Coppersmith Barbets don’t look like they belong in metropolitan cities. One might assume they reside in secret fruit gardens. Watched over by wood elves and courted by cellists with sunflower stems instead of strings.
A year ago I had an unforgettable experience with one in my city. I noticed an emerald bum jutting out, rather comically, of a hole in a tree stump. A Coppersmith Barbet was playing peekaboo with the midday sun, and the monster in me.
As soon as I saw her, I pulled my camera out of the bag and marched towards her. Even though I knew that she was feeding her young ones, I went ahead and clicked some photographs.
At one point, she turned around to glance at me. It wasn’t an intimidating look. Just a disappointed one.
I felt like the most selfish person in the world. She had been serving tiny morsels of food, that she probably spent a great deal of time to gather, to her starving child. It wasn’t as though she had expected a standing ovation. But she could have done without someone obsessing over her emerald green posterior.
I am glad that her babies never came out of the hole while I was there. I didn’t deserve to photograph them sharing a private moment. Disrupting such a ritual can be disastrous to the family. Birds aren’t exactly parents of the year.
But it was never a delicate quagmire of a situation. I should have waited, at a distance, for her to finish the task at hand. Or moved on and hoped that she would show up another day.
Instead I just stood there, punch drunk by her colours, hoping to share the moment with friends and followers. In my defense, some of them might not get to see a Coppersmith Barbet even once in their lives. And if it were a court case, I would have lost. Miserably and quickly too.
Found guilty of self-indulgence and ignorance.
Death by selfies.
Please do not photograph, from close quarters, birds feeding their young ones.
If I could fit the world
into a knapsack
and sling it
over my shoulder,
I would grow kinder
by the hour, and older
by a tree stump’s standards
(Photographs: Vedanthangal, Chennai)