Cheep cheep cheep.

The sound, a continuous thrilled effort to my ears, comes from a mynah chick, perched on the crown of a bottlebrush tree. Next to it is its parent, a graceful adult, well-aware of its surroundings. The fledgling resembles a puffed up brown cotton ball, the feathers on its little body would take time to look like that of its parents but its wings are already trained for flight. The two fly down on the mown grass, the little one waddling behind cheep cheep cheep.

The neighbourhood park is home to birds including mynahs, crows, sparrows, and pigeons, though their nests are barely visible to the humans walking underneath the trees. A bitch had birthed her first brood of pups as the summer was overtaken by the rains. The pups, strong and mobile now dig the earth with their paws, and sprawl out on the cool mud. They nibble upon a synthetic net which had been installed to prevent the entry of dogs, and I murmur, “Keep at it, my love. Keep at it.”

No matter how deftly humans have attempted to convert the once open ground into a sanctuary meant and reserved only for themselves, the urban wild has made its way in. The gates installed to shut behind have been abandoned for other entry routes. The sidewalk is smeared with animal shit, little lumps making us sidestep instead. I chuckle.

The mother bitch is often seen with her pups, although I believe she has been training them unbeknownst to us to be on their own. Every now and then, a black kitten walks gracefully on the dividing wall, its tail lifted in the air aware of the humans that are afraid of it. Her fluorescent green eyes, if she would only allow us to stare into them for long, would transport us to the beginning of time.

Above us, the eagles soar surveying us and the earth for their prey. But I have yet to learn the difference between eagles and hawks. Once I stretched myself on a wrought-iron bench and looked at them, counting them under my breath, and wished I could sprout wings and be among them, especially perform kiting, and allow the bursts of wind through me and into me. I would not be afraid then, of anything.

I am ever watchful of where my feet land on the sidewalk. There are hundreds and thousands of ants, dutifully lining the concrete, unfit for their safety. I imagine a new design for the sidewalks, which are striated deep enough to allow the ants to pass through, without them being stepped upon, and left to die, until they are found by their companions. When I was young, I thought of how a baby ant would feel if its parent did not return home and I cried vehemently for the unfairness of this world. So I am always careful, I always wear my glasses when I go for a walk in the park.

On some days, among the manicured shrubs, I see a small bird, its tail upright and long. Ever since, I have been trying to find what it is known as, how its song sounds, or where it is likely to nest. I haven’t had the luck to find it in database. At first I thought it to be a sunbird, an image from an early science book playing itself in my mind. But its beak is straight, not curved. This bird is special to me. I have seen it in the same bush where I first spotted it, always looking in the direction of the sun. I believe it is not a visitor like me.

I have been born and raised in cities. But I have known what it feels like to dip my feet in a body of water, small or large, to know when the currents are strong and when the water is safe to wade in. I have known what a breath of fresh air feels like having taken countless breaths in preserved sanctuaries of trees far away from traffic. And, I have known my weakness as a human, having seen the urban wild doing what I would never been able to attempt. In that way, I am rescued.


A New Decade.

On my vision board, there is a post-it note with a list of things that I want to buy in the near future. This list includes the following:

  1. Lego set
  2. Plants for my desk (purchased)
  3. A bronze Buddha figurine
  4. Jack Gilbert’s Collections
  5. Wonder Woman action figure
  6. Forest-green ceramic coffee mug (purchased)
  7. A wolf figurine
  8. A swirling dervish figurine

Another list includes the names of birds that I find poetic or intriguing:

  1. Blackcap
  2. Chaffinch
  3. Goldcrest
  4. Chiffchaff
  5. Song thrush
  6. Yellow Hammer

I look at these two lists on the many occasions while I contemplate upon the next sentence or when I need to rest my eyes after having stared at the laptop screen for long. Each time, I go through the entire list, reading without sound, feeling my tongue and lips move as they form the birds’ names. Without a moment’s delay, a thought comes up, a thought that resembles happiness in its texture, feeling, and form. By the time I go back to work, I have imagined an alternate world where birds frolic without being compared, hunted, or caged.

As I enter into a transitory period between my twenties and thirties, I have an urge to acknowledge the past, address it with respect, and seek closure wherever there is resistance. In a way, I am trying to tie the loose ends as one does at the end of a knitting project, bringing the shapeless fragments into a single unit, which then is given a name, and if lucky, is given a purpose to serve. So too is the project that I have taken in my hands, as I go through the last few months of the decade, listing down and accomplishing what I had been putting off.

I call this new list “Connection with or Acceptance of Myself” and at the moment, it has twenty one items, while more can be added to it in the near future. Although these items have taken the form of an action in the outer world, many of them contribute to a sense of integrity, independence, and strength to my inner world. I suppose, I am standing up for myself, calling out to the universe to help me and acknowledge what I want. In the realm of the stars and planets, the world is witnessing movement – planets retracing their paths and coming back to an earlier held position – and it seems individual lives are moving in tandem as well.

