A Baobab

Last night, the youngling and I were talking about the lockdown and she mentioned that all her friends who had some kind of hobby or interest seemed to have been very productive and relatively ok compared to those who didn’t have any special interests.  She’s been prolific with her art through these days across different media and has also 1made album covers for her friends who have composed music. A couple of days ago, I got her some art supplies and she got to dabble in oil colours for the first time and it’s a messy affair as she learned the hard way.

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if it’s possible for the woods to be even more beautiful!

The woods always manage to bring more time to my days. This evening I didn’t feel like collecting the trash and decided to walk or then just sit under a tree and maybe read a book. The place was empty as usual and I stood watching the birds for a long while. There’s a thicket where they make a merry racket. There are butterflies too but they are further inside the trail. I saw a couple of green bee eaters, robin magpies, fantails and mynas and heard the saat bhai (jungle babblers) not too far away but didn’t see them. After a while, I settled down with a book that I had left half unread a while ago.

On the way back, there was an old man with 5 young children picnicking. The kids had steel dabbas with poha and it was an idyllic sight, didn’t feel like we were in the middle of a pandemic at all. Also, bumped into the young man who wants to become a police officer and we walked together for a good distance. He’s quite the badass runner, does a full marathon in 3 hours and change. So, we got talking about running, his training and elite athletes etc. His training consisted of running up and down the hill in circular loops and he said he could do it nonstop for 10 loops. No need for any other training after that!  There was a time when I was obsessed about all things running, now they’re packed in forgotten boxes of nostalgia, opened only when something prompts it.

 

It’s almost a given now that I drive around for a while after the woods chasing gulmohurs and today I found my way to a stranger’s house to admire a grand old baobab. The security guard there was kind enough to indulge my desire to see the elder one in person. The tree had such a presence, an energy which is quite inexplicable. It needs to be experienced. The tree had shed sticky flowers on the pavement outside the compound wall and was fruiting which is what made me stop. I’ve never seen the flowers until today and it was the highlight of my day!

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gulmohurs in the evening

Pune has never been this gorgeous in recent history. The current Covid crisis has crippled much and it seems selfish to take pleasure in enjoying the beauty in nature, urban and wild when so many suffer. But, I go anyway. There’s an urgency to pack in all I can before the rains set in. And then I wonder am I the only one who cruises like this, solely for soaking in fading summer sights? Most drivers and riders seem intent on a destination and hurry towards the residential areas while I go in the opposite direction. It’s a different viewing of the trees in the evening light, somewhere between silhouette and colour. I return as night wakes up, that too is a deep pleasure this season. Fragrant, cool inky nights with stars that come alive when you look into the dark.

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Even stones speak to those who listen…

The couple of hours out every afternoon/evening are a long meditation in a manner of speaking. Sometimes I think if I keep this long enough, I may become mute. Actually, speech has reduced significantly even as the written word has become more voluminous. Perhaps it is time to pause for a while and learn a mutism of the written word too. That’s a restraint I am yet to embrace.

Births in pandemia

Do not read if you get queasy about childbirth.

I received a picture of a masked migrant woman, holding a new born baby, the umbilical cord still attached and blood dripping between her legs. That image had a quiet dignity to it which made the message all the more stark and terrible in its silent depiction of one of the horrors of this lock down.

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Birthing is such an exhausting act at the best of times and in the case of women who have given birth during this mass exodus, I can’t even begin to imagine what they have endured. I remember feeling as though each pore in my body was burnt out when I gave birth to the firstborn. I was a very young mother then and not as strong then as I was with the second one. The body felt ravaged and the insides raw. The body is vulnerable following birth as it begins to get over the shock of an empty womb after 9 months of life growing within.

It doesn’t quite end with expelling a child from your insides but continues through the days with the internal organs readjusting to a pre-pregnancy state, a process that takes a few weeks. Every time the uterus contracts to shrink into its normal size, there would be a violent cramping. If the baby refused to wake up and feed on time, the breasts would harden into rock solid pain which could in turn lead to an infection taking a few days to settle. If the baby was a large one, chances are you would have to be cut to make way for her little bawling self to emerge into a blinding world. If you were unlucky, you were torn in jagged edges to let life fulfill itself. The birth wounds eventually heal and leave scars hidden from sight and the pain would be eventually forgotten. If not for the forgetting, women would probably refuse to have multiple children.

