beauty

Goodbye is the new hello: Jewel bugs

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.

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Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating

Is it okay to say that female birds are not as attractive as their male counterparts? Or does it make me a sexist? I can’t be sure. Because people pounce on others for saying things that they deem, personally, to be offensive. Context does not seem to matter. As long as they are upset, they will fight you tooth and nail over it.

But I like keyboard warriors, irrespective of their gender or the social cause they support. Generally, their English is good. For some reason, they smell nicer than the average person. And they watch interesting films. Some are passionate about fighting marginalization. Others try and assuage middle-class guilt through their actions.

I am unaware how much good they are doing for the oppressed communities. But it is sweet that they want to do anything at all.

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You can handle the truth about Swamphens

Sometimes, I literally can’t see the forest for the trees. Only when I sit down to rest do I realize how tall they are. I start noticing how the branches bristle with life, death, food and music. I scratch my forehead and wonder why it took me so long to experience their grandeur.

The first time I spotted a Swamphen up-close, I saw an ugly side of me. It was a moment of realization. A fresh perspective. And I felt terrible about it.

Like someone once said – “the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off”.

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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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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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Return to innocence: Bulbuls of South India

When I was a kid, people kept asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I never had the fortitude to tell them that I just wanted to be an adult. Because I was excited about growing up. I thought that adults had it all figured out. The bread and butter, and the bells and whistles, of leading a healthy, wealthy, and happy life.

Into my 20s, I noticed that grown-ups had no clue about it. Except they had a set of archaic instructions to follow. It made their aspirations seem machinated and mundane. In the race for normality, they collected participation certificates in recognition of compliance to speed limits.

I wish they had set higher standards. Left us with information that mattered. For instance, if I had known there were about nine types of bulbuls in South India (22 across the country), I might not have taken this long to spot six of them.

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Dawn of the planet of the Minivets

The crack of the dawn fills my head with colors. It does weird stuff to my lungs. Leaves my insides all shook up. But I don’t feel like puking.  It’s like the sky is undergoing a cesarean section to the tempo of Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody Number 2. And I am watching the rebirth of the sun.

Waking up early has become a habit these days. A few years ago, it was a hard bargain. Because I used to have a soft corner for the nights. There was nothing poetic about it. The city just seemed so much quieter. And it made all the difference.

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Between the head and the heart: Plum-Headed Parakeets

Few are upfront and honest about their opinions. We live in such sensitive times. Political correctness is the opium of the masses. Unless you punch me in the face, it is likely that I will not be completely honest with you. Only emotions such as pain, fear, and anger drive me to communicate with you – without a filter. When I am outside my comfort zone.

Through birding, I realized that excitement is another such emotion. It seems to bring out my inner child. My inner daddy cool. The creepy Dadaist uncle too.

For instance, whenever I see the Plum-Headed Parakeet, the earth’s volume is turned down for a few seconds. Everything moves in slow-motion. The sunlight, even if physically absent, feels spiritually intense. And I am overcome with this urge to swallow its plum-colored head.

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My plum-soaked paramour: Coppersmith Barbet

I squeal when I see a bird for the first time. It’s an instinctual response. I am ecstatic that I don’t flap my arms and run around like a crazy person. The birds will never let me photograph them.

But I can be a squealer. I just can’t help it. I am a clay-animated puppet around them. I tilt my neck and rock it back and forth. It’s as though I am watching a tennis match while listening to a Beatles song. My limbs feel sedated. I will be useless in the event of a disaster. If turns into a fight or flight scenario, I can only head-butt my way out of it. Or bewilder the attacker by collapsing into a seated yoga pose and chanting Om. At times, I gargle words, with neither poignancy nor panache, before clapping my hands.

I impersonate an eager elephant seal just to show my new feathered friends how excited I am.

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A case for the commoners: The Indian Myna

I had for too long kept myself from falling in love with Indian Mynas. Perhaps, I am not just a discriminatory birder. I am an obtuse one too. I hadn’t written about them until recently despite how often I spot them.

Common Mynas are found everywhere in my city. Unlike the House Sparrows, they have adapted to urban environments; so much that they have gained a reputation as one of the world’s most invasive species.

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