Thursday, October 29, 2009


A shaft of golden light snuck through the folds of the tent and came to rest on a pillow lying next to me on the bed, lighting up a little circle, the size of a rupee coin. It was well past dawn. I could hear songbirds twittering on the trees outside. Other than a weird dream about a hyena trying to bite my hand and steal my watch, I’d slept peacefully and the night had passed without event.

Shrugging away the intense pull of the clingy arms of gravity on nippy mornings, I dragged myself off the bed when the languor of the morning was suddenly broken by an angry chatter and the rustling of a heavy bodied creature next to the tent. I was reminded of last night’s discussion about hyenas and lions and the great roar of the king of beasts that had been my lullaby for the night. Could there be lions in camp? I had seen documentaries where camp grounds and resorts in Africa had on occasions been overrun by a herd of curious elephants or a pride of lions. But all such events, as far as I could remember, had ended with the animals being driven out without anyone being scratched or gored. Emboldened by the light of day I stepped outside the tent and peeped around the corner. In a clearing between two tents sat a troop of grey and white vervet monkeys intently staring at one of the bushes. They seemed to be torn between the desire to run and the urge to fight. Whatever it was that was getting them worked up was hidden behind the bushes. I thought if the little monkeys could act all brave and bothered, so could I and so I stepped into the clearing, walked across a row of tents and went near the bushes. There, sitting proud amidst the bushes, rummaging through the contents of an upturned dust bin with a chewed up lid, sat a rather large, long-maned, male olive baboon.

Now a baboon, if you haven’t seen one, is nothing like our home grown rhesus macaques (the stocky little brown devils) or langurs (the slim, longtailed black faced ones). They are bigger and are built like night-club bouncers. Even leopards are wary of the big males. These animals were dangerous and as I stood there between the agile vervets and the hulking baboon, I realised that without the attendants to help me out of this or shoo the animals away with whatever it takes to shoo them away, I risked getting mauled. And how did I know that I was standing too close for comfort? The baboon told me… You see, when a baboon wants to send out a warning, it yawns and shows off its huge vampire-like canines in a threat display… a bit like a knife-fighter running his finger along the blade of his knife. And when I inched in a little too close, our bin raider looked at me, closed his eyes and ya-aw-wned… those dagger like canines glinted in the morning sun and I got the hint and backed away. What a wake up call on my first dawn in the Mara.

Two hours and a scrumptious avocado salad breakfast later we were finally cruising along the vast plains of the Masai Mara that straddle the border between Kenya and Tanzania. The Mara plains, you must know is one of the greatest theatres of the natural world. Picture this: It is early September and the golden grasslands across the border in Tanzania (called the Serengeti) resonate to a strange sound. They might be hidden in the long grass or round a corner, but that drone fl oats around like a sound cloud and envelopes you long before you see them… gnu, gnu, gnu they go and then suddenly you see them… hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of cow-like antelopes – wildebeest (also called ‘gnu’, because of that sound they make), dotting the landscape for a million miles. The sheer scale of the scene, the landscape, the dull hum rolling across that landscape like a tidal sound-wave, and countless animals grazing, strolling, fighting and suckling… it is an overwhelming sight. But the story’s just begun…

Around this time, on a given day, answering a primal call, these huge herds suddenly start marching, like an army responding to a distant bugle, towards the Mara plains in Kenya. But there’s a hurdle. Running between the Mara plains and the Serengeti plains is the natural border of the Mara River. This time of the year, the river isn’t at its calmest and the great herds balk at the river bank. Across lie the green grasslands of the Mara plains but the swirling waters of the river are rife with danger. Besides dangerous currents, this river is home to one of the deadliest predators on the planet, the Nile crocodile. These giant reptiles measure more than 16 feet from tip to tail, and have jaws that could snap a man in two. They lie hidden in the murky waters of the river waiting for an unsuspecting animal to draw close and then lunge at with astonishing speed and power. Once caught in those jaws, they drag their prey into the water, drowning it while other crocs also grab the poor victim and start rolling. This macabre dance is called ‘the death roll’ and the crocs do it in an attempt to tear hunks of meat off the prey.

