The weeks have been a blur between cities, zoom meetings, classes and lots of time behind the wheel. In the bustle of life and it’s little dramas, I got to witness the blossoming and fading of a semal on the highway over the course of a couple of weeks. An absolutely beautiful tree by a small bridge, I’ve stopped near it almost every trip to watch the sheer profusion on life thriving in its branches.
Between the hurly burly of responsibility, there were also snatches of absolute abandon, like a few hours of ambling in the woods, lazy swims far out in the blue, scenic drives and mesmerizing old temples. Of all the pleasures, swimming in the sea is probably the most indulgent. It’s strange this call of the blue where I don’t realise when my body is swept up into the waves and then there’s nothing but silence. At some point, there is satiety and the limbs move towards shore, slowly finding steady ground.
But the magnetic pull of moving remains and it continues on land, both on and off the mat. Long stretches across beautiful beaches, dizzying hills, thick forests, stunning temples and idyllic villages. In the countryside, there is no sense of a pandemic having ravaged the world and there is an even rhythm to life and living. It is precious, this comfort of continuity, of a simple unhurried way. These days seem like a gift, all the more special for its transience. Soon, there will be a need to brace for impact but for now, there are miles to go…
A re-reading of a book on yoga pointed me to Ananda Coomaraswamy and from then on it was a cascading into Indian culture and regional literature. I picked up books I had with me for a while and proceeded to get hold of a few more until I was swept away in the sheer volume and brilliance of thought and language. And these are translations in English. It made me want to listen to them in their original, so I found myself listening and watching related works in Malayalam, Kannada, Tamil, Marathi and Hindi. It’s something we take for granted in this country, being conversant in multiple languages. I had never really stopped to consider a proficiency in multiple tongues but that’s something I’ve started to rectify by including more of their flavours in my consumption.
There’s something about regional languages, at once a particular lineage of a family/community tongue as well as a transmission of collective memory of spaces, times, events and associations that come down the ages. A continuum of sounds, unbroken as generations of their vibrations spill from womb to womb until they reach the present individual. I’m reminded of a line from a movie I recently watched, “From the first human hand print on a cave wall, we’re part of something continuous”. And as the species evolves, memories associated with words begin to fade away keeping time with the experience of living changes from one that used to be deeply rooted in the rhythm of the natural world to one where we rearrange time and space. Sangam literature, for example, is rich with descriptions of the landscapes of their action but many of the scenes that come alive in their verses are no longer quite the reference for our expressions of emotions and thoughts.
The need for information is greater than knowledge and so we tend to approach meaning directly when an oblique reaching out and patient receiving would perhaps reveal its meaning in a different, multi-dimensional way. I suppose darsanam that is spoken about is probably a result of something similar. It is something I have observed during time on the mat as I settle into shapes of the body and breath and let the mind expand without resisting. Things express themselves, connections make themselves apparent. The meditations on conjunctions in one of the Upanishads provide a valuable clue in how one might approach this way of knowing, a subjective, experiential one as opposed to an objective one. Over time, much of these intuitive sensations and experiences are validated through an objective exploration.
I’ve often wondered how it might be if we lived in a world without language. Our first expression is sound, the wailing as we enter a world of senses. The same Upanishad begins with a reminder about phonetics and progresses from there on. That’s how language begins for all of us- varna, swara, matraa, balam, saam, santaanah. It is through being washed in sound that we learn language. And silence is probably the most eloquent of all languages. It is in silence that we begin to hear, life pulsating within the body, the songs of the breeze as it moves through trees, bird sounds, the music of waves or the stunning quietude of mountains.
Perhaps, I have broken a magical spell by writing here but it felt like a moment to emerge from a cocoon and fly, if only for a day.
The day was tedious but productive. Susegad is the best way to describe how work happens in Goa. I’ve been coming to this place for nearly 25 years and while much has changed, a lot still remains the same. Siesta time is still sacrosanct. Maman had a good day today and there were moments of comic relief thanks to Chitti but that is more like a set of stories, web series style.
The highlight was a quick sunset dip in the sea with the firstborn for company. The ocean is mesmerizing in all its shades. The road beckons again and tomorrow night I’ll sleep in another city.
Leg 2 of a multi city merry-go-round and this one involved an airplane. The airport was not as busy as it used to be and the sense of hurry was absent. While masks were ubiquitous, there was also a slipping into old ways. I guess it is inevitable with the increase in number of people. How does one maintain protocol for 450,000 square metres anyway? The flight I was on had about 25 people. Mostly young people heading for a holiday by the looks of it. How long will airlines continue to operate if this continues?
