The scariest part of a downward spiral is the speed at which things fall apart. You are always a bad decision away losing it all. One phone call. Just one unexpected turn to find yourself in a bottomless pit. But life doesn’t come crashing down. It caves in. Crumbles under the weight of despair. Then, like some injured lizard, you try to pick yourself up. But you feel helpless. Uncoordinated. So, you collapse to the ground. And you just lie there, with fistfuls of dirt, tonguing your cheeks and hoping that this too will pass.
Conversely, when something good happens – seldom does it snowball into something more tangible. There are no formulas to sustain an unexpected burst of happiness. It can be a one-hit wonder that leads to sophomore slumps. Often, it just slinks away on its chubby hindlimbs.
I first saw Grey Wagtails during a taxi ride in Kodaikanal. One was perched on a wooden gate, looking like a June morning. It wore the hues of an early sun, flanked by greying clouds.
The driver told me, in Tamil, that they were called Valikaati. Loosely translated, it meant “pathfinder”. My mind started to drift . Rudely interrupted only by the sound of a passing truck. I imagined the bird to be a compass with wings for people who were lost in the wilderness.
An alarm clock for the weary to wake up and find their way back to safety.
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.
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.
I believe in the power of positive thinking. But I can see how some people find it nauseous when they are asked to emulate others and just be more positive. And why thinking happy thoughts can make us look like cows – their udders tickled by the sun.
I used to be a negative person. I smirked every time something went wrong. It gave credibility to tragic perspectives. And then came this burst of positive energy. Along with it – a love for the world like I hadn’t felt before. I had a dramatic change of mind. At least I thought I did.
Except those closest to me swear that I hadn’t changed one bit. And I am just as angry and cynical as I was.
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.
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.
Whenever I spot rare birds, I am giddy with joy. My confidence begins to build. I realize how much they mean to me. And I start to emotionally invest in them. But if they decide to leave before I can take a photograph, whiffs of anguish flood my nostrils. As they disappear into oblivion – I pull a face and swat imaginary flies. I feel dejected.
It’s like being punched in the eardrum while swimming. I am disoriented.
In a few hours, the melancholic vibe is replaced by a twinge of guilt. I realize, rather sheepishly, that I have spotted three endangered species of birds in southern India. Besides the hundreds of endemic and migratory birds, I have also seen a few – notoriously secretive about their lives.
I travel alone to the hills because it’s how I want to experience the world for now. It’s not as though I am one with the sand and the sky or anything fancy like that. I just feel interconnected to the sum of their moving parts. It also lends itself more to discoveries, life-changing or merely chimerical. The more people I am surrounded with – the less likely I am to feel the pulse of the environment. And it’s not just because how loud and obnoxious they can be.
Exploring a town, a village or the woodlands is an exercise in self-centeredness. I couldn’t be more self-absorbed. If one travels with like-minded folks, it can be a delightful experience. A sharing of primordial sensibilities and digestible proportions of love and laughter.
However, with the wrong individuals, travelling can be stressful. A nuisance like no other.
Kodaikanal, a hill station in south India, is my happy place. That sweet spot halfway between the gutter and the stars. Her songbirds, smiling faces, street food and silhouettes of trees have filled me with warmth.
She births unsupervised fires in me. Whenever I climb up her turquoise thighs, she holds me in a vice-like grip. She cradles me until I submit to her providence and charm.
Kodaikanal found me when I was lost and without a hill to wander upon. I ended up pressing my nose against her grassy knolls, inhaling the soy-milk clouds drifting down her neckline. Now, we tear apart truths and turn them into poems.