itching go away. It travels through my small intestines. Finds a home wherever the human soul is supposed to be hiding. It is my ticketless passenger. By now, it has hitched a ride so frequently that I am not sure who is giving directions anymore.
And it is not a disease I carry around. It is a beautiful scar. A pivotal part of my psyche. A bar graph that precariously body-surfs on the totem pole of my actualized needs. It comes in different shapes and sizes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.