Covid is here to stay and people of Bombay have made place for it in the same way they absorb new things. Speaking of Bombay, actually Mumbai, the renaming of the city happened nearly a quarter of a century ago and there was much resistance to the change by those who knew it as such. It was a way of reclaiming Indian identity and disassociating with a colonial past. It was also a strong political posturing by the party in power at the time, a chest thumping of Maratha pride. Name changes of cities, streets and other public places don’t see the same resistance anymore. I guess in part it may be due to an increase in the transient nature of jobs and livelihoods. People move more easily.
Changing names is reasserting identity and ownership. Until some years back, it was not uncommon to find a girl changing her name to a new one chosen by her in-laws when she got married. I don’t know if the practice is still prevalent. It used to be couched in tradition emphasising how the girl was beginning a new life and so a spanking new name signified her changed identity as a wife and daughter-in-law. It was common to assume the husband’s surname. It’s now common to retain one’s maiden name post marriage.
Some time back, I was thinking about the names of trees, the ones we have given them. If they chose their own names, what would they call themselves? Would they also speak of themselves as individuals or would one name suffice for their intertwined lives underground? How do they call out to each other? Or perhaps they don’t consider themselves as separate at all, like gemels. That’s for the likes of us humans. We learn to love our names first as they are crooned to us by those who care for us. Much later we croon the names of those we love- lovers, children, gods. I remember something I scribbled a while ago
Greet one another by name, it is beautiful – the sound of a name
And then at some point, names fall by the way side just as form dissolves into formlessness, when structure becomes being.
Day’s end saw another walk, this time by the backwaters in Siolim where I caught a beautiful crimson and grey sunset. Just for a little while I lost myself in the flight of the birds, the gentle lapping of the waters and the cool breeze. Dusk has a different charm. It was also sad to see how little we care for natural spaces, they’re trashed without regard. Many of these places have religious symbols like crosses or shrines. At one time, they were sufficient to ensure respect for the surroundings but their influence has faded. I do feel that the time to reverse the ill effects of the systemic abuse of this planet is past. Now it’s simply a matter of time, maybe decades, perhaps less. Until then, we drink in what still remains and leave accounts of a beautiful world for those who will come after us.
Lately the walks have been fewer and the ones I do end up carving out of my day have been under old trees. It is a relief after long work days. After a fair bit, I walked on city streets that were bustling with human activity, in a place where I lived in transit for over 2 decades.
But before that there was a long, happy drive on a highway. Those lanes are still not as busy as they were pre-pandemic and it was a pleasure to really zip past a lush and vibrant landscape. Windows down, happy music and the wind on my face. At one time, it was wind in my hair and it struck me that I’ve had short hair, really long hair, really short hair and then this bald pate. Every decade, a different way to wear my hair and the common thread has been convenience.
The drive was pleasant and the city traffic was light. So, I stopped by Amma’s place and had coffee with her. It was a surprise for her and both of us were happy. She’s quite old so it was socially distanced but seeing her felt good. I got chided for the baldness but it’s Amma and she’s always allowed to scold. Another hour or so later and I came to my mother’s house. It is not the same without her and there’s an ache at her not coming back to her home. There was nothing else to do so I went out for a walk on streets I haunted as a teenager. I walked past Sunset salon where I had a haircut the last time I was here (it was an interesting experience), down the pani puri wala’s spot, lukka corner, the lane with fading buildings of the quaint names that await redevelopment, an open-air boxing club at YMCA and back home.
A few of those old structures have already been replaced by swanky looking new ones and the character of the entire place is changing. Saving these few images here of a time that will soon be erased like the lives it contained. It began a while back as reclaimed land gave rise to tall buildings .Were we meant to live so high up in the air?
I.C. Colony was predominantly a Catholic neighbourhood but there was a largish community of Malayali Syrian Christians too. The community was small and one knew everyone. It also meant a robust gossip culture but that has also withered. Bombay was both home and not home simultaneously. There was always a wanting to get away and the inevitability of coming back to the claustrophobia of cramped spaces. I passed BEST buses packed with damp bodies, trucks with men sprawled over sacks, limbs over sweaty limbs and vacant stares. I remembered local trains where I’d shrink into myself pretending there was an invisible bubble that shielded me from other bodies. It helped to be a whole head taller than the rest. Despite the discomfort, there was also a fondness of familiarity. Years later, it is nostalgia which washes all memories with softer hues. Maybe these are the last few trips to this city, there is very little left to bring me back.
Tomorrow, a sleepy little village by a river beckons. That’s a piece of land where my skin smiles and the heart sings. Maybe it is time to call that ocean kissed place – home.
Strange times these but lovely too in a fragile way. Last night the youngling was texting her friends on a group chat. On a lark, she recorded our banter and sent it on the group and just like that I was part of teenspeak. I got a speedy schooling in gaming slang, memes and music most of which don’t make any sense but it is their world after all and language serves each generation in ways they choose. They’re heartbreakingly beautiful, these children but not children. One of the kids she knew took his own life a couple of days back. All of 16. I can’t begin to imagine his pain.