Instinctively, the wildebeest are wary of jumping into the crocodile infested river but the numbers keep mounting on the banks and as more and more animals join the herds, the ones in front keep getting nudged forward, like a group of school-kids standing in front of the PE teacher who is looking for reluctant volunteers for a ‘clean the school ground project’. The tension builds up until the ones in front get pushed into the river. As the first few crash into the water, the dam breaks and the whole horde, driven by an irresistible instinct, follows through. The crocodiles, like submarines lying in wait, emerge; razor sharp teeth tear through skin and flesh and a feeding frenzy starts that lasts as long as the migration. By the time the last of the herd has crossed over, the crocodiles have eaten enough to last them a lifetime. On the swollen river fl oat bloated bodies of the hundreds that died during the crossing. Some fell to the crocodiles while others got crushed under the weight of others behind them or drowned under the great surge. Yet, hundreds of thousands still made it across, mostly in one piece but many with broken limbs or ugly gashes from a crocodile’s jaws. And the injured don’t last long. They get picked off by lions, leopards and hyenas. It’s a cruel yet grand spectacle; the wildebeest leaping into the rivers; the bone-crushing power of the crocodiles as the massive reptiles ambush the antelope; the raw athleticism of the lion pride as they chase and bring down the injured animals; the birth of a new calf; and a mother antelope courageously fighting off a cheetah which was about to kill her new born calf… the drama of life, and death, is played out in bold strokes of red, blue and green on the Mara, and the savage beauty of the greatest show on earth is so seductive that one stays riveted, through hope and despair, through blood and gore, through birth and death…

And yet my most enduring memory of this great stage is not of the great migration but of a quiet dawn. The plains were surprisingly empty this morning. I was disappointed. We stopped under an acacia and scanned the horizon with our binoculars. Nothing to the left, nothing to the right, all the game had taken flight, no, not a creature anywhere in sight… but what’s this… something had blocked out the view from my field-glasses. I removed them and as I kept them aside, my jaw dropped. Mere metres away from us, loping across the horizon at a gentle trot, were three magnificent giraffes. Taller than most houses, and yet with an awkward grace unlike any other, these creatures, the tallest of all terrestrial mammals (towering over the rest at about 20 feet) seemed to be a throwback to another era. I watched enthralled as the three majestic giants covered the ground with astonishing ease, almost in slow-motion. I could feel the ‘thud’, as their long and elegant strides shook the very earth beneath us. Remember the introductory dinosaur scene from “Jurassic Park” when the human protagonists see their first dinosaur – a colossal Brachiosaurus with his head lost in the clouds in the sky… It felt even more magical and sublime that day… goose bumps popped like a raging rash and my knees went weak… this wasn’t a movie screen… this was real life, as I had never known it before, as I never could, anywhere else on earth but here… raw nature, in a manifestation of unbridled power… I’ve not known that feeling, before or since.

The giraffes faded away across the horizon that day and the plains were empty again.

However, it is the third and final edition of the African saga that contains memories of a night that had some of the most breathtaking moments of my life. Until next week then…


Thursday, October 22, 2009


If you haven’t been to Africa, you haven’t been home

A degree or so south of the Equator, beside a road that wound its way around a green hill, sat a small cafĂ© with a patio extending into the valley below. On the wooden floor boards of the patio was a low wood-and-wire pen, and in it roamed a flock of scraggly turkeys and guinea fowl, scratching the dry brown earth for whatever it is that these birds eat. Next to them on a wooden chair, by a wooden table, sat I, my fingers wrapped around a once cold glass of lemonade and my soul drifting away with my breath into that great brown valley below…

I had driven out of Nairobi airport a few hours ago. Sun-kissed and hot, the drive through the city reminded me of some cities back home. The ground was dry and dusty and a shade of brick red. Wide roads ran past factories and showrooms and narrowed into city streets. The guide pointed at a cluster of brown-with-rust roofs. Above the roofs, dirty plastic bags swirled in the wind. “Kibera!” said the guide. Kibera, the largest slum in Africa with more than 700,000 people sharing 10ft x10ft hovels with five others must be quite a morbid spectacle for his First world clients, but for an Indian it was just another familiar slice of Third world desperation trying to break out of its shackles. We drove out of the city, heading south towards the Mara river – our destination, the great plains that rose on its banks.

