I can never say which is more poignant: the sun breaking into colours from the darkness of the night sea, or the bright sun sinking over the darkening horizon. When I was there in the east coast each day was a miracle. Each day began with the birth of new light, like a new and newer horizon being discovered. Like any eager soul who has without regret or remorse, un-reluctantly left the warmth of the bed and sought the sea shore in the early dawn in the east coast I too have known the touch of the sun. Pondicherry was for me like a warm tin-can placed squarely under the glowing sun; all it does is to go from warm to extreme hot and then rework from where it left off throughout the year. The birth of the sun was the beginning of a blistering hot day the year around. But the sweetness and silence of a glorious sun emerging from the deeps of the sea was always a sight that brought tears from the deeps of myself. I recall murmuring to myself: hiranmayena patrena, satyasyapihitam mukham/ tat tvam pushann apavrinu, satya-dharmaya drishtaye | (The face of truth is covered with a golden disc. O Pushan, Sun, unveil it so I who love the truth may behold it!)
There is certainly light behind light behind light. What blinds us at the beginning need not be the true light. Do I search within myself again and again?
The Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, in one of her conversations, speaks about the idea of beauty thus:
. ..At first your sense of beauty is instinctive, impulsive, infrarational, lacking light, wanting reason, simply without any true understanding, and so, because the origin of the aesthetic sense is infrarational, it is understood, one always says this: “There’s no disputing tastes and colours.” You know, there are all kinds of popular proverbs which say that the appreciation of the beautiful is not a matter of reasoning, everyone likes a particular thing he doesn’t know why, he takes pleasure in looking at a thing, and this pleasure cannot be discussed.
(WRITINGS BY THE MOTHER, Aesthetic consciousness, 1 June 1955)
One just looks upon sun rising like this with awe like a child, infrarational. It is full of mystery full of meaning. Although at the back of our rational mind we “know” that it is the earth that goes round the sun and not the other way round. But like the wise scientist Galileo Galilei we also murmur to ourselves: nevertheless it moves! It moves alright it “moves” our minds too!
But the mind of man is never satiated: the artist and poet are condemned to wander forth forever never tied to one place or time. As I left Pondicherry the sun had begun its descent. Of course it resurfaces even in the west coast. From among the mountain ranges I see the quiet dawn breaking free once again. Now when the sun goes down I see the magnificence of another secret. There is no light without darkness as there is no darkness without light.
Does the intellect realise this or does the heart feel it? What can we say after the touch of God in the glorious dawn? Sri Aurobindo has written:
[…] Whoever has once felt the glory of God within him can never again believe that the intellect is supreme. There is a higher voice, there is a more unfailing oracle. It is in the heart where God resides. He works through the brain, but the brain is only one of His instruments. Whatever the brain may plan, the heart knows first and whoever can go beyond the brain to the heart, will hear the voice of the Eternal.
(Sri Aurobindo on the Glory of God in Man, January 1, 1908)
To feel at one with the universe is to touch the deeper self of all being. This is a realization that just dawns on one or need I write “in “one? Have I felt that the glory of the dawn is profounder or more poignant than the serenity of the sun setting over the Arabian sea? What can I say?
There is no secret in life: everything is free for the taking, open and approachable. As one walks towards the rising sun one feels this truth in one’s veins. It is the similar state of being one arrives at as one walks toward the setting sun. East is East and West is West. There is little difference.
The sun is a miracle. Dawn. Silent and serene. Evening. Silent and serene. We are such tiny creatures that we cling to the edge of all being and refuse to let go. The night is broken and dawn is free. The day is ended and the sun is set. Our heart is hushed. Silenced. If we are willing to turn inwards our hearts will learn to sense much more that what our brains later reason with us. Pondicherry or Trivandrum.
In this west coast I feel the rush of the centuries as the sun disappears round the bend in the silent horizon. It is with a suddenness that my heart is overtaken by the sweeping sadness of emptiness. Have I lost the sun? Which is more poignant? The sun breaking into colours from the darkness of the night sea, or the bright sun sinking over the darkening horizon? Do I know?
