poem

Purple Sunbird, Chennai

Look who’s talking: Purple Sunbirds

Conversations with children below the age of five and animals can be more heuristic than those with adults. Sometimes, halfway through a grownup discussion, I lose track of the plot. I slip and fall on the regurgitated mess of inorganically-acquired information. If the other person looks close enough, the sheepish bewilderment is evident on my face. I used to think it was because I was smarter than most of the people I had met. Then, I grew up. And it became clear that I was as dumb and distracted as the rest. Possibly I have been more deluded for having believed, for so long, that I was different from anyone else.

I love talking to children and animals because there are no clear agendas. They are jazz compositions. Free-flowing and nimble discussions. With neither the conformance of structure nor the pressure of outcomes. Also, if I get bored – I can walk away without feeling like a mean bastard. But, I don’t ever see that happening. At least, not when I am talking to birds.

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Black-Hooded Oriole, Thekkady

Yellow is the new black, Frost is an old man

Seeing Orioles makes my insides flutter. They look like they are on a mission from another planet. Perhaps, they are here to tell us that there is such a thing as too much yellow. Or that our ancestors weren’t primates; they were plants. And how silly it is that we move around so much instead of sitting still and reforesting our homes.

I bet it was something our ancestors had never bothered to listen to. It is probably why the Orioles gave up and turned into earthlings. Eat. Poop. Procreate. Sleep. Repeat. No more spilling of universal secrets through subliminal birdsongs.

I have seen three different sub-species. The Golden Oriole, the Black-Hooded Oriole, and the Black-Naped Oriole. They haven’t yet asked me to take them to our leader. Perhaps, they know how poorly governed we all are.

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Common Hoopoe, Chennai

Heart-shaped scars and Sylvester Stallone movies

I miss movie montages in which protagonists beat insurmountable odds. The storyline progress at a breakneck speed. Pulsating synth-infused rock music erupts, without fair warning. Friends and well-wishers encourage and applaud. One of them will fist-pump the air, as squealing guitar sounds build to a crescendo.

Watch any movie starring Sylvester Stallone from the 70s or 80s. Halfway through them, his character skyrockets over one of his short-term goals. In Rocky I, II, III, and IV, he gets into shape for the big fight. Lock Up sees him build a car with prison inmates. In Cobra, an antisocial cop figures out the city’s psyche while a robot and a model get acquainted during a photo-shoot.

It is easy to mock them for being cheesy or just strange. Often, their inelegance is inconsolably consistent. But, imagine if we could use such time-warped narratives to deal with our own problems. How great would that be?

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dscn7287

Not because the supermoon said so

I have tried before to harness the power of positive thinking. But I used to feel worse than I already did. I became angrier over how things never worked out the way I wanted them to. So, one fine day, I just stopped. I am unsure when exactly it happened or what led to it. I only know that letting go of positivism, during certain times, was the best decision I could have made.

It liberated me. It taught me that karma isn’t some magic trick. Nobody owes us anything. First, we see the rabbit. And then, we don’t. But there is no argument over where the rabbit is.

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White-Throated Kingfisher, Padur

Winter is unbecoming

Over the past two weeks, Lady Luck has been on my side. I saw nearly 50 Ashy Woodswallows. Over fifteen Spotted Owlets. Three spiffy Sparrowhawks. A flock of hyperactive Eurasian Spoonbills foraging for food; they looked like giant headless chickens, clad in priestly gowns, playing ice hockey. A White-Throated Kingfisher at war with a pond crab. And a Glossy Ibis finally decided to let me close enough to photograph it.

If my semi-charmed life was a movie, these sightings could be indicative of some grand design. But the truth is that birding season is a month away. The first fleet of winter visitors has already descended upon burnt soil of ours. Even the local bird sanctuary has opened its gates earlier than usual; its lake brimming, despite the scarce rainfall.

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Zoe

Don’t turn Diwali into a scene from a disaster movie

Usually, I wake up to the sound of birds. As noisy as my city can be, it allows for such luxuries. But in two days, my playlist for the wee morning hours will drastically change. Because people will be celebrating Diwali – the Festival of Lights. Every year, around this time, they become a discourteous lot. Armed with fireworks, they act like kamikaze arsonists. By exercising archaic cultural rights, they turn the neighborhood into a battleground. Not just for me but every other species – stray, domestic or wild.

Despite all the smiling and cheering, my city paints a grim picture. The air is thick with the stench of harmful gas. Plant life-forms rot because of toxic substances. Birds hide in their nests. Animals run scared. The fortunate ones find shelter under sofas. The rest shake, like autumn leaves, frightened and helpless. Roaming the streets, they sniff for some sign of humanity.

It resembles a scene from a low-budget disaster movie.

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Asian Fairy Bluebird (male)

In search of bluebirds and fairies

The scariest part of a downward spiral is the speed at which things fall apart. You are always a bad decision away losing it all. One phone call. Just one unexpected turn to find yourself in a bottomless pit. But life doesn’t come crashing down. It caves in. Crumbles under the weight of despair. Then, like some injured lizard, you try to pick yourself up. But you feel helpless. Uncoordinated. So, you collapse to the ground. And you just lie there, with fistfuls of dirt, tonguing your cheeks and hoping that this too will pass.

Conversely, when something good happens – seldom does it snowball into something more tangible. There are no formulas to sustain an unexpected burst of happiness. It can be a one-hit wonder that leads to sophomore slumps. Often, it just slinks away on its chubby hindlimbs.

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Grey-Headed Swamphen, Pallikaranai

You can handle the truth about Swamphens

Sometimes, I literally can’t see the forest for the trees. Only when I sit down to rest do I realize how tall they are. I start noticing how the branches bristle with life, death, food and music. I scratch my forehead and wonder why it took me so long to experience their grandeur.

The first time I spotted a Swamphen up-close, I saw an ugly side of me. It was a moment of realization. A fresh perspective. And I felt terrible about it.

Like someone once said – “the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off”.

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Grey-Headed Canary Flycatcher, Vattakanal

Yours animatedly

One of my favorite videos to watch online is a 1942 Looney Toons episode called The Squawkin’ Hawk. It features Foghorn Leghorn – a wisecracking rooster and Henery Hawk – a bird of prey with Napoleon complex and a foul temper.

Often I am in denial about how much I enjoy cartoons. They were once an important part of my life. Nowadays, I either pretend that I don’t have the time or that I uninterested. The truth is, I am not sure. At some point, I must have assumed it was a part of growing up.

Like finding a job, getting married or making babies – it is just something that most adults do.

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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”.

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