I develop a gag reflex for certain things I am passionate about. Whether a new style of writing I want to try out, the type of people I socialize with or the kind of music I listen to. After shifting the paradigm, I just throw my hands in the air and walk away. A simple explanation is that I am easily distracted. I may be suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder. Another may be that “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member”.
It doesn’t really matter why. Popeye taught me that a long time ago.
Somehow, my love for birds survived the onslaught. Four years later, I am as lovestruck. Every time I see a bird of prey – my heart doesn’t just skip a beat, it leapfrogs over a bunch of them stacked on top of each other. Like the flap of some Malabar Trogon’s wing – it takes to the sky.
No year has ever gone by without its share of obstacles. Except when I was 8 years old. Yeah, that was a good year. It must be the same with you, right? I hear people talk about their ups and downs. Isn’t that how things work? At least, I hope so. I will feel a little better knowing that your life, consistently, has shitty moments in it too.
If I were to make a list of the traits that distinguish humanity from other species, I would start with ‘kindness’ and end with ‘cruelty’. Our ability to be harmonious has co-existed with our capacity to be a destructive force. Most of us were Frankenstein monsters in search of the doctor who had created us. Thankfully, some were concerned about the science.
A few days ago, I was introduced to the works of Dr. Yuval Harari – a historian. In his book, Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind, he talks about how we are the “only animals that can cooperate flexibly in very large numbers”. He also opines that the human tendency to invest in fiction is what separates us from the other species.
“…as long as everybody believes in the same fiction, everybody obeys and follows the same rules, the same norms, and the same values.”
I love photographing birds. It feels so exhilarating that I am willing to walk out on any part of my life for it. But first, I must buy a professional camera. Then, figure out a way to make people pay me for it. It’s a pipedream that may take another decade to evolve into a purposeful plan. And even though I can wait, it probably won’t work out in my favor.
Good things don’t happen to those who contemplate. They happen to those who make the first move. And the heart often wants what the brain can’t make sense of. It wasn’t a career I had ever thought about before. Not until I spotted a Black-and-Orange Flycatcher one rainy afternoon.
Many birds feel shy around humans. Perhaps, they are just terrified. Why wouldn’t they be? Our species has a dubious track record. We are like the meteor that killed the dinosaurs, except that we think we can repair the damage. Start all over again. Make everything bloom.
Look at me, for instance. I pollute the air that birds breathe in just by driving to where they live. I also contribute to a process that takes away food from their beaks. Yet I fetishize their existence. And I spend time promoting my passion for them instead of helping conserve their habitats.
Birds needn’t feel shy around me. They should be terror-stricken.
It was a cold start to the day in the sleepy village of Kurangu Mudi in the Anaimalai Hills. The sun wasn’t up yet. I was sipping on hot beverage outside a tea shop, petting an old mongrel. We were watching the mist disappear from moist skirts the forest wore that morning. Suddenly, out of nowhere, ghostly cries hijacked the air. I looked around and saw only the sleepy stare of the shopkeeper.
So, I craned my neck upwards to see if they were birdsongs. I noticed that a flock of pigeons had taken to the skies, and they were heading towards the other side. They were too quick for me to identify them by name at that moment. And so I ran after them until I reached a fence safeguarding the wild animals from people and vice-versa.
Sholinganallur is the nearest birding spot from where I live. It is home to many residential and migratory birds. But I haven’t been there much. I visit places like Vedanthangal, Kanchipuram or Pulicat, which are further away, during weekends. It isn’t easy to wake up at 3:30 AM and leave for a 2-hour drive with bad roads and poor visibility. Yet I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I believe that nothing worth having comes easy. Whenever the universe has been randomly benevolent – without expecting something in return – I have questioned its motive. Karma doesn’t work that way. Even if we may not always reap what we sow, we must keep toiling away in the fields. Especially, during the harvesting season.
Coppersmith Barbets don’t look like they belong in metropolitan cities. One might assume they reside in secret fruit gardens. Watched over by wood elves and courted by cellists with sunflower stems instead of strings.
A year ago I had an unforgettable experience with one in my city. I noticed an emerald bum jutting out, rather comically, of a hole in a tree stump. A Coppersmith Barbet was playing peekaboo with the midday sun, and the monster in me.