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Beyond pain

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on May 27, 2016

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This is me, Bins. She-I-Live-With says it’s not fair for me to get two book-choices in a row. I say, “Well, you’ll never read a better book than this one in time to meet your deadline.” To which she had to agree because, of course! I am always right. So here it is: H IS FOR HAWK, by Helen Macdonald. It is almost unbearably good. I read it standing up, drinking a cup of coffee that grows cold and dies before I can finish reading. And then I become a hawk and have to fly away for a short while. To sit at the top of a tall tree. To think about what it means to kill rabbits with my talons, tearing their heads off with my beak. I make the mistake of saying this aloud.

“Oh – please!” says the Lady-in-the-Room. “How you carry on! And anyway, I HAVE read that book. I loved it too.” Not more than me, I say to her shaking my head angrily. Really, this feminazism is too much! We men can never get a chance to express ourselves! Also, there’s a reason why I loved it so much: when I was small and growing up in Tamil Nadu, I kept a pet Pariah Kite. Not for long, you understand? Just until it became tired of spending time with someone who could not fly.

Still. It gives me a very tiny idea of what it was like for the author of this book, a young woman, to pour her heart into training a Goshawk to become HER Goshawk. She is not a happy person when she introduces herself to us. Because her father has recently died. It was very sudden. And she does not know how to fill up the hole his death has left in her life. “Didn’t you find it a bit too intense?” asks She-I-Live-With. “I mean ...we all know that our parents will die some day. So. Umm. I became a little bit impatient.”

What can you do with people like this? I say, trying to find some calm tones inside my throat, “Either you have empathy, or you do not!” The book’s author has always been interested in raptors. She has already trained other types of hawks. She has read a lot about them. In particular she has read a book called The Goshawk, by TH White. “And that’s another thing,” says the Irritating Lady. “I wish she hadn’t quoted so much about TH White, how troubled he was, how damaged and abused. I loved his books but now my impression of him is slightly ruined.”

I want to clutch my head. That is the most beautiful part about the book! The way the young woman uses the mistakes of the older, famous author as a thread to guide her through the maze of her sadness, loss and fear of failure. Really, it is a very deep (or perhaps I mean tall?) book, about training herself to fly beyond the cage of human pain to find a clean, savage freedom. “You will never understand,” I say, in a soft voice, to the Lady. “Better make some tea.”

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

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Published on May 27, 2016
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