The Limited Definition of Intelligence

Six years I’ve spent studying you, six years in human time, and I never once got bored.

Published: 22nd April 2014 08:09 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd April 2014 08:10 AM   |  A+A-

Six years I’ve spent studying you, six years in human time, and I never once got bored.

You always come up with something new to keep me amused.

Who am I speaking of? Man-Brains. Who am I speaking to? Man-Brains. Wait a minute, I swore I would never talk to you unless you learned how to speak my tongue. Me, me, I’m the one the nice lady told you about.

Throat a-quiver, moonlight dancer, emerald seeker of the oneness of Being. I am what is named and what shall nameless remain.

Remember? Maybe you don’t recognise me. Because to you I’m just a silly bird that can at best imitate the sounds you make. You don’t expect intelligence from a parakeet, or sanity, or serenity. Fine, you want noisy I’ll give you noisy. I’ll be fidgety, too, and quite, quite mad. Loopy loony potty dippy dotty. Aaak! Yubliyubliyo. Satisfied?

You probe deep into space for signs of what you call intelligent life, unaware that it  thrives at arm’s length from you. How limited your definition of ‘intelligence’! I am more intelligent than you. The shrimp and the anteater are more intelligent than you. Your knowledge cannot match ours, for we are conscious of reality - instantly, constantly. And you? You use instruments, increasingly powerful instruments, to observe distant stars in your endless pursuit of ‘knowledge’ that forever eludes your grasp. Our only instrument is our consciousness and through it we are connected - instantly, constantly - to the sun, moon and stars, to the universe  of universes.

You are a deluded race, you know. Such a misplaced sense of your own importance,  of the place you occupy in the megauniverse, and you expect us all to watch and applaud the elaborate production you’ve set up, this grand drama that you enact so seriously. Hai-hai, what tragedy, the thwarted desires, the revenge killings, the weakening flesh, the acid despair  of parting! And aha, the ecstasy, the irrepressible greed, the fulfilment of needs that forever reappear and wait to be fulfilled anew. It’s only a naatak, you kickshaws. Playing the parts you  fancy or that you believe are meant for you, you forget that it’s only a game that we, all of us, are part of. Yes, don’t forget the other actors in your play. Me, for instance. I know the role you’ve  imagined for me and I’ve decided to indulge you. I’ll play my part to the hilt. Just watch me.

Here I go....

Brown-dog-snoozing-on-veranda, wake up and say woof to the child genius. I’m a  mind-reader, but which parakeet isn’t? What’s special about me is that I also happen to have a flair for languages. You could say I’m multilingual. I can speak your language, your low-born rough street talk as well as the silky accents of the pure-breds. I can speak frog and mouse and  mongoose and every kind of worm and insect. I can speak ibis, deer and hippopotamese if you wish. I am fluent in rodent - rats and rabbits have different dialects, by the way.

It was easy as pie, learning to speak the many variations of the human tongue, learning their words for the things that their world and our world contain. Car, plane, school, computer, tree, lake, stuff like that. And higher concepts: politics, molecules, baggy pants, ghost writers, stuff like that. And complex words for simple things: empathy, obesity, eco-system, condominium, conscience, stuff like that. Stuff that even a clever mongrel like you can never master. If they haven’t bothered to learn my tongue why should I do them the favour of speaking to them in theirs? That’s been my attitude and you’d do well to adopt it. I admit you’re not a  domestic slave but you go wagging your tail to the staff room when the teachers open their tiffin boxes, I’ll bet. You sit outside until they call you in, and you run when they shoo you away. You may not be a house pet but you’re no tramp either. You’re half and half. On the way to tameness.

Soon you’ll start sitting up and begging, gah-kahh, disgusting habit. Don’t surrender to the dundaboo humans, is my advice to you. Let them learn our languages.

That was my stance till yesterday. Yesterday I did something I shouldn’t have. It was my first time. I spoke to the boy Nik... Took me a while to figure out he was a boy because at his age they tend to look the same in this city - hair, clothes, pitch of voice too - so you can’t tell who  has a boondoggle and who has a wotra unless they’re naked. You can sniff them and find out, I suppose, you have a sharp nose. My nose isn’t well-developed although you would think, with a beak like mine, it should be. You’re wondering about my nose-stud? It’ll have to be another  time. Let me tell you about Nik.

A short poem about  summer

“How many years has it been? Ten? Eleven?” Appa pretended not to remember and  Amma swiped him with a tea towel.

“You tell me,” he turned to Nik, who sat to his right at the breakfast table and turned his cornflakes over with a moody spoon. “Tell what, ’pa?”

“Nischit, where’s your mind wandering?” Amma scolded him. “Don’t tell me you’ve  forgotten today’s April third.”

Nik opened his eyes wide for a moment, and then caught himself just in time. “Happy  anniversary, Appa-Amma,” he said, hoping he sounded enthused enough.

He knew their routine. Appa would order flowers to be delivered at Amma’s office, and they would have bought each other, in advance, small presents from a store in which there were no price tags on anything. After work they would meet at a multiplex and after the movie they would eat out. They were always apologetic about leaving him behind. When he was young he  used to make a card for them on the previous day, drawing hearts and flowers with his felt pens.

He felt old enough, at eight, to stop this babyish practice, and they didn’t seem to mind.

“We’ll be late,” said Amma. “Manjamma will make chicken-mushroom pasta for your  dinner,” she pinched his cheek, “and there’s chocolate-chip ice-cream in the fridge. For your lunch sandwiches take wheat bread but the crunchy peanut butter’s finished so you’ll have to  open the creamy,” she waited for Nik to make a face, and when he didn’t, carried on, “and don’t forget to have fruit, the California grapes might have gone bad so eat the chikkoo.”

Nik watched her grab her bag and car keys and make a detour towards the staircase  before she rushed out the door. At the foot of the stairs, set into the wall at adult-eye level, was the pooja niche, a marble pigeonhole that contained three black figurines and had a dictionary- sized, wooden filigreed door with tiny brass bells hanging from it. Amma would close her eyes and murmur silently to the niche for a few seconds on her way out. Appa would acknowledge the niche with just a bended neck, no movement of lips, barely breaking his stride.

“Anything you need, son?” asked Appa, pushing his chair back. Only a rope, thought Nik. He shook his head.

After they had both left he considered whether to go up to his room but instead sat on a sofa in the living area and stared fixedly at the wall. Leaning over to pick up the TV remote seemed too much of an effort. After a while his eyes moved to the multi-level rosewood stand in the corner with its crystal curios and old-fashioned framed photos. There was a large baby- picture of himself, which he hated because he looked pug-nosed and his cheeks enormous, and an equally large one of Appa-Amma on their honeymoon trip.

He had heard many times about the trek that Appa-Amma had taken, along with six other  honeymooning couples, in Kudremukh. Instead of doing the usual five-star hotel bridal suite stay they had adventurously opted for the unique package sold by a savvy tour-operator. “Rock-climbing for newly-weds”, the ad had said. “Prepares you for the rocky road ahead.” They had stayed at an expensive jungle resort, trekked for two days, and climbed a large rock face. It was  marketed as a team-building exercise for couples. The goal was mutual trust. He had ruined their teamwork, the project they had jointly and meticulously fashioned: Project Nischit.

- Seven Days To Somewhere is an novel by C K Meena, a journalist and a newspaper columnist.The book was published by Dronequill in 2012. It is available on and in local bookstores.

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