It is true that all good things come to an end. They simply must. Otherwise, bad things will happen. And then, we will be running around, as though fire ants were snacking on our brain tissues, wondering where it all went wrong.
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.
I have started to go bird-watching again. My body seems to have regained some of its strength. So, I have been visiting nearby bird-friendly areas; to re-acclimatize myself to their sights, smells and sounds. But, this is not the part of the narrative in which the protagonist reconnects with something he loves. And miraculously – everything gets better. No, no, no. You must have my life confused with a lousy indie film.
The summer of 2017 has its pratfalls. I am angry that my 91-year-old grandpa had to undergo a surgery a few days ago. The last mile should not hurt this much. I am also not thrilled that my trusted camera has decided to call it quits. To make matters more unpleasant, I have been advised against traveling to hill stations until October.
I feel confined, sweaty and unsexy. The weather is getting worse. Life is not a box of chocolates. Because, often, nice things like cocoa butter and sugar have nothing to do with what we go through. But then, there are silver linings. And sometimes, they come in pink.
I first saw Brown-Capped Pygmy Woodpeckers inside a reserve forest in Kumily. But, love was not in the air. Maybe, they were in a hyperactive mood. Or just camera shy. Because every time I tried to photograph them, they would fly away to some other spot. No matter how closely I tracked one, it simply refused to stand still. Disappointed, I left them in a hurry.
Later, I spotted them in Megamalai. Once again, they escaped my camera’s frame by fluttering about, like a kamikaze fleet getting ready for a fight. And I walked away with my head hung low.
The third time was the charm. Two years ago, I stumbled upon them during a rocky climb in Thattekad. They were hunting for crunchy insects inside the bark of a tree. While they continued to be quicker than hiccups, I wanted to try something different. So, I decided to give them an hour or so to warm up to me.
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.
I ache for solitude. A few minutes of uninterrupted silence. I want it so badly that I can taste it under the roof of my mouth. I can smell it in the air that I breathe out. And I want to make a dash for it. Kneel before its fountain, and tongue its sweet nectar; wincing as I feel it on my skin.
Because solitude is not a rash. I cannot scratch it, and make the itching go away. It travels through my small intestines. Finds a home wherever the human soul is supposed to be hiding. It is my ticketless passenger. By now, it has hitched a ride so frequently that I am not sure who is giving directions anymore.
And it is not a disease I carry around. It is a beautiful scar. A pivotal part of my psyche. A bar graph that precariously body-surfs on the totem pole of my actualized needs. It comes in different shapes and sizes.
At an outdoor event a few years ago, a group of youngsters was promoting awareness of the rising number of sex crimes in India. They were strongly urging those nearby to just say “NO” to rape. The first thing I wondered was whether anyone had walked up to them and nervously insisted on saying “YES” instead.
The slogan makes no sense to me. The average Indian must be aware that rape is a heinous act. But sometimes, knowledge isn’t even three-quarters the battle won. People know for a fact that junk food is bad for health. That doesn’t stop them from clogging their arteries.
The problem is that many Indians don’t understand what rape is. And it causes them to either subliminally encourage it or passively ignore it.
Many of the houses I grew up in never felt like home to me. No matter how sturdy their foundations were. How well-cemented the bricks. All the fine craftsmanship that had gone behind them. They lacked the comfort and warmth I wanted under a roof. Or they belonged to an ecosystem that seemed alien to me. Their walls were sturdy but they held grudges. The ceiling fan was too loud. Beyond the front door, privacy was in absentia. And the view outside the window often a peek into the lives of my neighbors; how unhappy they can be when they don’t realize that somebody is watching them.
But in the winter of 1988, I found myself in a four-storied residential building in Chennai called Joy Apartments. My parents had rented a flat on the third floor. No matter the weather, its ambiance was stuck halfway between a siesta on a rainy day and a funeral procession of woodland creatures. It was tranquilizing and charming. On Sunday afternoons, one could hear the rustling of leaves, in the streets, under a broom. Or the sing-song squawking of the fish vendor as he crooned his way into our bellies.
Today, I saw a Black Kite skirting past the opaque moon against a teal-blue evening sky. It was a refreshing change of scenery. Considering I had been bed-ridden since February. About two weeks ago, my spinal chord was operated upon. The disc bulge in my lower vertebrae had become worse. There was a growing risk of suffering permanent nerve damage on my left leg.
So, I had decided to opt for surgery. Now, I have a giant scar to show for it. If things don’t go according to plan, I may have a T-Shirt idea. Buy one for yourself and get two for your friends. But, strictly no refunds. I have a mouth, below my nostrils, to feed.
Do writers have to be intelligent and well-adjusted to be good at what they do? Are we, by default, more knowledgeable or insightful? Are we more self-aware because we can better articulate our emotions?
I don’t think so.
Some of the most self-destructive people I know are writers. Vain, isolated and insensitive. Yet they are also some of the most interesting human beings I interact with. Prone to kindness, observant poignancy and witticism. A writer’s appetite to learn is often large, as is his/her capacity to love. But intelligent, emotionally-stable or even rational?