A. J. T. Johnsingh wrote Walking The Western Ghats. I am not A. J. T. Johnsingh. So it naturally follows that my run would be best described as stalking the Western Ghats.
This is what the Google dictionary has to say about the word ‘stalking’ –
stalkstɔːk/verbgerund or present participle: stalking1. 1. pursue or approach stealthily.• harass or persecute (someone) with unwanted and obsessive attention.
It cannot be more obvious why what I do is best described as stalking. I spy on wild things and I do it without a license. A man has his weaknesses, so don’t judge. At least I am being honest, ain’t I?
The wild things that suffer my attention are mainly insects. Two reasons. I don’t have any binoculars so stalking birds is difficult. And insects are abundant enough to be spotted by an amateur. Reptiles are shy and less in number, and sometimes simply dangerous (thinking about the Russell’s Viper here, which everyone including me knows to be a very common snake in India).
So insects and spiders it is. And such easy folk like the snails and their lot.
Not that I don’t stalk the birds and the mammals. I do, but usually not in real life. I stalk them in books and documentaries and photos. Also comic strips, these days. Here’s an example.
I used to do this a lot in my school days. From after moving to the city, not so much. But this kambakht desire doesn’t die. I was walking to a bus stop that was supposedly only ten minutes away, and glancing at the trees by the road as I passed. These are the thorny Acacia trees that grow here in this region. These same trees were there in Purulia, too, where I grew up. They don’t mind dryness.
Suddenly I catch something out of the corner of my eye. Rewind two steps. It sat there, a one inch long little mantid. I did not know its name. Which is why this is a stalker’s journal. Remembering many past encounters, I smiled, nodded, and started walking again. At least I saw a mantid today.
These Acacias appeal to me, why I cannot explain. They just do, rough and ready, thorns and dry arms raised in a fruzzled head of unkempt hair. Their leaves small, pinnate, light green, fluttering in the wind. Between the bristling branches, the hot blueness of the sky.
Walking down, I hear this thin trill rising from one of the trees. Luckily for me, I was heading that very way, and with each second the trill grew stronger. As did my excitement. Because I knew this trill. I know it every. Single. Time.
If you think this is some kind of cricket, you are wrong. This is no cricket. This, my dear Grace, is the cicada.
This one was trilling so strong that it took me just five seconds to spot it on the tree trunk, sitting some 5-6 feet above me.
There it sat and trilled with all its might. Completely oblivious to me.
I, on my part, was ecstatic. A cicada, after this long! Time to snap a photo and send it to interested parties!
Mantid on the left, eh? Talk about omens. The day was already good. I marched forward.
Then came that field. The one I referred to as ‘bush’.
My destination required me to choose one of two options. A – take the road, which will be longer but more civilized. B – take the shortest path between where I stood and where I needed to go, which meant walking in a straight line through that scrub-land field. Both were viable options. I chose the field.
On every direction, there were thorns, shrubs, dry grasses. Arid acacia trees. And from among them rose the sound of the cicadas. I could hear them on all sides, singing. It was twelve o’clock. The sun climbed.
On my left, a bird-call sounded from afar. Repetitive it went. Staccato, faint. In the distance.
I was looking at the trees that I passed. Trying to spot a second one. Maybe it was my lucky day?
But the cicadas don’t always sit and sing on strong, not bothering about who is watching them. They know that a hunter can find them by their sound. So as soon as I tried to approach an invisible player by following the direction of its sound – the sound stopped.
I looked around. Some thorny branches hung low over my head. I ducked under and went a few steps.
Nothing. A dark tree stood like a sentinel, two inch thorns decked in rows over its body. No cicada. Nothing.
But the sound of the cicadas! They kept calling and I had to see at least one out here! Come on!
Every time I tried to take a few steps towards a sound, it stopped… the more distant ones going on as they were. It was like they saw me. They did. They were hiding from me.
Stubbornness? Two can play that game. I am already on cloud nine, being on the hunt like this once again after years, so I won’t tire and your coyness won’t keep me from finding you.
This is what has been described by many people on many occasions as feeling the rush.
The sound stopped.
I knew it would, so I kept going.
I stood under the tree. Its bark in front of me, its branches overhead. The wind blew in my ears.
Standing on the empty field, only the thorns and the bushes about me, and the trill of the cicadas rising from all around — Do you see now why I didn’t take the road?
The cicada wasn’t calling. Time to deploy the eyes.
I scanned the bark.
These insects have excellent camouflage, – shape, texture and color – all three matched and mottled to blend perfectly with the rough bark of these dry trees. So I was there, desperate, looking closely at the bark, and failing to find anything, when suddenly…
I was like – “Come again????”
All silent again. Wind blowing on my cap and in my ears.
Then once again – kirritkit!
Okay, this was going to be good. This little ninja was not on the main trunk of the tree. He was up on a branch somewhere.
Somewhere on a branch that was stretching out right over my head.
I was desperately scanning the branches – moving, swaying in the wind above me. I knew it was well nigh impossible to find it like this – what if it is not perched on the underside of one of these (but which one?) branches… I would never even see it then…
But as if teasing me every thirty seconds – kirrkttt!
I was sure now that this guy can see me. It can see me and it is scared to launch into a full-blown song, and it is letting out a little jitter every few dozen seconds due to reasons unknown to me. Maybe he just needed to let his confidante know that he wasn’t gone but was just lying low?
But it can see me.
And if it can see me, it must be on the underside of these branches. It cannot be topside. You don’t have X-ray vision, love. If you can see me, I can see you.
Every time it let out that meek squeak, I kept trying to narrow down my field of scanning, pinpoint the location. Had done it before, wasn’t about to give up now.
Then suddenly I saw it.
Holy frickin’ Deadpool.
THERE sat the buggy-eyed fellow. Right there on that branch, sitting squat on the underbelly of it.
Big buggy head, check. Bark-chunky body, check. Thickset head-up posture, check. Spotted-transparent wings, check.
I stalked to another spot so that I can take a picture where insect’s body shows up clearly against the sky.
I had gone to Pune University after this. When I was heading out from the campus, my eyes fell on a thin tree that grew by the wayside underneath a blooming gulmohar. And on a twig on the thin, lank tree, I saw this.
See how the skin has cracked near the head? The insect emerged through that – with a bigger, shinier body – and went away.
DBZ fans, do you remember the Cell Saga, by any chance?
As I said earlier – day turned out to be good.
Let’s see what comes along next.