Garden politics

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on January 13, 2018 Published on February 24, 2017

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For the past month and a half, I have been preparing to apply for a Schengen visa to Spain. According to Bins, who is a French citizen despite being born in Pondicherry, there’s nothing to worry about. “You’re giving them all your records! From all your lives, past, present and future!”

It’s true: the stack of papers I’ve been asked to present includes six months’ worth of bank account information, the last three years of tax filing, and of course my passport, complete with photocopies of all the pages.

Even so, when the day arrives to go to the application centre I do NOT complete the process. “You’re wrong,” I say to Bins when I get home. Police verification papers are needed from Spain. Original documents. There’s no time for me to get them by mail, then reapply for the visa appointment before leaving for the US next week.

“It’s completely your fault,” says Bins, unperturbed. “You should have started applying as soon as we arrived in Delhi. In December.” But I had to get my passport renewed. By the time I got the new one in hand, it was time to run off to Chennai and Mumbai.

“That’s not the problem of the visa centre,” says Bins. “They have the world’s tragedy at their doorstep.” That’s true too. The refugee crisis has made travel into Europe difficult for ordinary tourists. “Now you’re making me feel guilty just for having frivolous travel needs!” I say. “Even though they’re NOT frivolous.” I was invited to a conference and now I can’t go. I’m really sad about that. But Bins is unstoppable. “We should all feel guilty,” he says. “We who have food in our tummies and roofs over our heads have no right to complain about ANYTHING. EVER.”

We’re standing in our tiny garden. A pair of barbets is perched overhead. They interrupt the characteristic ponk-ponk-ponk to remark, “Oh, you humans! Always arguing. Why waste time feeling guilty? Just clean up your act! Stop fighting over countries and religions! Have fewer babies! Live in harmony with nature!” Bins looks pained. “Easy to say, Barbet. There’s eight billion of us. We all have different ideas about what’s best for all of us. We can never agree. Not even about basic things like food and clothes. Or about what’s wrong with us.” He taps the side of his head. “We humans are cra-a-azy.”

“You should be like us,” says the barbet. “Eat insects. Plenty of them around. And fruit. Also, it’s best to grow feathers. Then you don’t have to keep changing your clothes every day.” He’s interrupted by a nearby dove, neat and dainty, like a convent-going schoolgirl dressed all in brown. “Oo-oo-oo,” she coos in a mournful tone, “look who’s talking about harmony, Barbet! You who terrorise us doves and monopolise the garden with your non-stop ponking!”

The barbet drives her off with an imperious flap of his wings. “Don’t listen to her!” he tells Bins. “She’s just a silly pacifist. Listen to me. I have the right approach. The best song. The smartest feathers —” Bins laughs and shakes his head. “Okay! So it’s all of nature, then?” Barbet looks confused. “Huh? Meaning that we’re as bad as humans? We’re equally crazy?” To which Bins answers, “Ponk-ponk-ponk!”

Last episode: Silent actions

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Published on February 24, 2017
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