This is the empty nest syndrome they speak about. When the children have grown up and left for the wide world seeking spaces for themselves the parents who stay at home feel the pang. My father used to say, I recall: “Leave the front door always open!” Now I know. The sun rise and sun set are never separate. The question that remains large is just this: Is it the same sun that comes round? Silence and solitude are deep within the seeking self. To touch silence is to awaken the whir of the reasoning mind. To realize solitude is to awaken the ever questing mind. The poet and artist are condemned to wander in silence and solitude. Only the sun follows him.
It is now more than forty years since I started birding! In 1976 when I walked into the Department of English in the famed University College in the heart of Trivandrum city, I was accosted by my smoking Professor, “Murali, meet me at 5.30 am in front of the GPO” It was more of a command than a friendly demand! KK Neelakantan smoked only Charminar and walked with a slight stoop. The undergraduate students were terrified of him. More than anything, he was a pioneer in ornithology in my part of the world. He introduced me to Whistler’s Hand book of Indian Birds, and Prater’s Book of Indian Animals. It was through him that I got to know the legendary Salim Ali, the doyen of Indian birdwatching—the birdman of India himself, in real flesh and blood! Much later he was instrumental in gifting me a copy of the priceless Book of Indian Birds by Salim Ali signed by the author in our presence! And now when I think back on those days a profound amazement awakens in my insides. Walking on the forest tracks with these two avid birders, listening to the wind on the high trees of the moist wet evergreen forests of the Western Ghats, slinging my borrowed 8×30 binoculars over my frail neck, clutching my notepads and sketchbooks, learning to hold my breath and restrain my over enthusiastic bubbling mind from spilling over with the excitement that one feels in the denseness of the jungle, looking wide eyed and with awe at everything around , I was very much “there” What more is there to say? I recall that there were usually a couple of other young birders alongside us when we took those short forays into the wetlands of Veli and Akkulam. Many of them grew into genuine ornithologists and wild lifers and some dropped off along the way that led them onto other avenues. My love for literature and art led me into the sunny world of books and academia. Prof. K K Neelakantan was more at home with his feathered friends than with Shakespeare and Milton or even Keats. He also tried his hand at sketching and painting. Many a day when I visited him in his small house behind the GPO he would be hard at work on his watercolours—he would sketch with such ardour and colour in each feather with deep diligence. He admired the sketches of E H Aitkin and the Australian Goulds as well as Peter Scott. With him I learned to identify and categorise innumerable species. He was critical of my overflowing optimism and often restrained me from delving deep into the forests. Above all, he had a sharp tongue. My marriage with Usha was a personal and private one—we did not extend any invites, neither did we make it an event. Neelakantan Sir was sorely troubled I didn’t let him in to our secret. Later, much later, when we walked into the Victoria Jubilee Town Hall in Trivandrum where he was being honoured on stage, he espied us and snapped across the crowds: Murali, although you never informed me about your marriage you can have my blessings now! The birdman of Kerala had one secret desire: he loved boiled eggs. Many a day after our strenuous walks over the marshes just before we headed home he would lead us to a small shack of a hotel and order boiled eggs. And boy, did we all relish those! Here is a poem I had dedicated to him:
Stone Curlew (a poem for K.K.N.– naturalist and professor)
Once again we froze against the stony shore,
as the curlew turned, with a graceful sweep–
wings light, open, alert, eyes wide, beady bright.
We knew it knew and yet was game to play
all over again the very same game
of hide and seek in the softening light.
One foot bent and the forward thrust
of the westerly breeze did the rest–
the bird rose and soft-landed, leading our eyes
away from her speckled brood. The stream
passed silent. The wind kept pace, and
no stone moved while the curlew called.
A shrill whistle, plaintive, lone, while
her mate somewhere heard and turned.
The sky lay vast, unquiet in its intense spread.
The bird rose and called again. A feather
floated down.We stood silent,
amazed at both bird and sky.
Murali Sivaramakrishnan[Professor of English at Pondicherry University, India. He is also a poet and painter. His recent publication includes the poetry book Silversfish. E-mail: <email@example.com>
It had rained so heavily last night. But now the dawn has brought so
much soft light on the wet boughs and silken flowers. Everything appears
fresh and clean. The sky bears an amazing touch of blue. From where
I sit on the low balcony of my house I can see right up to the end of the
street where it turns sharply to the left and right hiding beyond the heavy
laden trees. Now there is a shower of insects. There are termites all over
the place. Crows, mynas, drongos and magpie robins are dashing in and
out of the strange volcano-like eruptions from the ground. Millions and
millions of tiny winged creatures zoom about only to be devoured in hundreds
by these birds and other little lizards and hairy mongooses which
join them. This is certainly a protein rich repast for them. Nature is so
strange. Each one thrives on the other. Life is one long unending chain.
