By Nitoo Das
I am a bird photographer who likes to bird alone. Most birders I know bird in groups, with friends. According to them, six pairs of eyes are better than one. It is easier to spot the birds, discuss the identity of an unusual vagrant, and share tips about lenses and angles. Who can argue with this kind of logic? Birding alone is not easy. It is definitely not easy for a woman, but I have been doing it for around four years now and would not do it any other way. It brings together two scary ideas: travel and heavy equipment. And then, of course, there is the study of taxonomy, which is still, apparently, male territory. A lone woman walking on deserted mountain trails is a curious creature. A woman with a monster-machine for a baby, even more so. A woman who stands immobile for hours together looking up at a tree is decidedly demented. I have birded in the mountains of Himachal and Uttarakhand, in Assam (where I was born), in the backwaters of Goa, and in the coffee plantations of Karnataka. We are so trained to be afraid of travelling alone, carrying our own gear, and depending on the goodwill of strangers that we have forgotten to trust the road. I have to confront this fear all the time and deal with it, make it disappear. For help, I add to a secret Note to Self list. Sometimes, I share it with people who I hope will understand and benefit from it. Here are some magic spells from that list.
• Pursue the Rhododendrons.
• Pack your oldest pair of shoes.
• Know that toothbrushes are empty signifiers.
• Don’t be seduced by light.
• Whisper a brief prayer to whoever invented lies.
• Train yourself to see through people.
• Talk to the pine cones.
• If the goats follow you, befriend them.
• Don’t discuss apertures with anyone.
• Forget about morning ablutions.
• Learn to travel by bus.
• Say no to well-intentioned men.
• Chocolate is a woman’s best friend.
• A little nitrogenous waste is good for plant life.
• Carry your own backpack.
• If people think your lens is a bazooka, let them.
• Make up stories about yourself. Two for each day.
• Queasiness helps nobody.
• The birds will wait for you.
• Make daisy chains while you wait.
• Pebbles (and shells) give meaning to a traveller.
• Make flight your secret superpower.
• The wolves are not in the woods.
Nitoo Das is a birder, caricaturist and poet. She teaches English at Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi. Her first collection of poetry, Boki, was published in 2008.