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?
A writer’s block can be infuriating. It isn’t a melody to go out of tune. Neither a slip of the painter’s brushstroke nor an itch on the sculptor’s wrist. It is akin to a difficult conversation with someone you love about where the relationship is going. If things are messed up, you must find a way to work things out. There’s just too much to lose.
But it isn’t easy. It can be paralyzing. A sharp blow to the eardrums. A lone whistle reverberates inside your head and seduces a series of dull aches. You have stared long and deep into the abyss. Now the abyss is staring at you and mouthing, “What are you looking at?”
I often wonder if birds think that I am a stalker. A person with a fetish for voyeurism. Look at the facts. I follow them around. I try to escape their line of vision so that they don’t fly away. Then, I photograph them before coming back home to admire them.
I post it on restricted groups across social media. Engage others in the stories that led me to them. And hope that they will come back for more.
I feel like the gatekeeper of an underground pornography racket. Excepting that, nobody is paying me for it.
I have a sneaking suspicion that birds dance more than we may assume. Especially when they think that nobody else is around. I may have seen Owlets in action, without their knowledge. I can’t be sure. They may have just been belligerent about being spotted. Perhaps they had food poisoning. I am not an ornithologist. Or a reasonable person.
Besides, I don’t know anything about dancing. My left foot thinks for itself. We haven’t been on the same page for a decade. The right one has been fractured multiple times. Since 2012, it has suffered three hairline fractures, a shattered ankle, and two broken toes. But it’s no excuse. I have always danced with the grace of a rubber chicken impaled on the horn of an angry rhino.
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.
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.
I have had Casablanca moments with Jungle Owlets. I have wondered why out of all the trees in the world they had to perch upon the ones closest to me. There are two sub-species of Jungle Owlets in the Indian subcontinent – Malabaricum and Glaucidium Radiatum. And I am lucky enough to have spotted them at the Periyar National Park .
One fine morning, I was walking along the edge of a forest. For some reason, I got the feeling that I was being watched. There was a bustling in the thick canopies of shrubs. The wind howled, singing its way through bamboo shoots. I was a hostage to a feeling of heaviness in my chest. My left shoulder started to hurt.
Either I was experiencing the early stages of a heart attack. Or I was in the company of a creature so wild that I became confused about whether I was frightened or excited about it.
Until recently the Indian Eagle Owl was identified as a subspecies of the Eurasian Eagle Owl. She’s a femme fatale; as fierce as she is beautiful. She can be found in rocky regions and open scrub forests that are close to riverbanks or running streams.
Her shapely and scowling face looks carved out of the finest cobblestones. She has mephistophelian horns and darkly-piercing eyes. And a warm pin-cushion for a plumage, coalescing in colours of brown and white, with blackened feathers that jostle with the wind.
I saw two common mynahs chase a sleeping owlet out of her nesting hole on an upright snag. And then the mynahs started quarreling with each other. The owlet came back after they had flown away, fighting in mid-air as they descended upon a nearby tree. She didn’t seem pleased. That look of indignation on her face was heart-breaking.
It reminded me of when I had recently taken a friend out for dinner. Unfortunately, his office colleagues were seated a few tables away. Like hyenas, they came towards us. Their fangs were besmirched with inane banter; their eyes – thirsting for diversions. About 10 minutes later, I was ready to give up. Not just on making dinner plans, but on the nature of humanity.
I am terrible at comforting my friends when I don’t relate to their problems. It escapes me that all they need is a good listener. Instead I ask them to get over their feelings even before understanding what they are. I conclude that the best course of action for them is to move on without paying heed to such inanities.
They rightfully claim that my disruptive perspective is based upon how quickly I want conversations to end. I argue that they should just take more responsibility for their moods. Soon I watch them, with a gleam in my eyes, toy with notion that the fault isn’t with the stars.