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.
Bad handwriting has been a source of embarrassment and anxiety in my life. Whenever I write in cursive form, the alphabets resemble ouroboroses in heat. Unglamorously entwined yet madly unhinged. I am saddened by it. Perhaps, as a writer – I feel obliged to be better at this.
I remember the first time when someone had asked me to sign on a piece of paper. I wrote down my initials as precariously as I could. It was as though someone had finger-walked me through it. My signature remained unchanged for about 8 years. Then, I had to come up with a new one at the behest of a lawyer.
As for my handwriting, it remained awful over the decades.
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.
Many birds feel shy around humans. Perhaps, they are just terrified. Why wouldn’t they be? Our species has a dubious track record. We are like the meteor that killed the dinosaurs, except that we think we can repair the damage. Start all over again. Make everything bloom.
Look at me, for instance. I pollute the air that birds breathe in just by driving to where they live. I also contribute to a process that takes away food from their beaks. Yet I fetishize their existence. And I spend time promoting my passion for them instead of helping conserve their habitats.
Birds needn’t feel shy around me. They should be terror-stricken.
I was once privy to a fascinating dialogue between a pair of Racket-Tailed Drongos in the semi-evergreen forests of Vagamon. I had no idea what they were chirping about. But it looked like a heated debate. One seemed to intimidate the other. There was some dancing. It was theatrical.
The conversation lasted for about three minutes. They made up and flew away together. It was as though they suddenly realized they were late to a gathering of pixies. And that life was too short and difficult, and the universe – too unimaginably magnificent, to be wasted on disagreements.
Arguments between people stretch a lot longer than that. Many of them end on a sour note too. It’s like dealing with auto-corrections while typing on the phone. It doesn’t matter what one wants to say, the other will misinterpret it.
Staring is India’s creepiest pastime. It is either a reflex action or a defense mechanism. We are like frightened and / or frustrated deer caught in the headlights of shrinking geographies and fading belief systems. It isn’t a problem exclusive to women either. Victims include people from other countries and young couples.
A theory is that our conservatism has made us meta-judgmental. Buzzwords like tradition and culture have stitched xenophobia into the fabric of our communities. It is so woven intricately into our mindsets that hyper-sexual gazing is a permissible social activity. Another theory is that we are sociopaths. Sort of like Lionel Richie in that music video in which he stalks a blind girl. And insinuates sexual tension before asking her “hello is it me you are looking for?”.
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.
People act strangely when they perceive a threat to their social statuses. They lash out, either blatantly or passive-aggressively, at the nearest targets. Given how unfunny people can be, such behaviour ends up creating tension. Their logic is that this would somehow help control the way others think about them.
It’s one of the stupid things many of us do to restore our crumbling self-esteem. But this kind of nonsense doesn’t fly with the birds. If they insist that you back off, you do just that. If you don’t, they aren’t going stick around. Or they would peck your eyes out.
Last weekend, I am pretty sure I annoyed a Common Kestrel. Thankfully she chose option number three. And nobody got hurt.
Nilgiri Tahrs (or Ibexes) are goat antelopes exclusively reside along a 400 kilometer in-between the Nilgiri Hills and the Ashambu Hills. Found at elevations of 1000 to 2500m above sea level, they are cautious, tough as nails and dashingly-handsome. The last time I saw them was early this year in Valparai. It was unexpected since it was late in the morning. They are known to disappear into the thickness of shola forests during these hours.
The three years I spent in college felt about two-and-a-half years too long. Since I possessed none of the characteristics of the Tahr, I needed a happy place to survive. A shola forest would have been perfect. Not to escape the soulless drudgery of the modern education system. Just to hide behind a tree. Stay there until the smoldering heap of embarrassment that was my pursuit of individualism turns into sawdust.