Beauty in the details

When the heart is attentive, you notice much more than you believed was there.

The Devil is in the details, goes a saying. But then, so is Beauty. This is what impressed itself on my mind during my long years of teaching. No detail, I realised, was too small to be ignored and paying attention was incumbent on both the teacher and the taught. I spent long hours poring over answers and essays, anxious not to let a good effort or an excellent turn of phrase go unnoticed. Soon enough, this became a habit of thought, which enabled me to see that the world itself is made up of many details, most of them beautiful.

An unusual close-up recently rekindles my touch with the marvellous beauty of detail. I live in a flat that overlooks a garden below and a park across the street. The balcony has windows framed around tinted panes of glass. When they are closed, they reflect the surrounding greenery, inviting many birds to this illu­sory foliage. They flutter, they perch and peck furiously, all to no avail. This, however, permits me to go very close and gaze at them at leisure. These are the moments when wonders never cease.

My recent performers were a pair of Red Whiskered Bulbuls, obviously a male and a female. After trying in vain to get into the imaginary bushes, they took some rest on the cable wires that hang from the terrace. It was this proximity that allowed me to observe much more than I could have if they were airborne.

Dressed in feathered finery, they were picture-perfect. The headgear that had seemed like a horn, revealed itself as an upstanding crest made of fine black feathers. Shorter ones stretched around the neck like a cravat. They tapered into points, making an incomplete ring. Red patches on the cheeks glowed, accentuated by bright, black eyes. The blackish-brown beak bent in a slender curve while the underside was a contrasting creamy white. Quite as intriguing was an under-tail patch of bright orange. Altogether, this little bird was indeed a ‘thing of beauty and a joy forever’.

It struck me once again that when the heart is attentive, you notice much more than you believed was there. Many subtleties reveal themselves, making one more alive to the beauty of this universe. What is more, this is a pleasure so easily found. They lie at every step — in the nondescript weed-flower at your feet, the spears of grass that grow at the slightest fall of rain, the many-patterned leaves and the tiny convoluted shells washed ashore on the sands by the sea.

All you have to do, is give close attention and you will see what has been there all along but left unnoticed. This is the gift of detail; it has the magic of opening up a new, mysterious and magnificent world. One cannot do better than recall the words of William Wordsworth: “The meanest flower that blows can give thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”

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