For the most part, I am committing the next six months to self-preservation as trees prepare themselves for the winter and then spring. I remember when I left a career promising of riches, success, and growth to devote attention to my mental health. In the interim, I changed my career path to teach and write. Both, although not yet monetarily rewarding, have suited my temperament well, and have been fulfilling. So too is my progress in health – physical and mental – with a nourishing social circle, exercise, meditation, and food. I have not only enjoyed solitude but have deliberately created artist-dates to encourage this blossoming friendship with the various interests within me. To that I have committed to stand in front of as many artworks as possible whether performances by individuals or by nature herself. Without the necessity to prove in a professional environment, I have been preserving my energy to things I value. Perhaps, it is the result of this investment that I know about myself more than ever before, my interests, preferences, likes, and desires.

As days move away and bring me closer to a new decade in my life, I find it necessary and pressing on my part to dedicate to pursuits that drive me onward. This word has become a favourite. Onward – its promise of a direction as decided by the chooser; that onward could be any direction one wants to take. I know my direction even if it is slow or has more turns and rest stops. From here, I will look at the chaffinches and song thrushes and hear their birdsongs.

On Libraries.

Lately I have been spending my time in libraries.

I choose the portion of a desk protected by wood screens on its sides, an asylum for those prone to sensitivity and nervousness upon exposure. Unlike my personal work-desk, which is stocked with stationery, potted plants, and totems acquired at different points in time, the library desk is bereft except when occupied. It makes me think about the search for recognizable places outside our immediate. The smallest semblance brings to our disposition a desire to occupy and claim that space as ours. So is this small portion of the desk a unique piece of me in the outer world that I expect loyalty from and I identify with.

The pistachio-green desktops are inviting and stand in contrast to the ivory-coloured walls. On closer observation, the years of wear appear, one by one – a mark made with ink, a scratch and a pockmark – bringing one to the present moment, its delicate movement amidst the ordinary things. If in a word, I have to describe the order of the place, it would be summed best by the word bureaucratic. The only disorder rests among and within the books like it should. Some books having lost their front or back covers have been hardbound, and stacked with the fresher copies. Fiction, biographies, psychology, movements, media, literature, social issues, laws, religion, history, and many more brought in at different times, now are coded and classified.

On most working days, there are few visitors, mostly women, visiting for different purposes including studying, preparing lectures, and for research. I visit the library to read although on some occasions I have forced myself to study. On my last visit, I read about Ruttie Petit or as she was more popularly known, Ruttie Jinnah. At eighteen, she had married M. A. Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan, and shared with him, a love that exalted but which also proved ruinous. She died on her 29th birth anniversary to what some believe an overdose. While in history, she is mentioned barely, as if lacking subjecthood, she was a powerful force behind Jinnah, and during the struggle for freedom.

Today Noor Zaheer’s My God is a Woman caught my eyes and I brought it out to my reading desk. I read five chapters in a little more than an hour, and when I closed the book, I read a snippet on the back cover, about the murder of a beloved character. I felt wasted, knowing as with life so with literature; loved ones live and die. There is also Ismat Chughtai’s The Crooked Line to be read- the opening scene from her childhood where she learns to discriminate between the powerful and the powerless; like we have learned as well.

Libraries themselves have been pushed away as knots, hidden between arrays of modern buildings and commercial ventures. When I read about libraries which have been defunded, a wave of depression hits me, and I writhe in pain. As a child in school, going to the library meant more rules to be observed than usual. The environment caught me in its fist to make me dislike it; fortunately, I grew up in my senses.

I found a book called The Hopes of Snakes in a library, which has now closed its doors to the public, and has restricted its functions to a bare minimum. But even then its sombre stacks offers brilliant works such as this book, which talks about the condemned birds and animals living among us in the urban landscape, some of which, we call a pest. But it is not only books that they offer.

We are in dearth of places where one need not talk or engage, where one can be let in solitude. As a culture, we promote spaces for socializing, hanging out, and too with stimulants, as if they need them. In libraries, we are quiet, ruminating upon an expression that perplexed us, or perhaps dozing, our heads resting between books. What better place for someone who enjoys reading!

A small rack holds my books, some two hundred of them, many collected in the last seven years. I keep reminding myself, I need to buy a new bookshelf. But there are no free corners in the room or in the house. I joke, these are my only possessions to pass on! Some know it to be true. Others don’t see the sense.

When I leave from the library, I have already spent five hours. And in my hand I carry a notebook with a sentence half-written, breaking open the nettled negative after a month. I come home and write it to completion.