As a child, I was eternally fascinated by Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa and movies like “The Ghost and The Darkness” and “Out of Africa”. I couldn’t wait to see the open savannah, the great herds of wildebeest and the great maned lions. I knew what to expect and wanted to see the Africa of my dreams. And yet even before I was halfway there, I found it difficult to tear myself away from that overhanging patio by the highway, for the valley that fell away under the floorboards under my feet and stretched away, for thousands of miles beyond the horizon was The Great Rift Valley. Bone dry and brown, this great vast valley was silent and bare, except for a lonely breeze that seemed lost and trapped in its awe-inspiring expanse.

“Looks empty today, but many years ago, in this very valley, perhaps in that small cave on your right, there lived and roamed some strange creatures. Almost human and yet not quite, these were the first hominids to walk the earth.” Thomas, my Kikuyu guide, seemed to have practiced these lines a lot. Of course when he said ‘many years ago’, he meant, many millions of years ago. Anyway, the thought that here might lie even today the bones of my ancestors, gave me goose bumps. The first humans evolved in this very land and though today we might have colonised the globe and changed shape, size and colour, one day it might be possible for us to trace our line back across time and space to our earliest ancestors. And when that day comes, it’ll bring us back to this valley in East Africa.

Thomas had to pull me way with reminders, “It’ll be dark soon. The next 100 kms aren’t really the safest you know…” That got my attention. I had heard terrible tales of carjackings in Kenya. One of them went like this – a white tourist was sitting in the rear seat of a car that was standing by the road. He was wearing an expensive watch, but aware of the reputation of these mean streets, he tucked his wrist inside and only had his left elbow poking out of the window. Two men walked past the car, stopped, turned back and in a flash one of them had grabbed his elbow and tried to pull out the watch. The tourist tried to resist and pull his hand into the car when the other brought a machete down on the poor chap’s arm a couple of times and having severed it, scampered off with the bleeding limb with the watch still around it and disappeared into the shadows. I was told by some that it’s only an urban legend while others swore that they knew it to be true. Anyway, I didn’t want to stick around and find out so Thomas and I got into the van and drove off.

The sun had drift ed westwards by now. The thick scrub and hillsides gave way to open grassland. The road was a patchwork of broken tarmac. From horizon to horizon, there wasn’t a soul to be seen. The sky darkened and clouds rolled in. A bolt of lightning reached out through the heavens, singed the earth and was gone. And there I saw it, my first vignette of quintessential Africa… A lone acacia tree on the plains and under it, a zebra trying to shelter from the rain… ah, it was beautiful!

It was almost midnight when we reached the resort in the heart of the Masai Mara national park. My ‘room’ was a tent overlooking a stream and as I tucked myself in, I could hear laughter. I ignored it for a while, but soon others seemed to be joining in. I went outside. The aura of the tiny lamp by the tent couldn’t penetrate the inky blackness of the night. I strained to see or hear something… suddenly, a voice, “Jambo!” Startled, I jumped and did an about turn. It was a hotel attendant. “Jambo (hello)! Can I help, sir?” he said. “I heard laughter…” I pointed across the stream. “No one there sir, must’ve been some animal…” Almost on cue, the eerie laugh rent the stillness of the night again. I looked at the waiter. “Hyenas…!” he whispered. Just so you know, hyenas are about the size of a very large dog, and have the strongest jaws of all mammals, even stronger than those of a lion. “My village, nearby,” said the attendant. “There was a hyena pack living near the village. Many rains ago, we had a famine... when people and animals started dying, the hyenas started scavenging on the dead of humans as well as cattle and their pack grew in numbers. When the rains returned, everything was fine for a while until children started disappearing. It got really humid after the rains, so people oft en slept outside. Then, even grown-ups were being attacked in their sleep. In the quiet of the night, we would look up at the stars and talk till we fell asleep. But in the middle of the night, we would wake up to someone’s screams. By the time we’d reach that person, he’d be rolling in the dust in pain, his hands covering his face. Ohh.. such horrible wounds they had on their faces.

