Eurasian Spoonbill, Chennai

The laborious bastards

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.


Common Hoopoe, Chennai

The unbearable short-sightedness of a Hoopoe lover

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.

I was aghast when I realized what I had done. I made unhappy noises. My friend could have possibly thought to himself, “So this is what it sounds like when doves cry”.



The right hand doesn’t know what the left brain wants

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.


Brown-Capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Thattekad

A portrait of the photographer as a Pygmy Woodpecker

I couldn’t photograph Brown-Capped Pygmy Woodpeckers when I first saw them in Thekkady. They were quicker than hiccups. Every time I tried, they would disappear behind branches. Soon, I grew impatient. In a matter of minutes, I moved on to the next spot.

In less than a year, I saw a flock of them in Thattekad. Again, they kept fleeing my camera’s frame. But this time, I decided to hang around. And as time went by, they warmed up to my presence. Some were kind enough to strike remarkably curious poses.

I don’t believe that good things happen to those who wait. If you really want something, you must go out there and see if it exists – the way you think it does. And if it is prone to sudden flight, like Brown-Capped Pygmy Woodpeckers are – you ought to hold onto it.


Malabar Grey Hornbill, Kerala

Justice League of Malabar Grey Hornbills

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.



Hypnotized by a Frogmouth

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.


Spotted Owl, East Coast Road

How I met my grandfather

I am glad that birds don’t remind me of people. I wouldn’t enjoy the catharsis. There are two exceptions though. One is the Small Blue Kingfisher, which stirs up the love I have for my niece. The other – Spotted Owlets – that remind me of my maternal grandfather – Mr Clarence Motha. Unknowingly, he has been the most influential person in my life. At one point, we had not exchanged a word for nearly 10 years. We even barely even saw other.

Like Leo Tolstoy once said, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. What is happiness anyway? Normalcy? No thanks.


Eurasian Spoonbill, Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary

Death becomes them

I have been thinking a lot about death since Raj Kumar passed away last year. He was a close friend. We wrote a film script together a few years ago. The story was centered on how intricately interwoven all our lives are. We were sure that it would have been the first of our many creative collaborations. Eventually, he wanted to travel the world and document people’s lives. And I wanted to move to a hill station and work in ornithology.

But things didn’t work out the way as we had planned it. The movie production was indefinitely stalled, and we had to go our separate ways. Still, we kept in touch since he had nurtured a passion for birding by then.

Raj killed himself on May 23, 2015. He threw one end of rope over the ceiling fan, and the other – around his neck. He was 25 years old; a brilliant filmmaker and one of the nicest human beings. I am hesitant to write about him. It doesn’t feel right. Writing about such personal details feels like distributing emotional pornography.


Southern Flying Lizard, Valparai

The lizard or the panther?

I used to obsess over spotting wild cats in their natural habits. Leopards, tigers or jungle cats, it didn’t matter. I would feel like a fortunate son of the earth as long as it had whiskers. While I gave up the search in favour of bird-watching, the felidae family members continued to haunt me.

Even now, when I explore the hills of south India, I keeps my ears open for an untamed roar. A guttural cough maybe. Any sign that a darling of the feline variety is on the prowl.

I haven’t seen a single one though. Just pug-marks and poop. But I can’t complain. I have had the privilege of seeing many other gorgeous beasts. Considering that I am not a conservationist or a census assistant, I should just shut up and consider myself a lucky bastard.


Scaly-Breasted Munias, Pulicat Lake

Sexuality in India: Don’t try this at home

I think that sex and language are inconsolable bed-mates. They can be best friends with benefits. They can go out for a coffee, talk uninhibitedly 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 feel odd whenever I try to write about sex. Even if I feel uninhibited about the process, I find myself in a state of imbalance. And I end up regurgitating bedtime fantasies. Perhaps it’s because of where I am from. The land of the Kama Sutra, and home of the prude.