The Silk Trap


“Mommy, mommy!” The little bug ran towards her mother.

“I’m not going foraging!” she cried.

“Budku! What have you told Chitkoo now?”

Budku chuckled to himself and flew swiftly away from his mother.

“Mommy! Budku says there are spiders out there! And they chase gnats into their silk traps! Is it true?”

Mommy bug let out a deep sigh. Budku had always been mischievous. But this time, he had been partially right.

“Come here, sweetie… don’t think too much about it… It’s too early to be thinking about foraging.”

Chitkoo hugged her mother and calmed down.

Mommy bug glared at Budku as he peeped from behind the fungus, even as she kept Chitkoo close to her. There were spiders, yes. But Chitkoo was in deeper danger at home than out there. Just yesterday she had spotted a web close to their home. It was Budku’s first day learning to fly, and he’d had quite the adventure.

“Out there, is a wonderland, my dear.” Mommy bug said softly.

“In a few days you’ll be ready to start flying on your own. And it will be fun. There are peels of fruits and vegetables all over the ground. And there are fungi. So many different types than the ones near our home. And there are seeds too. They are much harder to forage, but they are the ones that have the most goodness – the reward is worth the effort.”

“Yeah, and there are fruit flies,” added Budku. Mommy bug’s glare had had its effect. Budku changed his tone.

“They’re just the cutest – brown and round, floating slowly. You’ll really get along very well with them.”

“What about spiders?” Chitkoo asked, without looking around.

Mommy bug sighed. “Yes, dear. There are spiders,” she replied.

“But they are fewer than us gnats and flies. And they can’t fly. No! They crawl and spin webs, but we have wings and we can fly. Budku was chased by one today. And he was so scared. But he flew away. And you will learn to navigate the alleys.”

Mommy bug didn’t dare tell Chitkoo about how close Budku was to being spider-meal. But Chitkoo would have to fend for herself. Spiders weren’t the only threat.

Chitkoo looked up and caught her mother’s glare. She turned around to see her brother sitting next to the fungus. He loved fungus, and was always nibbling at it. But today he just sat there, too scared of his mother to even look at the white goodie.

Above the ground, the other gnats and flies were busy going about their foraging, when the heavens above opened up. “Giant alert! Giant alert!”

Bright light filled the the sky, and it began raining. The gnats and flies flew, as far apart as they could. The spiders ran for their lives. The giants were notorious for squishing the spiders, purely for game, it seemed. They sure didn’t eat the spiders.

It was all over in a few minutes. As it always did. The rains were always heavy, and buried the slower flies and gnats. But once the sky closed back, it was a feast. A fresh pile of food, and the spiders away for some time.

To be continued.

Cover image by Atul. (@chitraakriti)

Protected: The Journey


This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Bonsai


The characters and events of this story are only partly true. Many details have been lost due to my hazy memory, and some have been added to suit myself! Hope you enjoy.

A few years ago, my grandparents (mother’s parents) had hired the services of a man named Davis.

Every year, when we visited Chennai, we would see him at least once. He lived nearby, and would come whenever the services of a driver was needed.

Most of the time, I was too lost in my own world to consider talking to him. His lean figure, silver hair, and wrinkled face, combined with my rather poor judgement of age, suggested he was at least sixty years of age, if not more. That was all I knew about him.

He would often talk, and sometimes argue, with my grandmother about gardening. It was something that both of them were very fond of.

During one of our annual visits, he promised to gift us a plant. And true to his word, on the day we were to leave, he handed over a beautiful bonsai to me.

It was a shallow pot, and the top soil had been covered with smooth white pebbles. One look at the plant, and the way it was presented, showed just how much he cared for it.

While everyone was busy packing, he found a curious listener in me. He explained to me in detail the procedure of growing a bonsai. It had taken him fifteen years to craft the bonsai that was now in my palms. Perhaps he saw something in my expression, and gave me instructions on how to maintain it.

He told me to carefully uproot the plant periodically and trim away the excess roots. He told me to cut away the extra branches. He said that to make the trunk grow thicker, it should not be allowed to grow taller. I told him that I would keep that in mind. It sounded quite scary. I was sure if I tried it, I would surely kill it.

The plant looked beautiful, and the fact that it had taken so many years of hard work, made me feel proud to hold it.

Mr Davis gave me one more piece of advice. He told me, to always keep it in the sun. I told him that the summers are harsh, it would die. He repeated himself, in a more peruasive tone, ” Let it face the harshest sun, the most severe monsoon, but never ever keep it in the shade. Let it face the elements”.

Once we reached home we placed the bonsai along with the rest of the plants. It looked like the only graceful one amongst a bunch of wild hooligans.