We are a little superstitious so we first thought it was some evil spirit. But then we saw the tracks, hyena tracks. We didn’t know if it was a real hyena or an evil spirit in a hyena’s body. We were so afraid, especially for our children. They would just disappear in the night and all we found were clothes and the tracks. We tried hunting the hyenas and chasing them away but they kept coming back. That laugh you just heard… I shiver so deep in my heart (a local expression of great fear, or perhaps it was his garbled English) whenever I hear that sound.”

Gosh, that was quite a great bedtime story. My tent was at the edge of the property where the resort met the grasslands and all that separated the hyenas and other creatures of the night was a shallow moat. For a moment, I too shivered so deep in my heart that… Never mind, I turned to the waiter and asked, “Hyenas, how far?” “Maybe 200 metres… but don’t worry... because of the light and that moat… they won’t… I mean they can’t come this way, sir. Please sleep peacefully. You are safe here. No animal can cause you any harm.” I nodded and turned towards my tent. “Good night sir!” I waved, distractedly and crawled under the covers. I couldn’t hear the hyena’s laugh now but I could hear another sound… it was a soft guttural sound at first but it grew louder and louder … the unmistakable roar of a lion proclaiming its territory. Thomas had mentioned that when the lion roars softly, it asks, nachi ya nani? (Whose is this land?) and then roars thrice, each louder than the other, declaring yangu! Yangu!! Yangu!!! (mine! Mine!! Mine!!!). I imagined what it might be like to have my face gnawed in my sleep, to wake in pain and see the powerful jaws of a predator eating me alive… no, no, no I was letting my imagination run away with me. ‘These resorts are designed to make us feel like we are in the heart of the wilderness and yet keep us safe from wild beasts, I reassured myself. ‘I’m sure the attendant was right. These properties couldn’t possibly operate if they were unsafe. I’m sure no animal could ever come over into the resort…’ and with those comforting thoughts, I rolled over and slept like a baby. But boy, was I wrong?


Wednesday, October 14, 2009


“Who wants to live forever? Who dares to love forever? When love must die…But touch my tears with your lips, Touch my world with your finger tips, And we can have forever, And we can love forever…” This Freddie Mercury song was a favourite. My friend and I would cruise the high roads in his beat-up Toyota, and with wheels screaming louder than the speakers, we’d join in with Freddie and scream our lungs out belting and bouncing on the high notes the best we could… The euphoria of the open road, the wind in our hair and that song on our lips… it was exhilarating, and yet when the song played out, I had tears in my eyes… maybe it was the wind, the lyrics or the high notes, maybe it was all of it put together… ‘Who wants to live forever?’ A beautiful song, and memories, more beautiful still…

15 years ago, my friend died in a road accident, and the man I loved more than I would have a brother was gone. More than a friend, he was a mentor and a measure. I sought his approval, his companionship, his support and the light of his goodness. And in a heartbeat, it was all gone. I remember carrying a sack of marigolds to his house the day after he left , thinking, I should’ve been doing this for his wedding day, not for today, no, not for today… and that song played on and on in my head, ‘Who wants to live forever….?’

