The daily challenges faced by many people in my country do not bother me as much as they used to. Because I let go of the guilt of having had a more privileged upbringing. And I am not skilled enough to fight the system by tweeting about how unfair everything is.
What really bothers me is when the unwritten rules of social conduct are broken. For instance, some of us try to get inside the elevator even when its doors are closing. We do not consider it impolite to ask people to delay their routines because of our selfishness.
Why must anyone set aside their priorities to deal with ours? We are not chasing after Mad Max in a lawless dessert. Unless there is an emergency, we must follow certain rules of social conduct. We simply cannot be inconsiderate of the lives of strangers. Whether or not they can fly is a different matter altogether.
When I am not bird-watching, I like to watch people. Strangers, in particular. I am captivated by their nonverbal behavior. Gestures such as shoulder shrugs, head nods, and hand movements are significant parts of human interactions. They are our inner whistle-blowers that leak out top-secret information about our personalities. Tell the world who we really are, as opposed to the type of person that we aspire to be.
No matter how restless or torn we may be, our actions are always fluid. They seem like a natural extension of our characters; as though they begin where our script ends. They start when words fail us. Or when we fail them.
Listening to people, though, is not nearly as faascinating. All many do is share the messy details of their lives. And it is the same badly-edited story ad nauseam. Everyone is a victim and a survivor. They faced social alienation. Dealt with parental pressure and economic hardships. Overcame drug abuse, smoking, alcoholism, junk food and bad relationships. Moved past broken promises. Suffered. Survived. Rinse and repeat.
As a child, I was in awe of the role that my mother played in my life. But I was baffled that she had the final say on everything I did. She could take decisions on my behalf. Order me around to do chores. Create arbitrary rules I had to abide by. Even though it worked out in my favor, I wasn’t comfortable with the kind of power that this woman could wield over me. It weakened me in a peculiar way that she could correct all my wrongs – without even consulting me.
Only as an adult, I realized how important it was to have had a loving and supportive mother while growing up. I could never adequately convey to her just how grateful I was. I still cannot; at least, not in ways that she may want me to.
When I was 24, I swore that I would never use a smartphone. It seemed like an Orwellian abstraction. A sling blade that hurled a hateful stone at the third eye of the collective consciousness. A step closer towards a totalitarian future in which the government implants computer chips in our brains to keep track of us. It felt wrong. More importantly, I couldn’t deal with my parents calling me anytime they suspected I was up to something fishy.
I have since realized how useful and entertaining it is. A talking tin can, a portable media player, a video game console and a notebook. I was hooked. I still am. But I am also aware that it can be damaging. In today’s fast-paced digital age, extreme caution must be exercised while forging a purposeful relationship with your smartphone. Because it could damage those you share with family members, friends, and office colleagues.
Everyone may end up thinking you are a bad person. They may associate you with unspeakably awful things that are undeserving for someone of your fine upbringing and stature. We don’t want that, do we? You deserve better. You always have. So, please download these four smartphone apps to become a better human being.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.