I have started to go bird-watching again. My body seems to have regained some of its strength. So, I have been visiting nearby bird-friendly areas; to re-acclimatize myself to their sights, smells and sounds. But, this is not the part of the narrative in which the protagonist reconnects with something he loves. And miraculously – everything gets better. No, no, no. You must have my life confused with a lousy indie film.
The summer of 2017 has its pratfalls. I am angry that my 91-year-old grandpa had to undergo a surgery a few days ago. The last mile should not hurt this much. I am also not thrilled that my trusted camera has decided to call it quits. To make matters more unpleasant, I have been advised against traveling to hill stations until October.
I feel confined, sweaty and unsexy. The weather is getting worse. Life is not a box of chocolates. Because, often, nice things like cocoa butter and sugar have nothing to do with what we go through. But then, there are silver linings. And sometimes, they come in pink.
Black-Winged Stilts are some of the longest-legged waders in the stilt and avocet family. It does not sound like a big deal until you see them. Then, you realize that you may have a foot fetish to deal with, at a later date. Or something which is as uncomplicated and beautiful.
Every movement is a dance move waiting to happen. I bet they do it all the time when nobody is watching them. Just dance. During lazy afternoons, treading far from urban kerfuffle, they waltz their hearts out. At nights – with fireflies for neighbors, they move to the sound of water kneading through tiny rocks.
Lately, my maternal grandfather – Mr. Clarence Motha – has started to bear a slight resemblance to Spotted Owlets. Especially, the curving slope on his cranium. These days, it looks smooth and swollen, like the skull of an elderly owlet.
My grandfather is 91 years old. His health has been deteriorating of late. He has been referring to this phase of his life as the “sunset years”. Bed-ridden for most of the day, his body and mind are crumbling. All that seems left of him is a ghostly reminder of someone I once knew.
When it is time, I hope he finds the inner strength to let go of the life that he had led for close to a century. Because I don’t want him to suffer much longer. Despite not having exchanged a word for about 10 years, he has always been a driving force in my life.
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.
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.
There are still a few months left for birding season to begin. And I can’t wait for the rains to go away. So that migratory birds will visit me from all over the world. Because they will make me happy. I may even tap the shoulders of strangers to tell them about it. If they ignore me, I may grab one by the collar and repeat myself in a creepier voice.
While being dragged into a police van, charged for public nuisance, I will clasp the hands of officers and proclaim, “But sir, I am happy”. They won’t understand, though. There is a good chance that I will be beaten up first, and prosecuted later. But that’s fine. Happiness works in mysterious ways. One moment I feel good, and the next – I am a bloody mess.
No year has ever gone by without its share of obstacles. Except when I was 8 years old. Yeah, that was a good year. It must be the same with you, right? I hear people talk about their ups and downs. Isn’t that how things work? At least, I hope so. I will feel a little better knowing that your life, consistently, has shitty moments in it too.
I didn’t exercise my right to vote this year during the State elections. Because I don’t pee in public anymore. See, I am already doing my bit to improve the community. Next year, I hope to stop wasting water while shaving over the washbasin.
Today, I am just flexing my right to complain about the sweltering summer. It’s getting hotter in Chennai. The weather is like an alarm clock going off at full volume. Except it doesn’t have a snooze button. Hell, there are no buttons. The tune sucks too. It’s really hot. To make matters worse, we keep talking about it.
If it wasn’t for Grey-Headed Swamphens, I might have found posthumous fame as the first recorded case of spontaneous combustion. Or jail time for brandishing a homemade napalm gun.
I am pretending that summer isn’t in a fierce mood. I am ignoring the sweat dripping down my forehead. The constant buzzing of air-conditioners. The humidity in the air. But I am painfully aware that birding season is over. Many of the migratory birds are gone. The endemic ones are vacating regular nesting grounds in search of water. Last summer, I felt really bad about it. I couldn’t bear the thought of having to wait until November for the next season.
This year, things are looking up. I know this because a birdie told me so. And not just any birdie. But one with tail-feathers so curvy that it can be mistaken for a dance recital that came to life.
It was a cold start to the day in the sleepy village of Kurangu Mudi in the Anaimalai Hills. The sun wasn’t up yet. I was sipping on hot beverage outside a tea shop, petting an old mongrel. We were watching the mist disappear from moist skirts the forest wore that morning. Suddenly, out of nowhere, ghostly cries hijacked the air. I looked around and saw only the sleepy stare of the shopkeeper.
So, I craned my neck upwards to see if they were birdsongs. I noticed that a flock of pigeons had taken to the skies, and they were heading towards the other side. They were too quick for me to identify them by name at that moment. And so I ran after them until I reached a fence safeguarding the wild animals from people and vice-versa.