Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Have you ever looked a Pigeon in The Eye?

Have you ever looked into the eyes of a pigeon?

I was just settling down for some meditation this evening when two pigeons outside my window, caught my attention. It's just past half past six and each day at this hour, many pigeons congregate on the railing of an absentee neighbours's apartment. They line up on the rail, in between the curves and lines of the wrought-iron balustrade to sleep or rest at night. It's a crowded railing dormitory, where I can see more pigeons than iron. Feathers in shades of grey and the pigeons' creepy pinkish claws, overtake the otherwise green, painted grill.

However, these two pigeons were sitting aside from the congregation. They'd chosen the pipes outside the bathroom shaft on my floor and each was seated on the circular joints  of the wide, rainwater pipe which is fixed alongside the bathroom wall. The two pigeons were seated about a foot apart, one below the other. What caught my attention was the vacant look in their eyes. Since the pipes are not visible from where I sat, and are probably placed well into the walled area, all I could see of each pigeon were the beak and it's left eye. One small orb, the colour of which is sort-of raw sienna infused with golden yellow, is pierced at its dead central point, with a tiny black dot.

The human eye is so expressive and all the four dogs that I've lived and grown up with, their eyes were always so filled with expressiveness. Labradors, especially, have such emotive eyes. So, I was quite taken aback to see these dull-expressionless eyes, staring vacantly into space. Both were doing exactly the same thing and give or take a glance, the look was ditto.

I see pigeons everyday. I don't really want to see them because they make such an unholy mess, but they abound in such large numbers that I can't help but see them virtually every moment, every hour, everyday.  In the monsoons, their presence is particularly irksome because, the wetness of rain on their accumulated poo, emits a really foul odour. But, ten years of living with them, I've realised that ignoring them isn't going to help, so I've learned to deal with the mess. There's an elaborate cleaning system in place, but each morning the verandah is covered with their crap and fallen feathers. It never ceases to amaze me just how many feathers they shed each night or how much they can poop.

Because I didn't really want to acknowledge their presence, I guess I hadn't ever looked them in the eye. I feed them every morning and have written about their feeding antics, but looking into their eyes was something I'd never done before. It was an entirely new and surprisingly revealing experience.

Every once in a while, one of the two pigeons within my view, sitting outside my window, would tuck its face - lower it into itself, almost like cowering - but maybe that's the way they cuddle themselves to sleep? Anyway, the strangely vacant eye would close and all I could see was a light grey indent where the yellow and black orb had been. They don't have eyelids but a kind of veil covers up the eye with a sheath of feathers - well, I don't know this, but it looks as if the texture of the cover that eclipsed the orb is akin to that of its feathers.

I considered the possibility that the vacant stare was a process of winding down before a nap. But the other pigeon was actively looking here and there. It's posture was quite expressive - especially the neck region but the eye still had this petrified look. I wondered if they were in a state of 'terror alert' because they felt threatened in the cemented towers that had risen where once there had been trees. It's habitat, at least here in Gurgaon, had changed considerably from lush green farmland to painted green cemented facades and wrought-iron grills. No-one accustomed to the languid landscape of a delicately billowing green and yellow mustard crop or lush wheat fields could really feel comfortable in the urban clatter that is our life here today. No matter how much we tell ourselves that we adjust, I'm not sure that it's ever a comforting space to be uprooted thus, is it?

And  then I noted that the napping one, didn't nap for more than a couple of minutes at a time. It would retreat the light grey cover, into some pocket behind the eye, to reveal its petrified yellow and black retina again. Then it would lower its chin so that the feathers on the neck were ruffled by the posture. No long, elegant neck here, it was shortened and in pushing it into its body the feathers gathered, opening out in what didn't seem comforting, but a ruffled or agitated state. It was peculiar to observe how it appeared to cocoon itself - at least the neck, in a not so comforting state. But who knows, maybe it was comforting to have a part of its body thus enveloped by itself - like giving yourself a hug? It too doesn't look particularly elegant but it does work, right?

I kept my vigil, I wanted to look into those eyes again. I wanted to understand this apparent lack of expression. Unlike the human eye where the eye-ball moves and we can soften the gaze in love, roll our eyes in distaste and squint to see without one's spectacles, the pigeon's orb was stationary. It just didn't move. And through all the shenanigans of its companion a foot below, its eyes, and of this one I could see both left and right, remained petrified - and totally unchanging in their glance.

In our human state, at the core of one's being, is an unchanging space which is often called the Self. This is changeless and unperturbed regardless of what unfolds in our lives. The mind may rave and rant, throw tantrums or fall hopelessly in love,  but in this space it's all acceptable without demur.  This non-being space is not seen. It can only be felt. Somehow, the pigeon too seems to have been imbued with this facility -  to view the world with an unmoving stare. Albeit one that was petrified - almost implying that it had internalised its fear to such an extent that it's manifestation had become genetic and now applicable to the entire species.

Are we heading in the same direction?

With an increasing frequency of terrorist attacks, rape, murder and suicides, along with curtailed freedom of dress and expression, topping the long list of woes that plague the human life, is the fabric of our presence and its essence of love, moving towards an over-dye of fear?

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