VERSE | BIRDS

I’d become an avid bird lover
Since the pandemic hit my town
Ere I never could relate except
As a beholder looking on

But then this pair of mynahs
Intrepid little things
Well one was bravheart, the other a mass
Of nervous fluttering

Decided that my balcony
Was a good place for some treats
So they would pay me visits
For some raisins and some cheese

I came to home number two
Carrying my avian love with me
Cooing pigeons in all forms
There frequented my balcony

Their rolling gait, their gentle sounds
Quite stole my heart away
And so I wooed them as they cooed
Treat-luring them everyday

By and by the guileful birds
Dropped their adorable avatar
My chairs and tables were endowed
With their organic pockmarks

Now gently I admonish them
When they flap into my home
But they think I’m requesting more
Of their nitrogen-rich guano

I’m now a not so avid fan
Of the expelling, flying flock
My OCD has on my glee quite
Turned back the blessed clock.
The parents had brought their fledgelings to my home a second time. A bit of a soft initiation into the real world 🌸

KIDSBOOKS | TITI THE MYNAH BIRD

Titi is a Mynah bird
Who’s adopted my balcony
For her daily tidbits
And some sociability

I feed her grapes and jammy bread
And Wyke’s mature cheddar
She warbles and honks in delight
Ruffling her tail feathers

I try sometimes to have her sit
Upon my outstretched hand
But she always flies away
Too afraid to land

One day I saw her fluttering
Outside in the terrace
I went to see what was causing
The bird such great distress

There I spied her little one
Behind the potted palm
She was flapping her little wings
Trying to get airborne.

I gently picked the fledgling up
Titi watched me nervously
And placed the baby on the floor
Near her momma’s feet

She’d brought her little birdie out
To teach her how to fly
And also to introduce her
To the Treats Terrace in the sky

It was a lovely moment showing
how trusting Nature can be
When momma brought her little child
To finally meet me.

FEATURE|THE ENIGMA OF LEISURE TRAVEL IN 2021

When I thought of travel 5 years ago, images of copious, laborious intercity bank visits always came to mind. Job related travels to metropolises, townships and little rural outposts were the sum total of all my hours logged on the road.

Then I embarked on my sabbatical and the whole meaning of the word Travel changed for me. It embodied everything from a leisure trip to Europe or the Middle East, to amiable walks along my own city’s tree-lined, sun dappled walkways. My journeys, big and small, slowly but surely morphed into trips of not only the body but the mind and the soul too as I roamed around and smelled the gardenias, the araliya and the roses. The mind-numbing fumes of business travel were a distant memory in my newly acquired state of finally being free enough to follow my own heart rather than the terse instructions on my work day scheduler. And so it came to pass, that yours truly went from being a reluctant traveller at best, to feeling a rush of endorphins at the very idea of a trip away from the (not entirely unloved!) sweltering bustle of the city. I had become the quintessential Leisure Traveller and I basked in the glorious serendipity of the role.

I also came to realise that Leisure Travel does not have to be limited to trips taken during time away from work. The astute traveller with a love of roaming, can quite successfully combine business and leisure travel with some strategic pre-planning.

-Do a little homework on your destination.  If you’re visiting the place for the first time, it’s always a good idea to take in the top 3-5 tourist attractions.  Take a guided tour for the maximum bang for the buck.  If you’re the intrepid, adventurous type, pick a couple of the places that interest you the most and go it alone.  Some pre-planning on the most optimal modes of transport will be helpful to ensure you don’t find yourself woefully light of pocket post your very first taxi ride.  

-Consult your hotel/ motel concierge. These personages are surprisingly wonderful founts of knowledge on the best, most budget-friendly local sights, sounds and tastes. I have visited some of the nicest little local hot spots and had some of the choicest local cuisine at the behest of their friendly bidding!

-Come prepared with sturdy walking shoes (preferably waterproof), a lightweight umbrella and a light jacket. Whether you’re in the sultry tropics or the cool alpine heights, you’ll be prepared for that unexpected monsoon or seasonal shower.

-Carry a basic medical kit with bandaids, pain killers, anti allergies, mosquito repellant and oral rehydration salts (foreign cuisine can be dicey!)

So what does Leisure Travel look like in 2021?

In our current lives, buffeted as they are with uncertainty on so many fronts, I would define leisure travel as any trip that allows you to relax and/ or rejoice; to realign body, mind and soul to attain some semblance of inner peace and quiet. Whether it takes a solitary retreat in the middle of a forest, or a full moon party at a crowded beach, the purpose of leisure travel is to rejuvenate the traveller. To revitalise the trip-maker to get back into the fray of life, feeling less burdened and more prepared to take each day as it comes.

Given the pandemic and the far reaching limits on travel generally, leisure trips need to become increasingly more creative and out of the box. After a year of enduring pandemic-fuelled lockdowns and curfews, people are more than ready to get away from it all.

Leisure travel can be as simple as a day trip to a spa or a hotel a little way away from home. Little bubbles of rest and relaxation that allow one to get away from the milieu of every day life while also keeping within pandemic defined geographies.