In another place, an old woman lives within the confines of a shrinking mind, bewildered. Time has decayed for her, it has lost its linearity and become congealed into a shape shifting island. It is hard to reach her world, where names and numbers, memories and dreams are a continuous tumble in a kaleidoscopic prison. She remains locked in a time and space warp within her mind while her body collapses or wanders as it pleases. It must be terribly frightening, vertiginous at the speed at which all of it devolves.
60 years separate the teen and the old woman. Viewed from the middle, I am conscious of the closing in of a past and a blossoming of the future. But I also wonder if they both are any different in the world we now inhabit.
Since the last couple of years, I reread the Devi Bhagwatam every Navratri. It started on a lark and I have no other reason but the satisfaction of a timed challenge for myself. Start to finish in 9 days. This time, I’d like to summarise each chapter so I have a reference to the stories in them. This is a post in progress until it gets done.
The book is a modern day rendition by Ramesh Menon and I like the lilt in its words.
Krishna Dwaipayana wants a son and Narada suggests that he worship the Devi for his boon.
Story of how vamris were responsible for Vishnu’s decapitation, which was the fructification of Lakshmi’s curse and the story of Hayagriva
Story of the asuras Madhu and Kaitabha and how the earth came to be called medini
Story of Budha’s birth- son of Soma and Tara
Story of Pururavas grandson of Budha, son of Sudyumna/Ila (only person to have lived as both man and woman, as Ila she bears Budha’s son) who falls in love with Urvashi who abandons him
Story of Suka’s birth and the origin of the 18,000 shlokas of the Devi Purana. “All that I see is myself, only I am eternal.”
Suka goes to Mithila, gains wisdom from Janaka and comes back to his father and lives as a householder. The four ashramas of a wise man essential to cleanse the mind until it is still to see the truth that is immanent. Eventually, he attains moksha. His father is distraught but his time is not up yet. ‘The seeker had become all times and places, and all things. He was free.’
The story of Matsyagandha, Vyasa’s mother.
Mstsyagandhi becomes Satyavati and gives birth to Parasara’s son, Dwaipayana who would be famous as Ved Vyasa, the greatest poet.
Parikshita’s death, Janamejaya’s sarpa yagna and the telling of the Mahabharata by Vaisampayana
The story of Astika who prevented the sarpa yagna and how the snake got its forked tongue. Vyasa begins to tell the Devi Bhagavatam
Brahma recounts to Vyasa how he along with Vishnu and Rudra saw the Devi Bhagavati and received the Mula mantra from her.
Vyasa recounts the tale of the Ikshvaku dynasty and how Dhruvasandhi’s oldest son, Sudarshana and his mother Manorama are forced to flee after his death.
Sudarshana grows up a Devi bhakta. Shashikala, princess of Kashi loses her heart to the prince without laying eyes on him. Her swayamvar has princes from all over and Sudarshana also shows up at the Devi’s command.
Shashikala and Sudarshana are married in secret.
There is a battle outside the gates of Kashi, the Devi slaughters the enemy kings. Yudhajita and Shatrujita are killed. Devi tells him to celebrate Navratri Puja in autumn. Sudarshana takes his rightful place as long of Ayodhya.
‘Spring and Autumn are the months of sickness and death; they are even called Yama’s teeth. These are the thresholds of Uttarayan and Dakshinayana, when the sun turns north and south, and these are the seasons when the world is unstable.’ The story of Mahisha asura’s birth and his boon of protection against death by no man of any of the races from Swarga, Bhumi or patala. Only s woman can kill him.
How to do the Navratri puja. Mahisha sends message to Indra to be his vassal. Armies and allies prepare for war. A great war between asuras and devas commence.
The battle rages for 100 years andthe asuras win the war. Mahisha sits on Indra’s throne in Amravati. The devas go seeking help eventually.
The devas reach Narayana. The shaktis of the devas join to fuse into Devi Mahamaya with 18 arms. She is worshipped and armed by all Devas. Her laughter draws the attention of Mahisha who sends his generals to bring her to him.
Mahisha receives conflicting advice on how to deal with the Devi. Tamra is sent to meet her but returns terrified. Vaskala boasts that he will vanquish her.
Vaskala and Durmukha face the Devi in battle and perish. Chikasura and Tamra take their place and are killed too.
Asiloma ans Vidalakhya are sent next and they too perish. Mahisha himself comes to the battlefield and tries to convince the Devi. Mandodari is cited as an example of the regret of spurning an eligible husband.
Continuation of the story of how Mandodari marries Charudesna, regrets spurning Virasena. Mahisha attacks the Devi and dies. Dharma is restored. Shatrughna is set on the throne.