Many months passed, and its branches began growing. I asked my father if we should cut it. He said, “Do it yourself if you are so sure”.

I trembled.

On the one hand, I felt sad for the plant. How it must have yearned to grow. What hardships it went through for our pleasure. It was barbaric to admire something that involved such cruelty.

On the other hand, I remembered what Mr Davis had told me. He had spent so many years doing what I couldn’t dare. All of his hard work would now go away. I felt I had let him down.

My grandparents had shifted to another house by the time I visited them again and I haven’t seen Mr Davis since. I do not know where he is. I do not remember his words. But the meaning of his conversation is clear in my head.

The bonsai was never cut. Now its branches have spread far and it has been shifted to a larger pot. I did not follow his instructions and let the bonsai grow wild like the others. But, if you are reading this, Mr Davis, I did follow one advice. I never let it be in the shade. Even as some plants were kept inside to protect them from the harsh climate, I let it face the elements.

Pigeons – part II – The adventurous one


More pigeons!

Pigeons are practical creatures. And for them, life carries on. By autumn, they were back and had apparently decided to start afresh. They began building another nest. Once again we watched them follow their strict regimen of using the specially demarcated in and out gates. This is how we assumed they were the same pigeons which had built a nest earlier.

Once again she laid eggs. We hoped that this time the nest was better constructed and waited in anticipation for the eggs to hatch. And sure enough, this time, there were two little bundles of joy.

It took us some time to realise that they had entered this world. But once they began squeaking in their high pitched voices, there was no ignoring them. Everyday we would stand at the edge of the balcony, as far as the railing would allow us, to catch a glimpse of yellow bare chicks. They would sit fairly still like well behaved children while their parents would go and fetch some food. But at the sight of either parent, they would get excited. Jumping up and down, pecking away at their mother, the two of them would scream and demand their share of the food.

It had become a daily ritual. Each of us would go to the edge and watch as the little ones grew a little larger. Every day at the dining table, the topic of discussion would be the progress made by the little ones. How, with each passing day, they were becoming more energetic, more noisy. “I saw them walking today ”. “Yes! You noticed how much she has to run these days? As soon as she arrives, the little ones run after her”. “It was so cute! The mother running away from her kids!”. “I think they can’t wait to fly”.

One morning, when we made our usual trip to the edge of the balcony, we found one of the little ones had got stuck. Maybe its excitement got out of hand and while running around, its leg got trapped. The leg was caught between the wooden block and the frame supporting the artificial roof.

It was struggling to lift itself up. It was flapping its small wings and squeaking, clearly putting in its best efforts to climb out. But it was still too small. The mother was sitting next to it. We went inside and hoped that it would find a way to climb out of the mess it had got itself in. We felt uneasy. Every few minutes, we would go and check. But it was still stuck. It was still giving its best shot, but in vain.

Our uneasiness grew. The mother was still sitting there. Was she bothered at all? Or did she have no clue as to how to help the chick? How could she not try to rescue it? Had she given up hope? Whether or not she had these thoughts, we can never tell. But the uneasiness was too much for us.

By afternoon, we had decided to do something. The plan was to use a walking stick to reach up and shift the surfboard just a little bit so that its leg would be able to come out.

My father volunteered to nudge the board as my mother and I watched. Just as he was reaching up with the stick, both of us screamed as we simultaneously realised that maybe it could go horribly wrong and that the board would shift much more and the little one could potentially fall. My mother rushed to grab a pillow. But it was a little too late. Our fears became a reality. The mother flew away. The chick came crashing down.

We stood there for a few seconds in shock at what we thought was a dead bird.

We waited for what seemed like an eternity. Then we saw some movement. It was getting up and dragging itself. It was struggling to balance itself.

That was our first real close look at the chick. It was so small, so fragile, so cute, and so scared. It looked immensely adorable as it tried to move. But none of us felt happy. It was in pain. Perhaps the fall had damaged something. We watched for a little while longer. We were not sure what to do next.

The tension at that point was absolutely incredible. Here was a chick, in a rather helpless state. And we were sure that its mother would not come near the chick because of its proximity to us. We feared that it may not survive the injuries that it could have possibly sustained.

Not knowing what to do, I searched for information on how to care for little birds. Most resources suggested that birds were designed to survive falls and that many times the birds would deliberately throw out the chicks so that they would learn to fend for themselves. I also learned that it is best not to interfere in their lives, for they may become dependent on humans, and learn not to fear them. And this would be rather dangerous for them.

