Some choose to break free of their comfort zones late in their lives. Having been on auto-pilot mode, they feel tired and demotivated. The uninteresting routines. The cumbersome responsibilities. Each one saps a part of them dry and leaves them ghosted or shelved.
And one stray morning, something happens. The rubber band snaps. They realize that they are not happy; that time is not on their side. Frightened, they look to break to their routines. Make little changes that will pave the way for bigger and bolder transitions. Demand a butterfly to flap its wings one more time. Seize control of the future – without forgetting the past.
The determination lasts for a few months before their plans go kaput. And it occurs to them that it probably wasn’t a great idea to invest so heavily in a plan that sounds similar to Time Cop. Especially, when they can’t do half the things that Jean-Claude Van Damme does.
Over the past 11 months, I have spotted and photographed 200+ birds in South India. I have also spent the year working on two documentaries. It means that I was not gainfully employed. So, time was on my side. I got to watch birds every single day. I was on the lookout for bird poop that drizzled from above. The thin branches that swayed when all else remained still. Dancing phone lines, scissoring through cities and forests, on which they perched upon. Quick movements in shrubs and bushes.
But, it was mostly several gigantic strokes of luck. I saw them wherever I went. Soon, I started to believe that the birds found me as often as I searched for them.
I have mixed feelings about pet dogs. While I want to kiss every dog I meet on its wet nose, I am unsure if it is a deep and purposeful bond. It seems to be a symbiotic bond between two emotionally-needy creatures. The Homo Sapien and the Felis Domesticus.
I had a pet Pomeranian called Terry. We grew up in the same household for 12 years. We were family. He came to us when he was two weeks old. Instantly, we became best friends. Because I lived in a neighborhood where there weren’t any other kids to play with.
He was mellower than the average Pomeranian. A goofball despite born an animal without a sense of humor. I loved him because he gave me a lot of attention. I suspect that he followed me around because I was a recurring part of his ecosystem. We felt safe around each other.
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.
When I was a kid, people kept asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I never had the fortitude to tell them that I just wanted to be an adult. Because I was excited about growing up. I thought that adults had it all figured out. The bread and butter, and the bells and whistles, of leading a healthy, wealthy, and happy life.
Into my 20s, I noticed that grown-ups had no clue about it. Except they had a set of archaic instructions to follow. It made their aspirations seem machinated and mundane. In the race for normality, they collected participation certificates in recognition of compliance to speed limits.
I wish they had set higher standards. Left us with information that mattered. For instance, if I had known there were about nine types of bulbuls in South India (22 across the country), I might not have taken this long to spot six of them.
About two summers ago, I was in Gudalur during a trip to the Nilgiri Hills – with a few friends. Barely five minutes after reaching the spot, we spotted a pair of Indian Eagle Owls. It was my first sighting. They flew past us, and into a section of the forest. And it all happened so quickly.
I couldn’t giggle over my good fortune. There wasn’t any time to react, much less – to celebrate. We kept our eyes glued on the couple, as they shifted their positions. But the light was fading fast. We couldn’t tell if we were looking at owls or a cluster of shadows. The evening sun blushed in sleepy orange and turned them into ghosts.
Few are upfront and honest about their opinions. We live in such sensitive times. Political correctness is the opium of the masses. Unless you punch me in the face, it is likely that I will not be completely honest with you. Only emotions such as pain, fear, and anger drive me to communicate with you – without a filter. When I am outside my comfort zone.
Through birding, I realized that excitement is another such emotion. It seems to bring out my inner child. My inner daddy cool. The creepy Dadaist uncle too.
For instance, whenever I see the Plum-Headed Parakeet, the earth’s volume is turned down for a few seconds. Everything moves in slow-motion. The sunlight, even if physically absent, feels spiritually intense. And I am overcome with this urge to swallow its plum-colored head.
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’m not sure what freedom means to me. I may be free, technically, but there are signs that seem to indicate otherwise. I recognize them only while trying to plot an escape from drudgery. The hair follicles on my neck stand up. My throat is parched. My knees feel weak. Sweat trickles down the bridge of my nose. It’s a tense situation.
It’s as though a gun is pointed at the back of my head. I can hear its cold metallic mouth breathing. It whispers into my ears, like lovers on their way out, that all resistance is useless. That non-compliance will be dealt with – swiftly, harshly and permanently. To make matters worse, the gun sounds like Werner Herzog.
Freedom is more than a state of mind. It isn’t even in the heart. It’s in the feathers of birds. I realize it whenever I hear the sound of their wings flapping away from me.
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.