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Gourmet gulls

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on March 28, 2021

ILLUSTRATION: MANJULA PADMANABHAN

There are very many seagulls in Elsewhere. Not very surprising, as this is a seaside resort! So when I step out of my apartment to take pictures of one of them, it never occurs to me that it might not be easy.

Broadway, the main road along which I live, is lined with smart little restaurants. The parking lot between my kitchen window and the main road is currently blocked up with concrete barriers. Dunkin’ Donuts has vacated the small building in front and nothing has taken its place. During the day, people sit along the sides of the parking area, eating sandwiches and drinking coffee. The seagulls lurk on the roofs of nearby buildings pretending to pay no attention to the eaters. The moment someone tosses a chip or a bun away onto the tarred surface of the parking area, down they swoop.

Or so I thought! This morning, I decide the time has come to take pictures of them. I’ve been wanting to make seagulls the subject of a painting for weeks. But it’s been cold and wet and windy... until today. I enter the parking lot with a piece of crisp-bread in one hand and my camera-phone in the other. As I step out, I imagine that the sharp-eyed scavengers will see me striding purposefully to what I think of as their dining area. “They’ll take one look at the flat rectangle of healthy food in my hand and think YUM!” I say to myself.

There’s one gull nearby, balanced precariously on top of lamp post. It sees me and turns its head away. Across the street, there’s a pair of white birds standing guard on top of a chimney. “Come on, gullsies,” I think, projecting my thoughts towards them. “Look? I have something for you!” All three wretches ignore me completely. “Okay,” I say to myself. “They’re not receiving my telepathic signals, it seems! I’ll have to crumble up the crisp-bread and toss it on the ground!”

As I do this, two or three more birds drift by overhead. They are completely disinterested. “Fools!” I say to them, with my powerful mental-broadcast. “In Delhi, by now, all the crows in the neighbourhood would be bouncing up and down. The pariah kite would be circling!” Instead, my upstairs neighbour comes out just then. He says in disbelief, “You’re feeding the SEAGULLS??” “I’m trying to take pictures of them,” I say. To which he replies. “But there are so many prettier birds!” I smile in what I hope is a Crazy-Foreigner-Likes-Ordinary-Birds-way and continue tossing crumbs onto the ground. The seagulls continue stretching their wings and looking pointedly in other directions.

I try brown bread, baby carrots, apple slices. No deal. Just as I get up to leave, a couple of gulls land close by. They glance at the scraps and look away in disgust. “Hey, Human!” they shriek. “Never heard of junk food? None of this healthy nonsense!” Then, complaining loudly, they glide away.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

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Published on March 28, 2021
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