And yet the survival of each species is ensured through different means.
The termites might be food for the birds but their sheer numbers makes
them outlive their predators. It is not the time span or specific niche in the
food chain that ensures this, for after all in nature time means different
stuff for different species.
They say that the Mayfly has the shortest life span of all living creatures.
It lives barely for one day. And within this short life circuit the entire
drama of birth, growing up, reproduction and the ensurance of the species
and death comes full circle. Some moths and butterflies live a little longer
and dragon flies live up to a week. While on the other hand, the longevity
of elephants and tortoises takes them close to a century and beyond
sometimes. All life forms on earth have their own intrinsic space and time,
and one significant point we have to bear in mind is that they are there
for themselves and they play a significant role in the biosphere and ecosphere.
We can say they have intrinsic significance which means they have
essential rights to exist independently of what we humans might consider
their worth. Of course we human beings have the definite capacity to decide
their fate and destiny because of our might and forceful histories. We
have become the dominant species on earth the masters of all our universe
(until we encounter such superior alien creatures in other planets or stars
which is a future possibility). But for the present we humans have absolute
right of control over all of this planet earth, this third rock from the sun.
I once heard someone state over the television that Americans have
such superior weapons nowadays that they can destroy the entire earth
nine times! This immediately made me wonder how such a threat is feasible!
Simply because once the earth is destroyed there would not be another
to destroy a second time let alone till the ninth! But the threat is obviously
a bit exaggerated for the sake of its magnitude! Of course humans do have
the power to annihilate all life forms including ourselves. This is certainly
a potential threat to all nature.
But nature thrives through creation and destruction. Even the giant
reptiles of the Jurassic age had to face extinction through the great ice age.
Nevertheless nature did find a continuity in ensuring the success of life by
permitting new and newer life forms to germinate even after such a massive
catastrophe. It is said that even after a horrendous chemical warfare
cockroaches can survive to live another day! Perhaps they have evolved
their own biological adaptations after encountering repeated attacks from
us humans inventing and reinventing several chemical and biochemical
atomisers and such stuff to eradicate what we hold as pests from our domestic
spheres! Life does find new ways!
We humans are indeed great consumers. We gorge on our planet. And
down the centuries as we read in our history books we have been exploring
and conquering new territories inside our earth as well as on the surface
and even above our earth. We have created cultures and civilizations,
languages and technologies that have helped us spread all over the globe.
There is virtually no place on earth which has not felt the shadow of a
human being! Our great creativity and adaptability has ensured our survival and success. There is little doubt that us humans are the sole owners
of this mass of rock from the sun. We might defend ourselves by saying
that we have every right to ensure our own survival because we are the
dominant species on earth. We can command the fate of all else. And now,
even if we do produce a mass of garbage which might pollute our earth and
water and air around us we can eventually find new scientific means to
get rid of all that. There are many among us who would strongly advocate
for human beings alone as the apex creations of god – after all we are the
direct decedents of god – he or she produced us in their own image (this is
what our religions would teach us).
This I have heard: humans are not the only creatures who leave debris
behind. Large herds of wandering elephants pull down and destroy
innumerable trees, thorny shrubs and bushes. Aren’t they then culprits of
destruction of nature and habitat? With the discovery of fire human tribes
have torched and scorched miles and miles of bush and terrain down the
history. So then, why only blame our present day generation solely for habitat
Having said that, we come to realise that the axe and the fire have laid
waste miles and miles of living land through countless generation. But the
point is simply that now we have reached such a pass that we do not have
any more chance: we have reached a cul de sac in our history and the history
of our planet. We have the first wake up call.
We have built up our civilizations and cultures with us humans as the
centre of it all. When we put our interests in front of everything such a
view is called anthropocentricism – human centred world views. Little do
we recognise as the intrinsic rights of all other non-human stuff to exist.
But nature as we have come to realise through all our learning and pursuit
of science, is something that cherishes what is called biodiversity. There
are innumerable living and non-living things that are besides the human
existence and they too have a need and necessity to exist side by side. In
fact it is through the continued preservation of this vibrant harmonious
web of life that we can also aid in our own survival. Ecology teaches us
that everything in our universe is interlinked with every other thing else.
