The Venus Flytrap: Locked Down, Longing

Someone I haven’t touched in years emerged again in the shape of words, after a night through which fear and worry had not let me sleep. Sapped of circumspection, I had sent a simple message. Dawn had still not diluted the darkness, yet he replied immediately. He’d just been thinking of me. He too had been restless all night. He’d woken mid-way, he said, and seen the constellated sky through a parting in the curtains. The stars had coaxed a memory of another night under the same sky, of us in other chapters of our lives, of me. He asked me what I remembered.

We’d been back in contact for some time, without meeting, and an ease had returned to our acquaintanceship. But not this much, not yet.

He expected he’d be in my neighbourhood after the lockdown lifts. I offered lightly that we could meet – but not hug. “We could fist bump, with gloves,” he said. Everything and nothing is hypothetical now. The only gloves I own are fingerless lace ones. What could they possibly keep me from? Before I finally slipped into sleep at that swiftly brightening hour, I sent this: “Talking to you as the sun came up reminded me of some mornings long ago. Don’t disappear on me again. I don’t know if I will forgive you next time.” He responded; but not with words.

Days pass, in a calendar that seems to loop on itself. Hours upon hours. Do you keep count? How do you measure this strange and revealing circumstance? A healer told me once, after everything had changed for me, when I wept that the world was like it had never been before: No, the world is exactly the same. It’s you who has changed. Now the reverse is true. I believe we are closer to our truer natures, while what is beyond us has altered. We choose: guile, doubling down, mirroring, or to behold ourselves whole.

One afternoon in my own captivity, a transformer burst and quietness descended. No fan blades whisking the air, no electrical thrums, no traffic or construction anyway – then, I heard a voice. I’ll never be certain, but I hope it was the neighbour whose own words are always soft, and can’t counter her grown son’s frequent and miserable scoldings. She was singing “Poongkuyil koovum…”, with its lyrics about encountering divinity in nature, in a seaside flower grove where a kuyil opens its throat in seduction.

It’s the bird’s mating season now. I thought of a kuyil I’d watched for a year, in a house I miss every day – a house where this confinement could have been more bearable, where I would have observed a courtship unfolding on the boughs of a crow-nested tree. The woman’s voice faded away, perhaps because my imagination overwhelmed my listening. I didn’t catch my favourite line – “Thanimaiyil inimai kannden…” – but I felt it, felt it like the vibration created by stroking upon the rim of a resting prayer bowl. In solitude, I saw sweetness, the woman sang, even if I could no longer hear her – those words reaching through the ether to touch, and to touch again.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on April 30th 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: The Songless Female Of The Species

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.