In the background, I could hear the excited barking of my dogs; and voices faint, I assumed, that of my neighbours. Parvati sounded agitated - "There is a snake in the neighbour's house". More noises, the rapping of sticks, the slamming of doors - I pressed the phone to my ears. She said- "I can't stand this, snakes in the house, I am not scared of anything, but snake - ugghgh!!" "You ought to do something about it, why are you silent?"
I chuckle and tell her, well, finally, there is something in the world that scares you - "This is not funny, Balan!" I fell silent, remembering that Rat Snake long ago, slithering silent, scared, over the bed of dried leaves and disappearing into a hole. I remembered watching fascinated, its beautiful yellow head. In this 10 cents of wilderness right in the middle of the city, I have seen snakes, mongooses; a family of Palm Civets live right above my room, between the tiles and the wooden planks. From the small window of my bathroom, I have watched Kingfishers, Crows, Tree Pies, Tailor birds, Sunbirds, Small Green Barbets. Pariah Kites, Magpie Robins, Mynahs and Woodpeckers. Once in a while, a dainty little Shikra pays a visit. Years ago, Sparrows and Bulbuls used to be common; on the Mango tree, Golden Orioles would come and tweet. I still remember how excited I was one day to see a Forest Wagtail right beside the kitchen garden. No, not many birds come these days.
Parvati's voice woke me up - triumphant, she said - "Yes! They caught it and killed it, its a baby snake, I'm sure its mother is around. I can't stand this, I tell you, all these snakes and rats and cockroaches and geckos and mosquitoes and ants -"
Respectful of her phobias, I tell her gently that this is not Mars or the Moon this is Earth, this is our beautiful world with all the mosquitoes and snakes and rats and roaches. This is our world, of good and bad, beautiful and ugly, Hitler and Gandhi. Sad and joyful, this is it, Ammu. Just as you and I happen to be here, so too are they.
Switching off the phone, sinking into a reverie, I muse - as urban dwellings transform from homesteads and independent bunglows with a little patch of land to high-rise apartments, we grow more and more alienated from nature. Nature and wilderness is something you visit once in a while. Paddyfields, streams, ponds, the verdant greenery all have become rare and remote. Our lives are becoming barren and browned. As the greenery outside diminishes, so does that inside us. We become intolerant of every other being, including humans. Tolerance and acceptance of myself and my world as it is, in full understanding and respect for life, gives some value to our passing existence.
I turn my attention to the beautiful book I am reading, 'The Hidden Life of Dogs' by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas.
********** Balachandran V, Alappuzha, 01.12.2011