Darjeeling tea, with a touch of loose leaf Assam adding colour as well as fullness of flavour, a December afternoon’s wintry sunshine, Mendelssohn’s Leider Ohne Worte [Songs without words]: the recipe for a perfect, lazy Sunday.
The air is still; barely a rustle among the leaves. The odd pigeon flies from tower to tower. The intermittent cry of a child for its mother or someone talking loudly on his cell phone disturbs the quietness, but not enough to send me back indoors, into the chilly, sunless north half of my apartment.
Last week, I had been nudged by Manisha to go see an exhibition. And when I pulled up the chicks this morning, a large flock of pigeons flying past, gracing my view, reminded me of Amina Ahmed’s video – ‘The Call or Bism’ ,shown at Gallery Seven Art, which showed a flock of flying birds and the patterns they make as they fly back and forth. They do make a wonderful sight as they take to the skies and I appreciate being reminded of the beauty in this, that otherwise goes unnoticed in the humdrum of daily living. Pigeons inhabit this building more than human beings do. They nest in every crevice and potted plant and are a nuisance with their incessant droppings. It’s only on occasions like this that one is able to appreciate some facet of their existence.
I relate to Amina’s idea that these birds flock to a call, unheard by human ear, for why else would they all seemingly rush in one direction, inexplicably, following each other? What is it that they hear? Do they hear or simply sense something that compels them take a particular direction? There are some that initially take off in the same direction but then move rapidly away. And the few stray ones that probably never quite hear the call fly hither, thither, rather aimlessly, as if confused. Or maybe they are just less connected?
Most of the time, I have to confess, I think of them as stupid birds for the mess they create but, of late, my more detailed observations of them has brought about a change in perception. I recollect one time, when having run out of the bajra[i] that I usually feed them each morning, I decided to give the hungry birds, pecking on my window pane, some roasted sunflower seeds I had bought for myself and noted how they didn’t touch a single seed. Stupid they may seem, I decided then, but they clearly knew what they liked or didn’t. Since then, a grudging admiration has arisen.
I wanted to dwell on this ‘flight’, the seemingly intuitive response of mute birds to something unknown. It intrigues but my lazy Sunday reflections have been rudely interrupted by a party in the complex. Some resident and their guests are jiving to loudly played ‘Desi Boyz’. The mix of Hindi lyrics, a heavy, pounding bass, designed for jhatkas and matkas and Barenboim’s delicate tinkling on the piano, of Mendelssohn’s lyrical pieces, is such a crazy sound that the moment of reflection is lost. These Songs without words were early compositions when Mendelssohn was just nineteen and German music was shifting from compositions of the more rigid, classical forms, towards romanticism. They were the perfect accompaniment for ruminations on a Sunday afternoon and I most certainly, did not appreciate the Bollywood intervention.
I was not willingly to sacrifice my sunshine either, so requested that the volume be turned down. I cannot relate to the culture of listening to such loud music that you cannot even think! Maybe that is the idea? Frankly, thinking can be a pain. It’s tedious to reach that understanding where the heart and mind are in synch and this is what intrigues me about the mute birds that do not seem to need to think. When they are called, by the divine, as Amina Ahmed suggests, then their response is seemingly collective, without resistance, or delay. This is the stuff I admire, because, for the thinking mind, the intellectual who has learned to depend on logic and reason, it’s tough. We need to understand. At least I do.
Actually, it isn’t the thinking that irks as much, as how much time and energy it takes to put things into perspective and even though it’s necessary for clarity, in order to deal with what comes up through the day, it also makes me feel inefficient, because there always seems to be so much thought to process. And if one does not, then the aches and pains start. But then I think: I wouldn’t really like to be a pigeon, aimlessly flitting, constantly shitting, messing up the place and then sleeping in this crap too. Like people, nature and her creatures are a constant source of inspiration, but can we ever be anything other than what we are?
The noisy music, screaming children, hysterical mothers and loud telephonic conversations are getting to me. They did try turning the music volume down but it still disturbed. I wanted to savour the soft lyrical music on my head phones but it really was a futile endeavour so I went indoors to meditate.
When I returned an hour later, the party had wound up and the birds seemed nowhere in sight, till I heard a mock gunshot; and from somewhere, they all appeared in the same formation, I had wanted to romanticise about earlier in the day. Someone must have fired a shot to compel them vacate the crevices they had sought refuge in, creating an inconvenient mess, not to mention the objectionable stench. When I saw they did the same thing when there was a sound I could also hear, as they did earlier, when I had considered they were responding to something heard at a frequency inaudible to the human ear, I realised this is what birds do, they fly. Their call is to just to be what they are meant to be; do what they were created to do.
Within hearing distance they all rose rapidly up into the sky, carving the wind with their wings; flapping them energetically but effortlessly. Doing what birds were made to do; they flew up into the air, rising higher and higher, inspiring my own spirit to soar and reach greater heights, live the dream, and fulfil all its ambitions and desires. Hearing this call or ‘Bism’, I realised that just like the birds who do what they must; be what they were meant to be, so must we.