Preliminary caution: Do try this at home
It was getting dark as I walked back to my mud house one evening. Just outside the door of my house I noticed a diya, a mud oil lamp had fallen to cracks on the floor. Curious by its current situation and location, I felt the wind had to be too violent in the daytime to bring it down from the hole in the wall where it was originally placed. And to the best of memory, I hadn’t noticed such a strong wind since the morning. I then shifted my attention to the hole only to notice it was occupied by something black. I went a little closer, and, to my amazement saw a small black bird with a few strands of moustache and puffed hair on her head. She stayed put there, alert yet comfortable, reciprocating my gaze. I couldn’t recognise the bird but, nonetheless, I was happy to have her in my house. I slowly walked into my room so as to not disturb her. From that day on, my dear friend came every day to take her place joyfully and welcome me when I came home. It was her home also for a few months in the winters.
I lovingly called her Sweety. It was not a pet name for she was not a pet but a friend, a co-trustee of the house. I would often talk to her while passing by and she acknowledged my presence. She would sometimes fly away when there were people at my door that weren’t aware of her presence. She was there for a couple of months in the wintertime and then she vanished. May be she had found another home, I thought. Only in the next winter did I meet her again, sitting in the same hole. She had returned to take her place, and so continued our affair.
I was struck with the idea of dating insects, birds, sometimes snakes, during my brief 8-month stay in Bangalore at the Bhoomi College campus. I was working there and during my non-working hours, from 4pm to 8am the following day, I was mostly alone. Loneliness crept in, making me a little sad until I discovered a toddler frog and a lizard in my empty kitchen. The frog left soon after, but the lizard stayed back. Her favourite place was the kitchen sink. The first time I saw her, she was in the sink. And the last time I saw her, she was still in the sink. She passed away in that same sink. I then lifted her frail body in my hands, took her to garden below and cremated her with prayers. Loneliness still came on brief stopovers, but I knew I was never alone.
There was a rat snake who would play hide and seek with me. He knew I was there, I knew he was there. But we both knew that patting each other was not a good option. So we acted as if we didn’t see each other.
On another occasion, I was walking out of my room when I noticed a grasshopper on my doorstep. Afraid that she might get locked inside or creep into my bedroom, I pushed the door hard, hoping to shoo her away. She didn’t budge. I pushed the door a little harder and banged it. She continued to stay on adamantly. Irritated, I pushed the door a little harder this time and she flew away. A few minutes later when I was returning to my room, I noticed the same grasshopper on a wall near the door of my house. I went close and noticed that she was building a nest. I felt ashamed of my act and prayed that I hadn’t hurt her. I couldn’t stop myself from looking at the beautiful nest she was building. We ended up spending hours together.
I have cherished this kind of live-in relationship with insects and wild creatures and somehow don’t like the dependency relationships we have with cats and dogs. These wild creatures are on their own, making their living, going about their daily business independently. All we need to share are some conversations at the table like this one.
Or in the garden, like this one here.
And the best time to catch up with your loved one is during a loo break. Every nook and corner will have some loved one you can to talk to. Sometimes there are lizards loitering about, sometimes there are spiders. A couple of weeks back, one of them gave birth to babies. Just 27 of them. I counted. I cursed her a little saying she could have waited for me to witness the birth. But nonetheless, I got to see these tiny little babies.
Spiders can be really funny sometimes and ditch you before you know it. Sometimes, midway through my conversations with them, I realise that I’m talking to their skeletons hanging on their own webs. One has to be really close, in a kind of macro-photography mode, to establish the presence or absence of bones and flesh in the skeleton. If you ever notice a dead spider (and if there isn’t any other spider visible on the same web), move your finger closer to the web and touch the spider. Most probably you’ll also touch the web. Well, if you don’t, then do it! If you happen to touch the strands of a spider's web, you will be amazed by the strength of it, much stronger than fevicol ka jod. Try jerking your hand away and it will stick hard, like Velcro.
I have found friends among these little creatures who come from nowhere and vanish into nowhere. Often we feel that the cement buildings we live in restrict their entry but if you notice carefully, in corners, under the roof, on a shelf not touched for a long time, or in between books, you will see life flourishing and nourishing. Only if we are slow and silent enough, can we hear them breathe, talk, eat, walk and love.
Our default mode of interaction with them, especially members of the insect and reptile community is Fight or Flight. Let me introduce you to the third F, one that has the potential to replace the first two: Friendship. Next time you come across one of them, look into their eyes. To do that, you first have to find their eyes. Once you have found them, look into them. Be gentle, love and talk to them. And possibly, they are looking into your eyes, too. Don’t worry if they fly and come and sit on your arms, shoulder or knees. It is their way of expressing their love and reciprocating yours.
Rahul currently works as a facilitator at an alternative learning space called Swaraj University (www.swarajuniversity.org). Part of his work is to create safe spaces for the learners to share, shift to self-designed learning, host sessions on re-thinking development, nature connect, team-building, cooperative games & dances, reconnecting with the ancestral roots, and decoding beliefs. He practises farming and gift culture in his efforts to live a simple and less consumption-oriented life. He has co-authored stories and plays on interconnected-ness and separation and has acted in them. He has translated and edited a book called ‘The Original Forest’ by Evelyn Sasamoto. He has also worked with Eternal Bhoomi, a quarterly magazine in Bangalore as a Sub-Editor and Layout artist. You can e-mail him at [email protected] and read his blog at http://thefreedomwalker.wordpress.com