But this one was not kicked out. Perhaps it was too small to fend for itself. So, ignoring all the advise, we spread some boiled rice near the chick. It moved away and refused to eat. We pushed the rice closer to it, but it kept moving away. Clearly it only wanted to be fed by its mother.

Afternoon soon turned into night and the chick had not eaten for almost the whole day. The chick seemed to become tired. It had not eaten much, and was constantly trying to hide from us. It was scared of us and desperately shrieking. It wanted its mother.

My brother was home from work and on hearing the entire course of events, came up with a plan. He took a handful of wheat flour and tried to force the bird to eat. I lifted the chick and held it as gently as I could. It was fidgeting and trying to free itself. It was pecking at the my brother’s hands. But we had no clue if it was eating at all. Its beak was closed and the pecking seemed more of an assault. We tried to feed it a few more times, but it all seemed fruitless.

Before going to sleep we took one more look. It had taken shelter near the rocking chair. The parents were perched at the nest. It was a little cold outside, so we decided to bring it inside.

We kept it on a pillow. And, to prevent it from moving about, we kept a hollow cane “moda” on top of it.

The next morning we put it outside again and asked the cleaner to be careful. We tried to stay as far away as we could.

At lunch, we were discussing conspiracy theories about the parents not being bothered about the chick. “Maybe they knew that it would not survive, so did not bother to waste time on the chick”. “Maybe that chick has a defect in its leg. You noticed how it was limping?”. “The parents would know better than us, right? I think they have come to terms with reality. Very practical.” We had almost come to terms with what we thought was the “reality”. Then my father announced, “One of the parents was sitting on the floor near the chick this morning”.

So the parents were still concerned about the chick. That day the chick became a little more sure of itself. It began moving about a lot more. It seemed to be curious to see the world, moving in a rather excited manner. It would try to look under the junk lying around. As its confidence grew, it seemed to have no care in the world. It seemed to enjoy the open space. It wanted to explore its new found freedom.

We were a little relieved but even more apprehensive now. We were the ones who were cautious. Every time we thought about entering our balcony, we would look for the chick, so that we would not accidentally step on it.

But it still refused to eat anything that we had to offer. Clearly its instincts were still intact. It would still try to walk away from us.

The next day, we decided that it would not be safe for the chick to be on the floor. It needed to be taken care of by its parents. We located a high table and my father climbed up. I handed him the chick and as he raised his hand, the mother flew away, and he put the chick back up on the surfboard.

We waited for the mother to be back. And when she came back, everything seemed to be normal.

In the next few weeks, we saw the chicks transform into adults. The yellow flesh began growing grey feathers. The neck became a little longer and before we knew it, they were beginning to spread their wings.

Taking small steps, they first flew from the surfboard to another frame. Then they made their way to the clothes-line. They did not seem to be scared. They would sit on the swing or the clothesline and if we went near, they would not even bother to move. When they flew out, we would have to duck out of their way to avoid collision!

Soon they began to fly outside and stopped coming back.

The parents, however, decided to stick around. In the absence of the young ones, the balcony was a quieter place. But the older pigeons were still a source of entertainment for us. Watching them would always liven up a boring day.


A ‘moda’ is a piece of furniture made of cane or bamboo.

Pigeons – part I


Sometime in March of last year, I wrote a very long account of our encounters with a certain species called ‘pigeons’. Since it was rather long, I decided to split it up… Hope you enjoy…

A sheet of fibre glass and an awning supported by an iron frame cover the largest open space of our 2nd floor house – the balcony. And like every city balcony, ours also has its fair share of visitors in all shapes and sizes. From lizards and ants to squirrels and pigeons.

Most visitors keep to themselves. But pigeons are rather friendly.

During summers, whenever we water the flowerpots in our balcony, they make it a point to sit around a small puddle of water on the floor. They wet their wings, dip their beaks in the water, rub their necks, shake their heads… It all looks like some funky dance routine.

The birds are a lot like spoilt children. And like children, there are times when they start making noise and throwing tantrums. “You are sitting so comfortably within your concrete den while we are outside in this harsh weather. Have you no concern for us?” Well, at least that’s what we imagine them to be saying. More often than not, we try to pacify them by spreading bread crumbs on the outer railing. Most of the time, they wait for us to step inside, before attacking the crumbs. But there are times when they shed their inhibitions and very boldly take food away even before we finish laying the platter.

We would often see pigeons sitting in a nest in our neighbour’s balcony. And I have always wondered what it would be like to have a nest in our balcony. As children, we’ve seen nature programmes on television. How eggs hatch, how absolutely adorable the chicks are, how the parent feeds the chicks and how the young ones take their first step and tumble around. Seeing that happen, in reality, would be so wonderful.