Having met death so intimately for the first time as an adult, and having lost someone who I still feel might one day be waiting beyond, I developed a mild sense of equanimity for the grim reaper. Hitherto, death was what I thought only happened to ‘others’. I grudgingly began to accept death as a part of ‘my life’, and that others I love might also ‘leave’ before it is my time. And born of that acceptance was a fervent prayer to the powers that be that let none be taken before their time. Let death strike if it has to, but with patience and compassion…
But is it possible to have the power of our will over our own death? Like Bheeshma in the Mahabharata, is it possible to attain the boon of ‘Ichchya Mrityu’ and not necessarily by having to take a vow for celibacy? Across cultures, in Indian and Chinese mythology, as in the Bible, the ancients, Vishwamitra, Vyasa, Abraham and Noah have all been depicted as immortals or at least as people who live for hundreds and hundreds of years. The elixir of life and the fountain of youth are concepts that have fired the human imagination from the beginning of time. And history would have us believe that whatever the human mind imagines will in all probability become reality sooner or later. From the days of Icarian dreams, man has dreamed of flying and today, we fl y without giving the once apparent improbability of it a second thought; Star Trek, the TV series from the 1960s dreamed up wireless ‘flip communicators’, touch screens, video conferencing of sorts, automatic doors, laser guns and ‘the matter transporter’, which allowed people to be ‘beamed’ to various locations, were all the stuff of fantasy, and yet, today all but the last of them is a part of our everyday existence. Even beaming people around, as we do with images today, who knows, might well happen tomorrow. So you might not have nanobots coursing in your veins right now but it is only a matter of time before Ray Kurzweil’s vision of human beings living forever with the help of nanotechnology becomes a neighbourhood reality.

So what of it? Is there a problem? What’s wrong with living forever? Apparently, lots, say some …

To begin with, a group of close friends I was sitting with wondered if love would lose its meaning if we went on to live forever? Would we care as much for our parents and friends if we knew that we might not lose them as generations past had? Would we love our great great great grand parents and children as much as we do our grand parents? And to that I say, of course we will. Love is not a function of time. We love because we love to be with someone. We love because we need and want to be loved and we love because someone else completes us in a way that no one else can, and that could be a parent, a friend, a sibling, a beloved and a pet. And the good thing is that with the opportunity to live forever, we will be working harder on our relationships. We could see our ‘love’ grow to a whole new level. Parents won’t be able to hide behind old age and generation gaps to withdraw and demand love and respect ‘for whatever little time they have left ’, and we children will know that if we were spending time with our ageing parents only because they might not have many more decades left , then would realize that we both need to work on the relationship because we love not because we expect to lose what we love but because we love being with what we love.

When friends get together for a good time how oft en have we heard the lament ‘oh how we wish this could last forever’. So fear not fellow immortals-to-be, our love for each other can only grow the more we have of each other. While studying at IIPM, we were taught about the Law of Increasing Marginal Utility – the more you have of something, the more you want more of it, and love and loving relationships are such that the more you have of them, the more you’ll forever want them. And as for the great great grand kids, unlike if you were not to live forever, at the very least, you’ll get to know them. 15 years ago, I wondered if anybody ever would want to live forever but then I fell in love and realised that when in love you could live and grow and love back, forever and a day. Love in every form is all that makes you want to live forever…

But a jarring note to that thought was a question by a lady whose first reaction when she heard of what nanobots could do was ‘gosh, I’ll be with one man for all those years?’ So what of eternal love, eh? To that I’ll say, we are social creatures and it is in our nature to love and share with more than one lover, friend, parent or child. But though we share our love there is always one parent, lover, friend or child who happens to be our favourite and so shall it be in years to come. The mind might seek variety and the body varied pleasures, but in healthy and secure relationships, we’ll learn to manage negative feelings like jealousy and possessiveness. We’ll always return to the one who happens to be our ‘soulmate’. Maybe after all our dalliances over hundreds of years, we’ll evolve towards monogamy because we’ll learn to appreciate true love so much more, for only when the flesh is satiated does the spirit come to the fore.