Millions of women have gone through this, some in the confines of their homes, hospitals or then out in the open. There are women who have brought children alone into the world, severing the umbilical cord and delivering the placenta themselves and there have been women who have had babies in hospitals or at home with midwives or doulas or then doctors and nurses. It is a period that requires rest to recuperate from the internal brutalizing and the comfort of a familiar space makes it a little easy to bear. I suppose that is why traditionally women went to their parent’s homes to have their children. Of course, these days sometimes convenience of access to the regular doctor dictates staying put.

I found myself thinking of all the mothers who delivered their babies in a pandemic, far away from anything familiar and in conditions that were worse than those of their tough lives before the exodus. The pain of that is something that raises silent screams in vague places inside me for the terrible pain of another woman. If it’s her first child, the terrors of childbirth are a hundred fold. The anticipation of pain as shared by older women who have had children or then what is depicted in movies makes the fear of the pain to come acute. And by the time, it is time, the body is exhausted carrying all that additional weight and fatigue. A long drawn out labour compounds the agony, the body drenched in sweat as the radiating pains of contraction hit you multiple times. Add to that the embarrassment of having your insides on display.

Birthing strips you of shame. It’s gory, the blood and fluids as a naked child emerges out of a naked mother. Strangers poke around and tease reluctant babies who take their time entering the world. Once you have gone through that experience, it is hard to feel embarrassment about the body.

And now imagine walking for endless miles with an additional 10 or 15 kilos under a punishing Indian summer sky. Imagine the heat rising in waves from the road and an unending stream of people walking with you. Imagine having to push a baby out of your body by the roadside. Tell me if you wouldn’t scream for more than just the pain of labour?

I wonder what the new mother would think or feel about her child, the one born in a pandemic which upended her life. What would she name the little person who would need feeding and nurture regardless of her state of mind and body? Would she see hope or bitterness? Would she howl in pain or resign in silence? Would she be resentful or glad? And then I ask, who would care what she feels when the immediate concern is about making it alive to her home far away.

The days will heal the wounds of childbirth and the weeks will wrap themselves around survival of the bodies of mother and child. Hopefully. Maybe the months will add layers of new memories burying old ones and she’ll find pleasure once again. Maybe a child’s unbridled laughter will make her forget the price of his/her being. I’d like to rest in hopeful thoughts because the alternative is unbearable.

A little about some of the things that matter

This was meant to be a blog about sarees when it started but lately it’s grown to be about the days of a pandemic and a mix of some of the things I enjoy. But then life too is like the warp and weft of the six yards. It crisscrosses and adds motifs in its weave or then through embellishments. Lest it be forgotten that this is still about pleated stories too, a saree picture from yesterday- this one’s from the home state of my parents, Kerala. I didn’t expect to be writing here everyday but it has become one of the things I look forward to after my hours outside.

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a mundum neriyathum from the state of my ancestors

As a runner, I preferred early mornings since it set the tone for the day. But as a walker, I find I prefer late afternoons and evenings for their ‘in-betweenness’. These days there is a pattern settling in, usually trash collection first and dumping it in my car before ambling. That’s followed by a drive around the cantonment, gulmohurs are my current excuse considering that they’re blazing away in all their summer glory.

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roads in pandemia

This part of the city has been a familiar one through its different shades every season and I’ve mostly experienced it in the mornings. Late evenings were drives from class or work and often in the thick of traffic. The empty roads these days are a pleasure and sometimes I play speed demon on long stretches. But, mostly I cruise and stop to take pictures. It’s a frantic recording of these days. Much of change is invisible when it is happening and their unpacking happens with the distance of time. IMG_20200527_174708

and that’s the tree that called 🙂

The trail was a joy today, a little more than usual since I finally found my tree. Ever since I started walking here, I was on the lookout for that one tree that would call to me and today it did. I rested against it and watched the town below. There was a goods train snaking its way into the city and a truck lumbering along. Else, all was quiet. The tree swayed in the wind and my body moved along. The wind in the evenings makes the leaves rustle and it sounds like ocean waves. Most of the trees are glyricidias, closely planted and they creak as their branches rub against each other. There are a few neem trees and some of them are partners with the shishir. Today, the woods had a different smell, more herbal, maybe it was the section I was in although I didn’t notice anything different in the dried curly leaves on the forest floor. 

