Saturday, 27 June 2009

How to be a bad bird watcher

How to be a bad birdwatcher by Simon Barnes

Look out of the window.
See a bird.
Enjoy it.

Congratulations. You are a bad birdwatcher.

With these simple sentences Simon Barnes opens the doors to the most engaging and pleasurable of all human activities. Bird watching. Every human is a birdwatcher. Rather a bad birdwatcher. Ever since as a two year old you chased pigeons in the park you have unknowingly taken another step further down the trail of human fascination with birds as stamped upon this earth by your long-forgotten ancestors.

Why do we watch birds? Birds are colourful, they fly, they sing and they are about hope – that thing with feathers. How can any mere mortal be immune to such tantalizing charms? Which more than adequately explains Simon Barnes joy at spotting a “shikara - a jet-propelled Asian hawk - when covering a cricket match in Bangalore.” Everyone seems to have at least one happy memory that is indelibly linked with birds. Though it may not be their RSPB moment, as yet.

To appreciate why birds are the most studied and documented of all living creatures, why hanging out peanuts for blue tits is an act of revolution, how there is “something childlike about the best of bird watching”, how bird places aren’t important because bird watching is a nice hobby, how magpies are just being magpies and succeed very well at being that and how observing England footballers compares with watching birds you just need to walk through Simon Barnes authoritative tome on How to be a bad bird watcher.

And if along the way you begin to appreciate where humans stand in the wider living world and join Mr Barnes to sing a paean to the greater glory of life just think to yourself what a wonderful world it would be.

(Afterthoughts on books: part 10)

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Forgetting to start again

(All Photograph by Anvita Lakhera.)
On an impulse we get off the bus at some village that we can’t even recollect the name of just because as the bus had twisted and turned its way up the mountains we had chanced upon that pond half obscured by trees with a duck house and the proud homeowner swimming blissfully close by. 20 Villa Duck 08 said the inscription below its roof. So naturally we stopped for a while and admired the housekeeping skills of the Mallard before continuing our hike back to Grindelwald.

Only to meet the Kleine Freuden Baume (Small Pleasure Trees) waving their multi-hued branches in the soft mountain breeze as the flutter of paper birds and gentle rattle of painted tin cans contemplated what a small pleasure really looks like. At least when seen from the eyes of young school children and aimlessly wandering travelers.

As life and light started to pack up for the day we sat at our hotel porch looking up to the overwhelming North face of the Eiger till it seemed to move inch by inch closer to us when our eyes caught the diminutive (in comparison) range at its right side, at least from where we looked. Quite appropriately countless seasons of snow and rain had carved into the thick, dark rock Winnie the Pooh with his nose tilted up seemingly mesmerized by the play of cloud and wind against the blue sky but more likely to be sniffing in search of honey. Watching him watch the sky we were almost certain at any moment he would ask, “Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?”

Around forty eight hours after spying Winnie the Pooh in the Swiss Alps we find ourselves in a Lebanese eatery in South Kensington surrounded by facile comments about the world economy, white wine and the Indian Navy budget while the lady who loves to dance, blissfully but unsuccessfully, matches the belly dancer step for step.

The distance between simplistic and simplicity is probably more daunting to ascend than soloing the Eiger North face in 2 hours, 47 minutes and 33 seconds.

We stop to think but prefer to forget to start again.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

The Crack-Up

The Crack-Up with other Pieces and Storiesby F. Scott Fitzgerald.

“Of course all life is a process of breaking down…” thus begins The Crack-Up one of the most personal pieces ever written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Watching the world, as we know it collapse around us or rather irrevocably break down and searching for ways to paste together whatever is left of human civilization these words become even more poignant. For Fitzgerald, the voice and conscience of the Jazz Age, was chronicling a similar decline albeit of the 1930’s.

The pent up energy lying waste during the years of the First World War unleashed the ‘Roaring Twenties’ when the soaring American stock market obliterated everything that was perceived as traditional. It was an era dominated by Modernism, Art Deco and all sorts of new advancements like the automobile, air travel and the telephone, which eventually collapsed in a heap of insignificance with the coming of the Great Depression. Leading Fitzgerald to ponder over how and why he ended up “…mortgaging myself physically and spiritually to the hilt”. His scathing self-analysis leads him to a new dispensation however “…just as the laughing stoicism, which has helped the American Negro to endure the terrible conditions of his existence, has cost him his sense of the truth – so in my case there is a price to pay. I do not any longer like the postman…nor the cousin’s husband, and he in turn will come to dislike me, so that life will be never very pleasant again, and the sign Cave Canem is hung permanently above my door.”

Just like the The Crack-Up, the other pieces and stories in this collection deal with not just Fitzgerald’s personal experiences but with how an entire generation had to face up to challenges for which most were neither physically nor emotionally prepared. It wasn’t just a matter of adapting to a changing lifestyle but a far more serious issue of debating human values and what we would choose to paste together when everything around us gets broken down.

The parallels between the early years of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century run so close together that beyond a point they seem to be mirror images of each other. And the development of human societies appears to be trapped in this endlessly ride over the waves of a boom followed by a bust. Whereby we end up with letting go of more than we collectively gain.

Even Esquire, which first published The Crack Up in 1936, felt the time was opportune enough to republish it. However the fact that they linked Fitzgerald’s critical self-analysis with Britney Spear’s breakdown speaks volumes about the era we live in and what we’ll choose to preserve when it all comes down. You can read The Crack- Up here .

(Afterthoughts on books: part 9)

Sunday, 7 June 2009

And I'm a Rose!

A sepal, petal, and a thorn
Upon a common summer's morn -
A flask of Dew - A Bee or two -
A Breeze - a caper in the trees -
And I'm a Rose!

(Emily Dickinson)