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.
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.
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.
I see Rose-Ringed Parakeets every day. When I am home, I hear them making a beautiful racket outside. They frequent the guava trees in my neighborhood. I go to the terrace to marvel at how gracefully they concoct their bodies to reach for the fruits.
On my way to work, I spot them atop open stumps of dead coconut trees. For a few seconds, I admire their tomato-red beaks. The leafy texture of their tail-feathers. Beady eyes that resemble oil-soaked basil seeds.
Sometimes, I daydream about them too. A sky filled with parakeets. Soaring, like flowering plants with wings, they green-wash the clouds.
Bee-eaters can be found all over India. From metropolitan cities to ghosted forests about 5000 feet up in the Himalayas. They are identified by their curvy beaks and long tail-feathers. Some are born with blue beards and others blessed with roasted chestnut-colored skullcaps.
On bright summer days, the undersides of their wings hold sunlight. Like jet-propelled turquoise demitasses, they fly around in search of bees, beetles, and wasps. They spear them, remove their venomous stings and thrash the lifeless bodies into small portions.
It is as gruesome as it sounds. But nobody laments for the early worm. Cruelty maketh its fragile ecosystem. So, does ours. And we can complain about it on Twitter.
If it weren’t for birds, I wouldn’t have met any of you. This blog is almost two years old. Some of you have been visiting me since the beginning. It’s the second longest relationship I have ever been in. I don’t know how special this has been for you. But, it has meant a lot to me.
I may not know all your names. Not everyone stops long enough to leave behind a comment. But a WordPress widget lets me know that you exist. And I am thankful for it.
At times, birds fly away quickly too. Even before we consciously share something beautiful together.
Weekends are usually when I go bird-watching. I drive to different parts of my city’s outskirts to photograph residential and migratory birds. I love writing about the experience too. It has become a favorite routine of mine.
But, I couldn’t go out during the weekend that just passed. Because I had recently sprained the lower part of my spine. And I was told that for about a month, my body would ache whenever I had to sit upright. Whether inside a car or in front of the laptop.
So, this morning, I drove about 60 kilometers away to spend time with the birds of the Siruthavur reserve forest. I had a great time despite the discomfort. It wasn’t as though I overcame adversity in the pursuit of passion. No doubt that such theatrical nobility would have been amiss. It was one of those things that could have happened to anyone.
The Common Hoopoe is supposed to be a commonly-found resident in my city of Chennai. But I haven’t spotted a single one in my neighbourhood. I have seen them many times on the outskirts. Every time, they hijack my gaze. Detoxify the air in my lungs. Then, leave me breathless.
I can’t imagine getting any work done if I knew that they were lurking outside my house. I will end up getting fired for absenteeism. Evicted by the landlord for not paying rent. Alienated by friends after ignoring their phone calls. Relatives will frown at me for abandoning a functional life in order to stare at hoopoes. My parents will think I am mad.
Things will be said. Calls will be made. And soon, nice people in white uniforms will take me away to a happier, quieter and more padded place.
Stress isn’t a loud-mouthed villain. Very often you can’t hear its war cry. You just don’t see it coming. Stress can be a cold and calculated sociopath. It won’t catch you in a bear hug and squeeze the life out of you. It waits for you to go to sleep. It climbs into the bed and snuggles up next to you. Then, it whispers sad haiku in your ears to micromanage your dreams. By the time you wake up, it will be gone, along with a part of you that believes that everything is fine
It will even laugh, moan and rejoice with us. And then one fine day, you will wake up, crumbling like a cornered oatmeal cookie. You will find yourself falling into a downward spiral over minor annoyances. The silliest of things will make you snap, crackle and pop.
I am pretending that summer isn’t in a fierce mood. I am ignoring the sweat dripping down my forehead. The constant buzzing of air-conditioners. The humidity in the air. But I am painfully aware that birding season is over. Many of the migratory birds are gone. The endemic ones are vacating regular nesting grounds in search of water. Last summer, I felt really bad about it. I couldn’t bear the thought of having to wait until November for the next season.
This year, things are looking up. I know this because a birdie told me so. And not just any birdie. But one with tail-feathers so curvy that it can be mistaken for a dance recital that came to life.