As I lugged the trash through the interiors, a young man joined me. Turns out he has seen me around and the trash bag caught his attention. He must be about as old as the firstborn and we got chatting. It is always nice to listen to young people and their dreams, this boy wanted to get into the police force and was out training for his physical fitness examination. As we parted ways, I thought of how easy it is to talk with strangers. No need for names or back stories, just the now. But there is also something comforting about the familiarity of faces on these walks which I haven’t been able to pinpoint. Like seeing Mr. C and his wife, even if it is at a distance. There used to be Mr. B  during my running days,  who would say, “things are on an even keel with all the familiar faces” and I’d think to myself yes.

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a bike with no rider!

The trail is always new. Every walk throws up interesting sights and sometimes a few things come back with me like a clutch of abandoned poems, pods, stones etc. Somehow, in its warm brown silences, a pandemic disappears and a child’s delight emerges.

Many are the lessons…

The trail was empty for the longest time and then one guy strayed on my path, he clapped his hands and said good job. What people don’t realize is that I’m selfish in cleaning the place up. It gives me satisfaction to see an expanse of brown and I can walk without having to watch out for broken glass and other trash. Today, I managed to clear only a small section, the bag got full and heavy as there were many glass bottles. There is so much rubbish, this is going to take a while.

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a fallen tree that has adapted to growing horizontally 🙂

The gloves make my palms hot, sweaty and smelly. Thankfully, there was sanitizer which sort of masked the horrid smell but it still lingered. And I thought of all the medical personnel with the PPE suits who spend hours together soaked in perspiration while treating those afflicted with Covid. Drinking a glass of water, using the washroom and other such tasks that one takes for granted would be such a challenge in those suits. I thought of the discomfort of all the women in healthcare who faced the additional burden of dealing with their periods, often bleeding onto their clothes. And I thought of millions of migrant women walking back with little to no access to privacy to deal with childbirth or menstruation. The ickiness with the smelly hands was no longer bothersome.

The trail makes me think of others, it is time away from the screen and in the quiet of its heart, I sift through the unknown faces I see or read about during the day. These days with the added movement of picking up trash, I find a different quality to the thoughts. Physical work always does to me, it simplifies things to their bare essentials. The mind automatically kicks into a kind of efficiency mode and I watched the constant stream of chatter in the head. 

“Another bag full of trash collected. I shall keep the tiny blue bottle from the trash as a reminder of today. Make it a planter. There are many intact bottles, it would be nice to upcycle those. But how to manage the logistics and who will upcycle? Also the sanitizing and storing. Maybe the child can paint those bottles and we can put plants in them and give them to people? I need to put a little thought to make this more meaningful.”

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Mr.C is usually there around the same time and we exchange hellos and pleasantries, he reminds me to be careful and I defer to his mop of white hair. He’s planted a banyan sapling near the peepals. It makes me very happy, the thought of a giant tree that will grow there. And years from now, there will be other people who come seeking the open and quiet and they will look at that tree. Maybe they’ll wonder how a lone banyan tree grew on a hillock. What they will not know is that it was an old man who planted a tree knowing fully well that he would not live to sit under it’s shade. Many are the lessons these walks teach.

Maybe I’ll grow me a forest

Late afternoons have settled into a nice rhythm with a large chunk of time spent in the woods followed by a spin around the neighbourhood to catch glimpses of the gulmohurs. The trail was empty when I got there and I walked aimlessly through the dry scrub for a while. The birds were not as noisy as they usually are, the mynas sound like they’re fighting most of the time. Perhaps it was the heat that kept animal and human away, it was about 40 degrees. And maybe heat that made the mind think slow thoughts.

If ever I end up being a caretaker of a patch of land I call my own, I might just let it grow wild and become a forest. Maybe animals and birds will come to live there and if they permit, I’ll also disappear into it for some time. Letting things grow the way they are meant to means giving up the need for control and the belief that we know better. Sometimes life unfolds its wild beauty quite like that, unplanned and far more richer in texture.