We break one and it makes a dent in all others as well. When each animal,
each bird, each amphibian, each insect is deprived of its survival space – its
biological habitat – we also are making dents in the other interconnected
chains. We are locked in with everything else that exists. Some we can see
and make out, others are invisible to us but nevertheless exist. We have
so little right to assert our own right over everything else. But yet, this is
exactly what we have been trying to do so far. Our history, or rather our
environmental history is so full of our own footprints and finger prints.
We are the culprits.
Our second wake-up call is one that tells us our earth is not a garbage
dump! All the nations of the world produce waste and they are of several
levels from chemical to bio-chemical to nuclear waste. What do we normally
do when we are left with some waste? We simply dispose of it over
our wall; if it is in our neighbour’s yard it is safe beyond our sight. Now that
we have come to realise that all of this is our home where shall we dump
our waste? Is there space beyond stars? Can we find a distant galaxy where
we can heap all our waste?
These are not mere lists of facts or a fanciful array of fantasies – but
his could be a clarion call to stay awake and recognise our responsibilities.
We should not reach out for the snooze button
There has been no time in our histories as in the present when our
wake-up call has been so persistent. It is screeching. We have so polluted
our earth, our waters – including fresh water lakes, rivers and the seas –
and our air. We have to change our ways of living. Before that we need to
wake ourselves up. Do we need to wait till the last and final call has to go?
Was it indeed Mahatma Gandhi who said that we have not just inherited
the earth from our forefathers but simply borrowed it from our children!
My reverie is rudely broken by the door-bell. Someone is at the door.
I need to go and get the front door. The sunlight outside has become warmer
and shadows have started to shrink. The sun is moving beyond the tree
line up into the blue skies. The termite volcano appears to have subsided.
The crows have already left. Satiated no doubt with their fill of sumptuous
protein-rich meal. Only a couple of stray mynas still hang about pecking
at this and that. A couple of squirrels dash in and out of the bushes. Probably
the late comers. It dawns on me suddenly that I have left the lights on
inside my rooms. It is imperative that I conserve whatever is left, including
our electricity. I definitely do not want that doorbell to be the third and
final wake-up call. I am up and about in no time!
The last remaining rainforests of the Brazilian Amazon are so exotic and exciting. However, birding in these parts is certainly extremely difficult. First of all the rainforest is too thick and almost impenetrable in many parts – you had to be on your guard when treading in uncertain places. Secondly there is always almost little light to illuminate the spot where the birds hang about! Thirdly there is so much space for the birds to move away when the birdwatcher spots them at play or feeding and painfully zooms in with his camera—there are miles and miles of impenetrable jungle! Then of course, there is this factor of climate and time. I went to these places when the rains were almost withdrawing but still the skies were dark and cloudy most days. The constant drizzle kept me uncomfortably wet. The most determining factor as far as I was concerned was that I was carrying only my 70×300 lens for fear that I would be mugged for my expensive lens otherwise. I was travelling to the other side of the globe and couldn’t afford to be hampered by heavy stuff. Most of the times I was alone and was virtually frightened to let go off my camera and stuff … Then there was so little time as always.
The trickle of bird photos I have been able to gather are all that I have to relish … perhaps I will get another chance to spent long, long time in my beloved Amazon!
The image of Tropical forests of Brazil would certainly hasten to mind highflying parakeets and long-billed multi-coloured Toucans! The Macaws or large South American Parrots are indeed the most delightful birds that screech and flap overhead. And the Encyclopaedia says: there are 18 species of large colourful parrots native to tropical North and South America. These brightly coloured long-tailed birds are some of the most spectacular parrots in the world. Macaws are classified in the genera Ara, Anodorhynchus, Cyanopsitta, Primolius, Orthopsittaca, and Diopsittaca in the family Psittacidae.
I could see several groups fluttering and flapping overhead—but my sorrow knows no end when I glance through my painful exposures– they are not even eligible as bird photos. However, I have seen them and my heart is filled with longings of another day!
Aracaris are residents in forests and woodlands in the Neotropics. They are a breed of Toucans. I could spot two or three. The zoo in Manaus gave me a good exposure to one of these delightful creatures!