Another increasingly popular avenue of holidaying is to rent a bungalow or a villa somewhere. This is a fortuitous remedy for larger families allowing for both, a change of scenery as well as ensuring pandemic health protocols are observed. There are no busy hotel lobbies or crowded pools or overflowing dining areas to contend with. It’s a pandemic leisure traveller’s dream come true; a kind of “home away from home” holiday.

For the intrepid travellers with dogged wanderlust, there are still places around the world where life goes on undisrupted. With the addition of certain basic health obligations like a negative PCR test, wearing masks in all public places and observing state postulated social distancing rules, these places continue to welcome visitors and indeed have much to offer in the way of travel experience. Some tropical destinations fall into this sphere of venturesome travel.

I, in the meantime, vaccinated and boosted, am content with traveling to my neighbourhood cafe and escaping into the world of abundant imagination across vast spaces through the keys of my iPad. And for the occasional temerarious shock to the system, I and my partner in all crimes of high adventure, pack our overnighters and get away to a nearby beachy or green locale, all the while basking in the simple pleasure of the journey itself.

Leisure travel during the pandemic really is akin to living by the compass and not by the clock, as we tend to our bodies and our spirits in the overwhelming tenuousness of our current lives.

OPINION|THE BIG BANG OF SMALL KINDNESSES

As the pandemic marches on, this is more true than ever. I have felt impelled to write this piece mostly because we have all now, as a planet, lived through a year of the Covid-19 blight. All 7 billion lives have, in some measure, been affected, afflicted or completely upended. And the sobering truth is that there is no real end in sight yet. These past 8 months have also seen families not only devastated by the virus in many parts of the world, but crippled also by the general economic slowdown/ shutdown.

We in the South Asian belt have been relatively more fortunate with regard to our pandemic mortality rates. The conjectures and theories on how the delevloping world is coping so peculiarly well with the disease are varied and many. Call it providential or karmic or the universe finally lining up all the fortuitous constellations in our Asian skies – that is how it is and for that we are grateful. Grateful while still being aware of the economic ravages wrought on the healthy but the vulnerable; the uninfected but the reduced; the vigorous but the poor. Which brings me to the mission of this piece – the importance of being kind. Of engaging in little everyday gestures of generosity to alleviate in some part the struggles of the less fortunate members of our communities.

Start with your neighbourhoods.

Give just a little bit extra to the tuk tuk driver who’s been whisking you about town (or running errands for you) through blazing hot days and even the errant tropical storm. Even if you don’t get into his carriage much or at all these days, tip him for all his gracious service and for persevering still, to earn a decent living despite bleak business.

Patronise your local fruit and vegetable sellers and your standalone neighbourhood grocery stores rather than the larger franchised establishments. The balance sheets of the latter will survive a year or so of beleagured business; the former, however, will be forced to shut down their doors permanently, changing the fortunes of entire nuclear and extended families forever.

⁃ Even if you’re of the genteel old school of thought, for whom the hawkers of malodorous incenses, oddball children’s story books and car cleaning paraphernalia are persona non grata in the general milieu of roadside traffic, be kind. At the traffic lights, despite yourself, roll down and buy some incense, buy a book or buy a cleaning product. Be gracious with your privilege.

⁃ With restaurants and bars in operational flux, if you do go out, tip generously. For most of the kitchen and serving staff, your service gratuity makes all the difference between being able to send a child to school or not.

⁃ For those that are now enjoying, in the safety of their homes, the gastronomic pleasures of Italy, Pakistan or the entire junk food spectrum of the Americas, tip the delivery staff openheartedly. For many of them, their endless google mapped excursions around the city are second and third jobs taken on to supplement incomes made ever more meagre by the pandemic.

Be kinder to your domestic staff, those consummate companions one can’t do without in keeping the household engine well-oiled and chugging along immaculately, peaceably. It’s also no secret that a lot of domestic bliss is owed to their inimitable roles in our daily lives!

⁃ And last but not least, our usually bustling towns and cities are also home to a multitude of scavenging animals. These urban-bred packs of stray felines, canines and even a sizeable number of the avian population depend on the scraps and oddments of the teeming human millions going about their usual day. That food source has become unreliable at best. Do your bit by putting out some water for our creature cohabitants, and food if you’re blessed with an outdoors.

These neigbbouhood civics, in my mind, are fundamental and therefore incumbent on all of us. They are the very basic protocols of social decency and community living, but have over time, and as i look around me, lost their place in our intuitive DNA. And hence, as with so many other virtuous but faded/ lapsed communal interactions in our lives, the need to recall, restore and revitalise is important.

And so, this petition is meant as just a little scratching of the surface to that human part that is intrinsic to all of us bad eggs, good eggs, tough eggs, quirky eggs and all.

I’ll leave you with a cheeky little refrain as a gentle reminder of the compassionate beings we really are, and for when we lose that thread now and then in the frenzied rush of life.

I was a hard boiled egg
Less sugar, more spice
It’s taken a pandemic
To remind me to be nice!