Raat Ranis – these tiny nocturnal blooms are quite heady

A few years ago, I stopped trying to tame my balcony garden and let the weeds grow alongside the plants. Mostly I did nothing save water them. Over time, the mealy bugs disappeared, the plants looked happier and caterpillars came to stay and morphed into beautiful butterflies on the curry leaves. Adenium pods burst and their babies sprouted by the dozen. Lilies sprung at the root of bougainvilleas and ferns emerged from nowhere. Instead of an orderly, tidy garden, I got a piece of urban jungle right outside my room, complete with visiting feathered friends and tiny creepy crawlies.

It happened by chance and then I discovered Fukuoka and the concept of ‘mu‘. I was reminded of this thanks to a fellow blogger who mentioned one of his books today. This was around the time I worked with fresh produce and was also running long distances barefoot. There was an intersection of earth, food and body and the connections between them started becoming clearer. Some of Masanobu’s work finds resonance in the Indian texts too, especially the Taittiriya Upanishad which talks about the food sheath. Food was not just what I fed my body but also my mind. Most of my learning has been a stumbling into self-discovery through the lens of yoga. Of course, a lot of it is incomplete and sometimes completely off the mark but even that teaches.

The horse with no name🎶

It was a quiet sort of a Monday and the highlight was the two odd hours spent outdoors. Since I was driving around anyway, headed to the racecourse which has been shut since lockdown began. All the common landmarks were also firmly shut and considering the situation in this state, they are likely to remain like that for much longer than the end of the month. The streets were fairly empty and it seemed a little tense. In another time, it would have been a busy period with Eid revelry but festivals and celebrations are muted now.

I did see a beautiful sight though, a young man taking a picture of his friend clad in pristine white against a wall of bougainvilleas. It was a moment I framed in my mind for the pure joy in that face – unadulterated light. These moments make it bearable when the horrors of the world outside make the heart heavy. Today, I ended up reading a terrible account of brutality and I couldn’t get over the cruelty against a 10 year old. Destruction exists in nature too and it has a cyclical purpose to regenerate. Unfortunately, in humans, sometimes causing harm is the purpose.

Thinking about Trash

Slipped away into the woods again this afternoon and it felt like how it used to feel before a virus threw the world out of whack. I walked for a while on the path usually taken by walkers, runners and bikers. It’s relatively cleaner but all the trees that would be perfect to sit down under and lean against were sites of trash. Beer cans, whisky bottles, empty packets of chips and condoms, cigarette packs, slippers, plastic cups and bottles made up today’s haul. There’s something deeply satisfying about cleaning up. And on my way back to the car, a biker on the path stopped to speak. He said that a group of them were planning to start cleaning up post lock down and asked if I would like to join them. I said yes, it should be faster to work in a group.

Since the trail does not have provision to dispose garbage, I had to drive a fair distance to dump it appropriately. The roads were empty, my car stereo turned up and I drove around drinking in the rages of crimson. It’s a short season of gulmohurs and being able to enjoy their fiery loveliness has been a pleasure in a summer that has been unlike any other.

Much of the human activity markers of summer have been missing like swims and golas, beach holidays and late night walks. So we made do with balcony sunbathing and cool showers, icecreams and jasmine scented moonshine rains. All it takes is a little imagination and the mind can wrest much even out of impossible situations.

Driving with a bag full of trash made me think of the people who handle and sort our waste. Most urban dwellers’ association with garbage ends outside their doors and there is little thought given to what happens after. The more affluent the household, the more trash and less consideration in general. During the course of field work in the city a few months ago, I found slum dwellers were more sensitive to who handled their waste. They were concerned about animals feeding on rubbish and their waste being strewn about. Unlike the more tony neighbourhoods, the trash in their bastis is often visible and overflowing.

Many of them are a sandwich generation, caught between rigid elders and children who live in the future. They struggle under the burden of old thoughts which they don’t quite believe in anymore but can’t seem to shake off either. My work was primarily with women and there was not a single story I heard that did not inspire me. Their lot often included drunken spouses, domestic violence, poverty, squalor and yet they managed to carve out little indulgences. They all displayed resilience, grit, courage and tenacity even while retaining their softness. All traits that would see them ride an unpredictable time probably a little better than many others who are used to planning their days and years.