We’ll become robots, say some. But I say, don’t worry. When a blind man gets another man’s eyes he does not become that man. Organs, whether bionic or real, are mere tools and little else. But, what of the environment, of wars, scream the ‘immortality-phobes’. Wouldn’t the earth be over-crowded? Hear ye then… Extreme longevity will push us into exploring other planets and solar systems. Reasons such as these pushed our ancestors out of their islands into discovering new lands, new countries, new continents. It were reasons such as these that brought our forefathers to India and it were reasons such as these that helped us grow, diversify, come together and grow further as civilizations, and as a race. And if we don’t discover new planets and moons, we might have to take a cue from Bheeshma and pay the price of our immortality.

And wars? Well wars today mean a soldier could lose a few decades from his life but tomorrow the loss could run into hundreds and thousands of years. Wars would be fought with far greater caution for the stakes are too high to risk. So peace should be the order of the day, till super soldiers impervious to bullets and missiles – things that could kill before you could get to a nanotech hospital – emerge. (See ‘Fie Death, Fie’ on Page 50)

Youthful longevity is a great gift but it is by no means the key to happiness. We’ll still struggle for recognition and status, with our fears and our peers. Like planes, computers and markets, sometimes, even nanobots will crash (thus the concept of God and prayer will survive). It only gives us a little more time to play, to figure out profound questions and strive to become the gods we were meant to be, without help from technology, for as long as we fly, fight and live with the help of technology, we’ll keep living in fear of that technology failing us. Our real accomplishment would be to live without fear, and for that, fellow immortals, we can’t live or wait forever…


Thursday, October 1, 2009


In the early hours of Mahashtami, I was strolling in a city park, having huffed and puff ed through my workout when that sudden ‘call’ startled me. “Kuaan! Kuaan!! Kuaaaaaan!!!” I stopped and looked around… brightly attired five-year-olds were playing tag, looking like a bunch of gay flowers swirling in the wind; in another corner, a group of 85-year-olds would go into a huddle and then erupt into fits of demonic laughter as if one of them had just shared a joke about some misadventure from a distant past; a pair of middle-aged matrons hurtled past; sweaty wheezy juggernauts struggling with the guilt of last night’s clarified butter soaked excesses… But that sound… where did that come from? I shuffled towards a tree and looked up into the leafy branches. Ah, a pair of black tails poking out of the foliage. Must’ve been them. I was about to walk away when I heard that sound again… “kuan! Kuaan….!” The sound wasn’t coming from the branches above but from the bushes below. I peered into them and there I saw it… a black beak, a bald head and intelligent little eyes… groan, a crow hatchling!

I groaned at the sight of it because two days ago, I had to put off some festival shopping and pressing errands because a pigeon with a bleeding, chewed-up wing pottered in from the verandah just when I was about to set off on the errands. The pigeon was suffering because of the broken wing and leaving it there would’ve meant a death sentence for the poor bird. So I dropped my plans and picked up the bird as it circled around and treated the wound with an antiseptic lotion. Then I retrieved an old shoe box, cut a couple of small holes in it and put the pigeon in it and drove with it to an animal shelter (every city including yours has such shelters and they’ll take in injured or young birds and mammals) about 12 kilometers away. The bird survived the trip and the kind gentleman running the shelter assured me that the bird would pull through.

While driving back, I did feel rather good about the whole affair. But when I’d first seen the pigeon, I was a trifle irritated. Every other week I’d run into a bird or a puppy or even a cow that needed help. And I would feel duty-bound to get the animal to a shelter or at least inform the concerned NGO about the poor creature and stay there till someone turned up. But while I’d feel duty bound, I’d also ask, ‘why me?’ Why, whenever I’m running late (although, those who know me will claim it isn’t whenever but forever) do I have to come across situations that I can’t avoid nor can explain it to those I’ve kept waiting? And that evening, with all those things to do, I asked yet again, why me? However, the satisfaction of having helped a fellow creature made up for all the minor delays the trip to the shelter might have caused.

So that morning, when I saw that little crow, my first reaction was ‘oh no, not again!’ The chick must have fallen from its nest up in the tree and its scaly wings still seemed too small for its relatively large body. It looked up at us and started cawing again. Call it anthropomorphism but I felt as if it was asking for help. Of course, it could just as well have been crying out of fear or calling out to its parents for help. I tried to scoop the little bird up into my hands but the little tyke scuttled around and kept calling. In response, its parents swooped down over my head in an attempt to intimidate and deter what they might have perceived to be a predatory threat to their ‘fallen angel’.