FEATURE|My Balcony and Other Creatures

Of glimmering balconies, frolicking flora and organized murders

This pandemic has changed a lot of elements including the manner of things usually relegated to the realms of the mundane. And that is exactly what has happened in the microcosm of my balcony. A whole new world within has come alive, as the world without has slowed down to a pandemic-induced comatose crawl. From donning a shimmering garb in the fiery evening twilight, to gleaming with raindrops when a tropical storm bursts forth, to mischievously inviting the entire motely flock of city birds to perch on its sun-lit circuit a while, to socialize and then depart in the wake of dubious farewell gifts deposited on its glass exterior. Indeed, the little overhang outside my apartment has morphed into a whole new creature.

And in its tiled embrace are smaller microcosms of both flora and fauna. While the potted plants were just that pre-pandemic, plants that had become a part of the background in my balcony, they have now become an eclectic community of leafy denizens living, loving, parenting, mostly thriving, sometimes grieving, sometimes euphoric, at other times scheming in distinct cliques as they bloom in explicit sets of only 3 and only 4 at a time. The 2 groups never disbanding, and never harmonising outside of their own green universes. So my bright pink bougainvillea, the red-hearted hibiscus, the scarlet geranium and the flame violet will bloom for a month, colouring the balcony with their reds, pinks and fuschias. They will then cease and desist from their joyful cavorting and pass on the Baton of Blooms to the next group, the white bougainvillea, the sweet Jasmin and the pale pink ixora. (Obviously there is such a thing as Potted Plant Politics!)

The flying fauna is almost entirely comprised of crows and mynahs with the odd dragonfly or monarch butterfly that have somehow found a precocious air current to carry them from their usual low flying social activities, all the way to the 9th floor of a high rise apartment building. These perplexed visitors usually move on after a vertigo-filled glance or two down from the balcony.

The crows, those keen eyed A-list city scavengers are definitely at the top of the heap when it comes to reading balcony visitor protocols. If you’re a “Feeder” as i am, they will very soon discern that unique food source (for the Feeder venues are as diverse as are the many murders* across the city!) They will sit in orderly rows along the balcony railing, heads cocked, beady eyes shining in anticipation as they spy Feeder movement on the other side of the closed balcony doors. They are also hugely territorial and one gets to witness epic Corvus battles as the various murders engage in all out “Feeder-Fending”. I have, however, learnt with time and my own manner of aviculture, to cease being a source of cookie manna for this visitor. They WILL take over your balcony and even your home. I have had the more intrepid hop into my lounge, pick up a bag of crisps from the table, take it politely out onto the balcony and go at it with that monster beak until they’ve made holes big enough to get at the contents. In the wake of a visit from the murder that has claimed you as their own, the balcony glass exterior looks more like the floor of a well fed aviary rather than the facade of a luxury apartment. And so it has been with a twinge of guilt and a lot of determination that i am presenting myself, armed as i am now with a spray water bottle, as persona non grata to all the Colombo black birds.

Last but not least, the delightful Mynah! These cocky little creatures will whistle and warble their way right into your heart … and into your lounge. And again, with a twinge of Corvus guilt, i admit that i have continued to feed and indulge these happy balcony transients while i have gently sprayed away the other crowing, cawing visitors. There is one mynah in particular whom i have in a fit of creativity called … Mynah! She too has claimed my balcony as her own little paradise of free food. She will visit me daily, making her entrance not from over the railing, but by walking jauntily through an opening at the far side of it, traipse through the plants and up to the balcony door. There she will warble her distinct call now reserved for me I fondly imagine (or it could just be balcony romanticism on my part!). In case i don’t respond, she will hop right up to my couch and look at me askance, chirp a little “get off your behind” ditty and when she knows I’ve seen her, she’ll hop right back outside to await a generous helping of Chesma’s jaggery cookies* – her ultimate soul food! I am not ashamed to admit that Mynah has me pulled quite completely by my balcony creature heart strings. Every afternoon I wait for her to make her appearance. And the day she finds her daily succour elsewhere, i’m also not ashamed to admit that i feel a palpable wash of disappointment!

Maybe my balcony fever is a post pandemic psychosis, or if I’m to be positive, a keener opening of my Third Eye to the many joys of nature. In any case, i am convinced that in some peculiar manner, i am on my way to becoming a resident bird and plant whisperer as I wield my strategic ammunition of jaggery cookies and Baby-bird/ Potted-plant Talk, while occasionally with chastened fervor, brandishing my green spray water bottle.

Mynah hanging out on my iPad

De Khudai pe aman

Feature Title inspiration from Gerald Durrell’s 1956 semi-autobiographical novel “My Family and Other Animals”
Murder: term used for groups/ flocks of crows
Jaggery: A traditional cane sugar concoction consumed in Asia. It is a concentrated product of cane juice and often date or palm sap without separation of the molasses and crystals, and can vary from golden brown to dark brown in colour, and is similar to the Latin American panela.
Chesma’s Jaggery cookies: artisanal cookies created by the gracious Chesma; and tradition carried on by her enterprising progeny.