It was the length of the tail feathers that caught my eye, and then the statesqueness of the pose, and only lastly those eyes like beads of ruby. I didn’t know what it was, this bird that had sought out a branch of the neem tree that I see more of every day than any other living creature. Only a crow that surely has come to know me as well or as little as I know it roosts there, and sometimes it takes a companion; they bite each others’ beaks (I wonder if they are voyeurs into my life, too). Intrigued, I looked up the plumage colours of this strange new bird and was surprised to learn that this creature so striking that I could not think of it as anything but totemic was in fact something quite ubiquitous. So ubiquitous, in poetry and public imagination, that I couldn’t believed I hadn’t even known that this is what it looked like. It was a female kuyil who had come by, who briefly lingered within the lush enclosure of the branches of the neem tree that is my neighbour, whose leafy heart I look into directly.
The female of the species, I read, is rarely seen. (This made me feel better about my ignorance of her beauty). It is not her song we hear, but her mate’s. He doesn’t look like her; indeed, he looks a little closer to the crow in whose nest she stealthily lays her eggs, uninterested in the process of incubation. The female of the species appears when she chooses to heed that call. When the love spell of his beautiful voice has worked, has convinced her.
Between the neem tree and I was one more neighbour: a spider whose home was made of silk spun from her own body. That delicate web often caught the light, and I refused to remove it. But someone who thought it inauspicious jettisoned it with a sweep of their fingers before my eyes. Minutes before I wrote this, and just a little after I had contemplated that little habitat again, admiring the arachnid for its autonomy, its dexterity and its architectural aesthetic. The spider and its home were gone before I could even gasp.
Now I look into that tree’s branches without the filter of a spider web on the window grill. And I wonder if she will come back, that allured and alluring kuyil, with her stippled wings and her receptivity to seduction. I am summoning her, too. I know if she returns, it will only be for the crow’s nest (but there is no nest that I can see, unless the tree has more secrets). Who really summoned her here – a mate or I? Perhaps beyond all other symbolisms – self-contained spider, intelligent crow, bitter and benevolent neem tree, auspiciously fertile female kuyil – it is he who is my true totem for this moment. This male kuyil whose song I have heard but who has not been sighted so far: who opens his heart and unfurls his voice, and unafraid to ask for his deepest desire, calls and calls for his lover to come.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on January 3rd 2019. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.