What the mynas told me

Published: Apr 24, 2020, 04:48 IST | Rosalyn D'mello | Mumbai

We look for signs everywhere but, absurdly, forget that signs have their own language and need a listening-friendly environment

I think also of that sequence in The Great Beauty, when the nun-saint, Sister Maria, La Santa, is found by Jep amid a flock of perched flamingoes
I think also of that sequence in The Great Beauty, when the nun-saint, Sister Maria, La Santa, is found by Jep amid a flock of perched flamingoes

picI have this growing suspicion that the mynas have been trying to establish a line of communication with me. Lunch on Wednesday, for instance, was interspersed with their squawking.

This morning, when not even the aroma of freshly concocted coffee placed on my bedside table by my partner was able to rouse me from my deep slumber, it was their screeching that cajoled me into being immediately awake.

It was as if they were in my room, which I knew wasn't possible, since we'd closed the windows at night, to obstruct the movement of trespassing mosquitoes. I got up and lightly bunched up the sari-curtain to glimpse the world outside. Four mynas had been conferencing upon the surface of my window AC. They stood across from each other in pairs, exchanging loud notes on matters of possibly great significance. When they noticed me, they alighted quickly and perched themselves on a window on the building across from mine.

Even now, they seem to out-chirp other sounds. It is only in the interstices between their chattering that I am able to ascertain the omnipresent high-pitched articulations of squirrels, and, occasionally, the music blaring from a loudspeaker housed within the basti next door.

I wonder if they're admonishing me for procrastinating, or if they are urging me to create by permeating my conscience. I know it's most likely that they're simply existing in spite of me, or in happy ignorance of my existence, but I am drawn to the idea of birds as carriers of signs, as active agents in the unfolding of climactic events. Emily Dickinson must have had a similar notion, which accounts for why she must have declared that hope was the thing with feathers.

Something moved inside my soul when I saw recent videos and images of flamingoes flocking wetlands in Navi Mumbai. Because of the mass-scale quarantine, and the subsequent dearth of human activity, there has allegedly been almost a 25 per cent increase in the number of flamingoes that have shown up this year. If this is not hope, what is? Humankind is always looking for signs, but we tend to absurdly forget that signs speak in their own non-linguistic dialect, and to decipher what is being said, we must facilitate a listening-friendly environment.

I think the mynas know that the book I should be writing, 'The Miracle of the Loaves and Fish' is about tongues. What confuses me most about their chirping is the wide range of sounds they are able to produce, from melodious sing-song-like tweeting to aggressive squawks to littler whines that are whistled forth effortlessly. Are they mocking me with their irrepressibility?

I have been practising so much restraint, in my cooking and my writing; paring both activities down to essentials, not allowing for excesses of either ingredients or sensation. I wanted any and all forms of eloquence that emerged from the depths of my intuition to travel back into my body, to seep back in so that my blood would become drenched with all my unrecorded articulations. I have been longing to write from the point of spill, from the point where the words ooze from within my being, so that writing becomes necessary, an urgent remedial act that impedes the flood, that serves to contain the delirium. This is how I would infuse my book with vitality.

The mynas know that I am procrastinating. They, the newly anointed gatekeepers of my conscience, can see through the masquerade of my productivity. My painstakingly evolved routine is not a sham, but a cover. It offers the delusion of fruition that lets me sleep at night.

It is so much easier, so much less laborious, to spend an hour each morning exercising, to cook two gourmet-like meals, to bake bread, to revert to crochet as yet another strategy for subverting prayer and meditation, to read books, essays, to wrestle with learning a new, complex language with four cases than it is to write.

I often seek succour in Nissim Ezekiel's poem, 'Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher', especially the lines about waiting for words, then risking surrendering, never speaking until the spirit moved. I think also of that sequence in The Great Beauty, when the nun-saint, Sister Maria, La Santa, is found by the middle-aged protagonist, Jep, who is suffering from his version of writer's block, on his Colosseum-facing balcony in the pitch black of night, amid a flock of perched flamingoes. After a small conversation between the two, she makes a gesture of breathing out, bidding the flamingoes take flight.

My neighbour, an artist, who has, unlike me, actually been spending almost 16 hours a day tethered to his pages, reminded me, the other evening, of something reassuring that Thomas Mann said, "A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." It has helped. Maybe the mynas are urging me to take a leap of faith and begin.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
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