Nilgiri Tahrs (or Ibexes) are goat antelopes exclusively reside along a 400 kilometer in-between the Nilgiri Hills and the Ashambu Hills. Found at elevations of 1000 to 2500m above sea level, they are cautious, tough as nails and dashingly-handsome. The last time I saw them was early this year in Valparai. It was unexpected since it was late in the morning. They are known to disappear into the thickness of shola forests during these hours.
The three years I spent in college felt about two-and-a-half years too long. Since I possessed none of the characteristics of the Tahr, I needed a happy place to survive. A shola forest would have been perfect. Not to escape the soulless drudgery of the modern education system. Just to hide behind a tree. Stay there until the smoldering heap of embarrassment that was my pursuit of individualism turns into sawdust.
Most of my classmates bored me to tears as much as some of the teachers led me to it, with their harassment of written and oral communication. It was just like high school. I scrapped through exams and engaged in small talk. Little things I had to do to avoid being voted “Most Likely To Be Sheepishly Escorted Off Life For Failed Arson Attempt And/Or Bad Poetry”.
There was a tea shop attached to a restaurant about 500 meters from the college’s front gate. They sold cigarettes, coffee, cutlets, sandwiches and fruit juices. Many castaways from college frequented here. During odd hours and daily lunch breaks. It didn’t look or smell a happy place. Only to us, it felt like one.
We had concluded that society, at large, was pretentious and cruel. We had sworn that literature freed our souls and music, when drowned in, helped us grow gills. We thought we were special. In reality, we were unoriginal – at best. Most of us dressed in black, wearing our ideals on branded tee-shirts. We had Che posters gracing our bedroom walls. Even though we couldn’t differentiate Karl Marx from Groucho Marx.
We were anti-authoritarians, contrarians, liberals, romantics and rebels. But we didn’t knew what any of those words meant or where they came from. We just went Nietzschean on ourselves, turning into the archetypes.
I still recollect my college years with a bit of embarrassment. But it has, off late, occurred to me that our pasts, in their damnedest moods, can only be part-time monsters. I might loathe the dumb teenager I once was, but I like the little bastard. If it wasn’t for him, my life might have turned out bad. Or worse – one without birds.
It was his actions, reckless as they may be, that has gotten me to where I am today. And his opinions, irrespective of how sanctimonious they were, helped shape and stabilize the perspectives I now have.
Thanks for everything, jerk.
(Photographs – Valparai, Munnar)