Quite a bloody lot, you’d be surprised!
Sitting across from an acquaintance over a quick post-lunch cigarette, we couldn’t help but focus on the sole bird that walked the outskirts of the smoking area of a high rise in nemma-Dubai.
Out of sheer lack of anything else to talk about, my acquaintance commented, “Isn’t bird the one that has beautiful feet?” After a moment’s thought, he added, “Good lord, have you seen a peacock’s legs? Ugly!”
I sat there, thinking of the time when my mythology-Hindi-Bollywood-घाटी language-desi slang-trivia teacher (a.k.a my closest friend in the ‘whole-wide-world’) had once commented on a mutual friend’s ultra pink toe-nail polish. “मोरनी के से पैर लग रहे हैं! (her feet look like peacock-legs)”, she’d said. I’d sat there with a blank look on my face, which was my typical expression when she came up with these long-lost much-forgotten terms that one either hardly heard or hadn’t ever heard. I belonged to the latter category.
Not needing to voice the unspoken question, I’d merely given her the head-tilted-out-of-sheer-confusion look that dogs often give to anyone or anything that goes beyond their comprehension (usually obnoxious sounds that kids like me used to make just to point and laugh at our pet dogs). Suddenly changing into her guru-mode, she looked me in the eye and preached so: “You see, peacocks are gorgeous creatures. Oh, that is something everyone knows. But if you ever pay close attention, you’ll see that they have obnoxiously hideous feet! For a creature that gorgeous, it’s quite an amazing anti-climax.”
Clearly, I wasn’t as observant as I’d always prided myself to be! How on earth had I missed that? I’d made a mental note to Google up ‘peacock’ and scrutinize a close up picture. When I did, the feet were all I could see…! Not that I wanna sound weird, but they are quite grotesque compared to the over-all look of the gorgeous peacock.
Why, is what hit me the most. The answer was quick and obvious: nature’s balance. What else could explain this absurd phenomenon, if I can even call it that? The beauty that a peacock exhibits needs to be balanced out with a speck of ugliness, even if in this case it isn’t in the form of a mere काला टीका (kaala teeka = black mark).
It was this memory which made me turn to my present company and say philosophically, “It is nothing but a mere case of natural balance…for every good, there is bad; for every tear, there is joy; and for every beauty, there is ugliness। It is this balance that makes sure that one aspect of life isn’t overpowered by another. Gotta strike a balance, man.”
“Nope,” was his instantaneously harsh response to my beautifully philosophical justification। He went on, “They say, the peacock was extremely proud of his beauty. He perpetually had his nose up in the air and would think no end to himself. It was when his pride got to the others and they saw how he ill-treated the other animals, that he was cursed for all of eternity. Yes, with ugly feet! He had to be humbled, they say.”
I’ve always wondered…who exactly are ‘they’, again? Ah well, that’s quite beside the point.
It made me wonder, though: wasn’t this ‘their way’ of striking a balance between ‘giving’ too much power, in this case in the form of beauty, and then humbling the peacock by then disgracing him (I constantly say ‘him’ because it’s the male that’s more beautiful than the female!) with such legs/feet to live with for “all of eternity”, as my acquaintance so aptly put it?
How much reason do we block out just to give way to mythology? To stories passed down from one generation to another? Made up, probably, by a grandmother to instil values in her grandchildren? How much of what we hear during our childhood do we carry with us for ‘all of eternity’, and swear by for the rest of time?
How many of us brake while driving when a cat crosses our path, not to ensure we don’t run it over (which probably was the origin of the superstition) but to ensure that no harm comes in our path?
How many of us stop, even if it is for a brief second, when we sneeze just as we’re about to walk out to for something auspicious? Could it not be that back in the day one was stopped to ensure one didn’t have a cold…and rest, lest one falls sick on route our auspicious journey?
But then again, what is life if there isn’t a bit of mystery involved? After all, don’t words of that legendary poem (albeit taught at an age when the meaning was lost to us) talk about the joy of magic? The joy of believing? The little girl with innocent, gleaming eyes asking her daddy to look at the spider that was hanging in mid air – sheer magic! Logic is logic…but the little girl reminds me today to let go of reason and logic every now and then…and for a minute forget that the spider is weaving a web…she urges me to believe that it is, indeed, hanging in mid air. Believe.
For what is life without a bit of magic? Without a bit of faith…? What is life without a little spice of a story or a legend or a superstition or a mythological connection behind everything…?
Turning to my acquaintance, cigarette burnt to ashes, not having so much as reached my lips, I smiled. I looked at him, the belief in his eyes, and said, “You’re right…that’s it. That’s exactly what I’ve heard as well.”