When Leonardo Da Vinci started dreaming of flying machines, he wasn’t thinking about birds. Birds don’t hang upside down, nor do they grip the branches using their wings. The most efficient flying mammal is the Bat.
Across my first floor balcony in Colaba is the Cycle Park, a small but carefully maintained space, a green micro-oasis in the concrete jungles of Bombay. The trees that rise around the central periphery are home to a group of giant bats. After watching them soar and suspend in meditative sport for over a week, I searched the net for major species of chiroptera. The closest I have been to them is about 3 meters, But they look a lot like the megabat known as “the giant golden-crowned flying fox (Acerodon jubatus), also known as the golden-capped fruit bat.” According to Wikipedia, the specie is rare and endangered.
I’m not an expert, but they look pretty happy here. That might also be because they reign over the garden like Gods. The crows who venture near them are rarely noticed, like low rank bureaucrats or spies. This self-organised hierarchy says, “Okay, so you can fly too…but what else can you do?” Upside down, the bat starts moonwalking on the branch.
There is something mesmerizing about the leathery sheen of its cape-like wings, you can’t tell whether it has veins or bones, like red ink that has seeped into the pages of an ancient parchment and is slowly crystallizing into ruby.
The golden-crowned flying fox does not wear its crown every morning like a tired ritual, it is a part of its body. From that height, one wonders what kind of subterranean hell it sees, and carefully avoids interaction with.
When the bat hangs upside down, we become the sky. The Bat is now a Buddha and does not care. As above, thus below. As below, thus above…in a Non-Euclidean vertigo. When it hangs like Foucault’s Pendulum from the branch of this tree, does it feel the Earth’s daily rotation on the Axis Mundi? I can see the bat spinning as it hangs, the rotations of the bat are discrete and sudden, like the needle of a magnetic Compass seeking its mothership.
Nearby, I can hear a jackhammer drilling the road. The bats do not care as they crawl from leaf to leaf, dropping some on the ground. A tired salaryman rests on the garden bench, but he never looks up.