I stepped back and the devoted parents hovered close to the chick and called out to it. I did not know what to do. It was Ashtami. It was the most important and auspicious day during Durga Puja. There were prayers to offer, ceremonies to attend and pandals to visit, … just so much to do. I didn’t need this… I started rationalising… It must’ve fallen off the nest during the night. Crows usually have six to eight eggs in a nest and oft en drop a chick off, deliberately. They do this when the brood is too big for them to feed and it’s better to abandon one rather than starve the others. Cruel nature, but who’re we to judge? Also, I’ve read that the young of crows and other birds oft en jump out of the nest a few days before they can fly. Apparently they do it because a nest is usually a dangerous place attracting the attention of all sorts of predators and the sooner they get out of it, the better it is. And lastly, crows raised by humans are oft en so imprinted by the experience that they lose their fear of humans and consider every human being a friend. This leads to them trying to play with strange children or adults after their release, who might misunderstand the bird’s actions and hit and kill the bird out of fear. So I asked myself, “if a tiger is killing a deer we shouldn’t interfere and let nature take its course, right? Then if a crow hatchling is pushed out of its nest by its parents, should we intervene?” A little voice in my head said, “well, you did rescue the pigeon.” “Yeah, but that was different…” I retorted. “Whatever attacked the pigeon wasn’t around when it came up to us. Abandoning it then was as good as killing it. Here, there’s a possibility that a rescue might not be worth it and even without interference, the bird might still make it.” Also, I didn’t have the time to go to the shelter without upsetting my schedule. I decided not to ‘interfere with nature’ and walked away from the little chick by the tree.

That afternoon, through the pandal visits and celebrations my mind would go back to the scared little bird a few times and I wondered if I did the right thing but then I’d tell myself that it’s the law of nature and let nature’s will be done. Exhausted with the day’s action, when I reached home around midnight, I thought of going to check on the little bird but by then I was too tired to pursue that thought. I hit the bed and slept like a log into the wee hours of the morning when I woke up with a sudden realisation – we are off nature and our physical lives might be governed by her laws, but the whole idea of human existence is to ‘humanise’ these laws. We are a race defined as much by the survival of the weakest as we are by the success of the fittest; a race that hopes to vanquish disease and death and go beyond the circle of life; a race that believes in worships, and hopes for miracles; a race that fights with its own kind to ensure the survival of another species – we were meant to be slaves to this ‘human’ nature and by its laws, I was bound to save every life I could, for that ought to be my nature.

Mother Nature, bound by her own laws, does what she must but whenever I hide behind her laws, it is an act of denial – a denial of the power of free will and the power of service – two gifts that make us who we are, who we ought to be. I pulled the sheets away and ran towards the park. It was quiet, but for the chirping of the songbirds announcing the break of dawn. I ran towards the tree. A part of me was hoping to find the little crow scared and huddled in the bushes, while the rest of me was expecting to see a mass of feathers and a trail of blood leading to a half eaten carcass. But once there, I saw nothing… in the bushes, in the lawns, even in a heap of swept up leaves… nothing. Could the bird have flown, literally? I so hoped so… Relieved, I began walking back when I saw one of the parent crows. It was sitting on a wire outside the park and looking down at the road… ‘Darn!’ I ran onto the road and there on its back by the side of the road lay the little black bird. Its little feet pointing towards a sky it could’ve known better if only I had taken out an hour and taken it to the shelter. It had no wounds and if not for the ants around its half open eyes that seemed to both accuse and forgive, I couldn’t have been sure it was dead.

It’s only a bird you might say, but it’s still a life I could’ve saved… and didn’t (and how I treat life in one form is definitely indicative of how I might treat it in another). I’m sorry little bird, I wish for you a better life, and an after-life, and may these words serve to be both an apology and a promise…