I have a tumultuous relationship with common hoopoes. Whenever I see one, disaster tends to flirt with me as I end up hurting myself, causing damage to property or making people suspicious of me.
I didn’t realize it when I saw this bird for the first time in 2013, even though the encounter left me with a scar. I was riding on my friend’s motorbike when I first spotted one near the local bird sanctuary. It was perched on the branch of a large tree. After clicking a record shot, I hopped to the ground for a closer look. In the process, I slipped and burnt the skin off my ankle on the bike’s muffler.
The second incident, though, made it clear that this was the beginning of a beautiful and painful relationship.
Dude, where’s my car
Later that year, I spotted another hoopoe during a long drive to the city outskirts. A gorgeous punk rocker of a bird was wind-drying its scarlet crown on the terrace of an abandoned building. I parked the car by the side of the road and tip-toed towards it. Two minutes later, my heart was full. I had clicked a few photos and seen a hoopoe doing hoopoe stuff. I couldn’t have asked for more.
Feeling good, I returned to where I had parked the car. But the car wasn’t there anymore. Immediately, I freaked out. I desperately wanted to make sense of the situation. All I could think was, “Dude, where’s my car?”
Finally, I noticed that my car was parked haphazardly by the side of the road about 500 meters away. Instinctively, I thought someone was trying to steal it. However, as I ran closer to it, I realized that nobody was inside. It turned out that I hadn’t used the handbrake before getting out. Luckily, it had crashed onto a haystack – suffering very minimal damage.
Second time unlucky – third time’s the harm
As 2014 began, I spotted three hoopoes at a traffic signal in a beach-side locality. The light turned green as I struggled to get the camera out of my bag. But I couldn’t. So, I drove on to take a U-turn at the next signal. I went back to the spot, but the traffic lights weren’t in the mood to entertain me. Again, I couldn’t stop to see the bird.
I decided to take the U-turn once more. Finally, I made it on time. But I was interrupted by traffic police who thought I was intoxicated or just crazy. They didn’t seem to buy the story when I explained what had happened. It also turned out that my car insurance had expired, leading to a hefty traffic fine.
The fourth incident was the most embarrassing. During a visit to a hill station, I had a hoopoe for a rooftop neighbor in the cottage I stayed in. One morning, I climbed on a stone bench for a better view.
Suddenly, I tumbled over its armrest and fell onto a bush. I thought I had broken my neck as I landed awkwardly on the edge of the bench before toppling over. The caretaker’s wife came running out upon hearing the thud. Gingerly, I told her about it. She looked at me like I would the Pythagoras’ theorem. Or anything more arithmetically complicated than single-digit multiplication. She quietly left as I stood with a stupid look on my face.
Later that day, I informed one of the locals about it. He said that she had two daughters living with her, possibly leading her to be wary of me.
Blame not the hoopoe, but the birdwatcher
I have also seen the hoopoe many times without feeling like a loser, a moron, or a creep. But I don’t remember much about these sightings. I dearly hope that it isn’t a conscious effort of mine to only hold on to experiences that hurt me because I can relate to them more.
Of course, the hoopoe can’t be blamed for any of it. After all, this is yet another one-sided relationship between man and bird.
I should be ecstatic that the hoopoe hasn’t given up on me.
I ache for you,
in the tort of deceit.
You’re always be
my rooftop lover
(Photographs: Chennai. Kodaikanal, Valparai)