we walked along a narrow path that afternoon,
in the palani hills,
along the tar road on either side of which
were flowers i could not name,
but i told myself,
“well, they smell the same
to me as they do to those who know the name.
their colours are no different to my eye than they are to theirs.”
but then i do not know this for sure, do i?
surely i can’t see or smell or feel exactly as they do,
or even if i could how would i know?
alas, our inner worlds may never really meet,
and with a misaligned compass each,
north we go,
you yours and i mine.
“true north” is a lie,
you and i live under a different sky.
there were birds i nearly missed until someone pointed them out
so that i had to learn to keep my eyes still,
ears alert to their calls,
malabar whisting thrush, someone heard,
machan says it whistles like a schoolboy ambling along,
i pictured a schoolboy, a water-bottle round his neck,
a schoolbag on his shoulders, happily whistling away the afternoon
tripping on his own foot every now and then.
i listen in but i don’t hear the thrush.
machan says everyone looks like some animal,
and tries to pin me down,
confused, he consults wildlife ‘experts’ among us,
there’s much deliberation but no consensus.
i daydream by the window
as the bus snakes its way up the hill.
on the next day we walked into the forest,
three men came out of the woods,
wielding a big jar of fresh honey,
a bit of beeswax still there.
four hundred rupees a kilo, they said,
and offered us a taste of the sweet and sticky mush.
we tasted some, and washing my sticky hands in the stream,
i still awaited the call of the whistling thrush.
water falling down a cliff some 35 to 50 metres high,
dhruv and bala go down a path, followed by machan and i,
a little way ahead machan says he doesn’t like heights
that the slope was steep and the fall was deep,
my attempts at motivating him don’t work at all
and machan goes back to the top of the waterfall.
going down i reach the stream
following daisy the dog,
washing my feet and catching my breath
i head out further to look for the next waterfall.
i reach a quiet corner in the middle of the woods.
no people in sight,
i sit there and hear a schoolboy whistle, hush!
it is the malabar whistling thrush!
in that quiet wilderness
i sense a yearning,