What I learnt from watching birds

S. lives in Bangalore. We know each other for over two decades now, and have commiserated with each other on every twist and turn our lives took. Even though S is in Bangalore, and every time we meet we swear we will meet more often, it never happens. Then we joke about it, whenever we meet and we swear we will meet more often. It is that kind of friendship where you can tell the other person, no, I am not feeling up to meeting anyone at the moment, and there’s just a quiet understanding. Where you blurt out major life events on the phone without a preamble even if you haven’t spoken for a year. It is like a blanket that makes every cold fear a bit warmer, and more easier to swallow.

Since the pandemic began, we haven’t met. We speak online every now and then, a video call that goes on for many hours, with G and S. Even when there wasn’t a pandemic it is not that we met often, so now why does this absence balloon into something hard and spiky?

I met a bird who has built a home in a tree nearby. Usually, she would flit and fly and would never be still enough for me to get to know her so that I can quickly go to Merlin and identify who she is. Some days ago, I saw her, perched on a branch, as if to say, here, now observe that I have a brown back and a white underbelly sprinkled with black polka dots . I met the speckled munia.

Yathin S Krishnappa, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The birds distract me as I do yoga. Now they have started flying straight to the window, do a disco around the grill, and then flit back. It is tantalising. Today in yoga class, N. said that we should be careful while practising some poses. If we were in the same space, she could catch us if we fell. Her arms cannot reach across the screen.

After that one time, the paradise flycatcher never came back. Or at least, was never around when I look outside the window. The bulbuls flit around, miffed with me that I don’t pay particular attention to them anymore. They know I only keep looking for the hornbill.

A friend called me after a long time, and said how she had lost in touch with many friends during the pandemic, and realised many of them she did not want to remain friends with. She did not want to lose in touch with me, she said. She sounded a bit panicked, or maybe I was panicking.

The kites fly past high in the sky, unmindful of what’s going down below. I crane my neck to watch them in the evenings, as they all make their way to some place in the horizon. They don’t care if I watch or not.

Thanks to I., I have done things that I have never done before. I painted. I sing together with her in our weekly sessions. We sing Kabir songs and she likes to sing Tamil songs. I get chuffed when I can explain the meanings of Tamil words, and sometimes I falter. There are many words I am unfamiliar with - I realised I have sung them without dwelling on what they mean. During these sessions, I find myself paying attention to the meaning and the lyrics and that’s all because of I.. She closes her eyes, and it is as if she is able to commune with both the words and the music and all those things swirling inside of her. And when she is not focused on this or that, her voice lifts and lilts. I wait for those moments. I have never met her, and I wonder about how it would be if we were to sing in the same room, and zoom does not play interference by reducing one volume or the other.