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.
As much as birdwatching lends itself to transcendental possibilities, I am painfully aware that I don’t speak the same language as birds. But, it has never stopped me from talking to them. I try to keep it short and one-sided. I tell them about the little things that pass, like thunderstorm clouds, through my head.
Either they ignore me and continue their daily businesses. Or they turn extra attentive about perceiving me as a threat to their nesting areas, and they become frightened and annoyed. It may be a selfish relationship, but nobody gets hurt – so, I don’t feel bad about it.
After all, my biased interpretation of what is right or wrong is more important than anyone else’s. Simply because they are mine. All my world’s a chicken coop. I will poop wherever I want to.
Sex and language can be inconsolable bed-mates. Best friends with benefits. They can go out for a coffee, talk unabashedly about life, and get drunk on each other. They can wake up in each other’s arms, with one pretending to have already freshened up. And the other playing along for the kisses and giggles.
But I used to feel odd whenever I have tried to write about sex. However uninhibited I may have thought I was, I found myself in a state of imbalance. And I ended up regurgitating bedtime fantasies. Like the rose petal scene from American Beauty. It is the most Indian-influenced piece of Hollywood. I expected Kevin Spacey’s leg to tip over a glass of milk, as nine months go whizzing by and then – a baby’s squeal is heard behind closed doors.
Perhaps, it is because of where I grew up. The land of the Kama Sutra and the home of the prude.
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?
While in Kodaikanal two years ago, a friend had shown me something up in the skies I only saw once before; that too, as a child. Around midnight, Arun – a photographer and astronomy junkie – and I were taking a stroll to gaze at the stars. At one point, he hurriedly pointed towards a section of the sky above a canopy of trees.
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.
I have a tumultuous relationship with Common Hoopoes. Whenever I see one, disaster tends to flirt with me. I end up hurting myself, causing damage to property or making people suspicious of me. And I hear a sad violin solo playing in the background, as the bird flies away.
I was riding pillion on my friend’s motorbike when I first spotted a Hoopoe at a bird sanctuary. It appeared on the branch of a papaya tree. I hopped to the ground for a closer look. But I slipped and burnt the skin off my ankle on the bike’s muffler. I shrieked. Distracted, the bird flew away.
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.
We have superpowers. We can make good things disappear from our lives. Ambitious goals turn into pipe-dreams. Exciting jobs become boring routines. Serendipitous affairs crumble into sexual favors. Warm relationships are deputed to cold storage units. It’s not as though we pursue unhappiness. Ruining a good thing is our self-defense mechanism; an inherent villainy.
But the world can show us that it has extraordinary powers too. It balls up a fist, punches us on the bridge of the nose, and announces, “Well, here’s what I can do”. We wipe the blood off and look up to see something beautiful. Some proof that everything will turn out to be okay.
A Malabar Grey Hornbill may then fly past us, holding hostage in her throat – a song to shake the love out of our hair, and to scatter it on a bed of leaves. Instinctively, we will throw our hands up, palms cupping the sun, semi-confused and aroused.
It isn’t easy to spot Sri Lankan Frogmouths in the wild. The colour of their plumage makes them impervious to eager eyes scanning green and brown thickets. Years ago I saw a portrait of one, and imagined that our first meeting would be a grandiose affair. Or at least a poignant one.
We finally met last weekend. I spent some time with a female Frogmouth. She looked like a autumn leaf frozen in flight. She just stood there, untroubled by the matinee sun. It should have been love at first sight. When I spot a particular species for the first time, I go through the seven stages of happiness. It starts with childlike wonderment and ends with creepy obsession.
This time though, things were different. There was confusion. Some happiness too. But mostly, confusion.