When we moved into our house, construction workers left behind all sorts of scrap material. And our balcony had become part junk-yard and part garden. We had some problem with space, so blocks of wood and some surfboards were propped up on the frame of the fibre glass. We intended to clear up the mess – little by little. But before that, something else happened.

They say be careful what you wish for – you might just get it!

And that is what happened. Our neighbours moved out, and with them, so did the pigeons. In summer, they were in our balcony. And our blocks of wood and surfboards were enough for them. The birds began building a nest on the little space that they got. Before we knew it, the pigeons not only had a makeshift nest, but also an egg.

Birdwatching became our new pastime and a regular dinner-table conversation. During the day one pigeon would sit on the egg (We assumed it to be the mother) while the other would bring sticks to complete the incomplete nest. Their nest was always a work-in-progress. Some sticks would fall down, and the pigeon would continuously keep working to mend the gap.

They must have been superstitious, for they never picked up the sticks that had fallen down. It was almost as if they thought, “It fell down. It is bad. We need a good stick that will not fall”.

There was a tiny gap between the awning and the sheet of fibre glass. While bringing the sticks, the pigeon would use that tiny gap to enter the balcony. There were open skies just beyond the awning. But it would not use that to enter. The larger open space was used strictly for exiting. It would then return with another stick, held firmly in its beak. Again it would enter using the small gap – not the larger open space. It was as if it had designated the two spaces as in and out. The in gate would not be used for flying out and the out gate would not be used for entering.

This ritual continued for many days and we loved to observe their daily routine. We simply could not wait for the egg to hatch.

But fate had other plans.

That little space was not enough to support the nest. And the egg that she had laid came crashing down.

There was an unbearable stench. The broken egg and its lifeless contents were cleared away and after sometime, the stench had reduced. But our disappointment and heartbreak would take a lot more than cleaning, to get over. It is hard for us to know whether they had the kind of emotions that we had. They expressed their grief by simply flying away.

For many days we felt their absence. They would occasionally visit, but they did not attempt to build another nest. Perhaps memories haunted them…

Rain


‘The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.’ – Chuck Close

If I were a professional writer, I would have said I’ve got the writer’s block. But I’d rather put it down to a lack of inspiration. After all, amateurs need inspiration! Here’s a little piece I wrote some time back, when I was inspired to write. It is the only piece of fiction I have managed to write so far. Hope you enjoy!

2 May 2010, Sunday

I was sitting at my desk, getting frustrated over a problem regarding my work, when my niece stormed into the room.

“How can you be sitting here cramped up in this little space? Look at the weather outside!”

“Oh damn! There goes my concentration! I almost had it figured out!”, I cried out.

“Serves you right! You keep cribbing about everything. Now look at the weather. It is just so amazing, and you are ignoring it! Take a break will you!”, she retorted.

I knew it would be pointless to argue with her. She would beat me hands down. So I sighed and gave in.
“I suppose I could take five minutes off”
“Much better! Now stop being grumpy.”

She grabbed my hand and led me to our verandah.

Our verandah was a place unlike any other. It was the largest room in the house, and it provided a beautiful view of the forest which was a little distance from the residential complex. It was what I called a slice of heaven. It was my escape – from work, from the desk and most importantly, from people.

The verandah was, as always, beautiful. But today, it was even more radiant. I leaned on the railing and looked up. The sky was heavy with low-lying dark clouds. The trees were gently swaying to the rhythm of the wind. The air was full of the intoxicating fragrance of moist earth. I took a deep breath and sank into the chair.

In an instant, I forgot all about my work. I had been transported into another world.
“There are hot pakoras in the kitchen. Available only on first-come, first-served basis! Hurry up, or there won’t be any left.” And my niece disappeared, leaving me with the elements. I was grateful to her for bringing me out, and I was happy, that I did not have to share this space with anyone.

I closed my eyes and felt the cool breeze on my face. It was not long before little drops of water came crashing down, like pet dogs rushing to owners to lick them. As the first drops struck me, a chill ran down my spine. I felt like I was on a dangerous adventure. I was afraid, of what, I do not know. And I was thrilled. Only a few drops of water had released a range of emotions. I sat there, mesmerised, oblivious of my surroundings.

Little drops became larger, and the breeze gained velocity. I took shelter under the roof. But I could still feel the raindrops. I felt like I was meeting old friends in a coffee shop. Longing to meet them, screaming with joy on seeing them, but sad that the moment will not last for long.

I lost track of time. For a long time, I only heard the breeze and felt the rain. Until someone splashed a glass of water on my face.

“What’s wrong with you? Your boss is on the phone. We’ve been calling out for so long. Didn’t you hear?”