Amaltas

Fridays usually see a grocery run to stock up on fresh produce to cover the weekend. It’s also an opportunity to have my fill of the flowering trees on city streets. Pune is flush with amaltas now.

On one hand, I seek the woods and soak in all their gentle wildness. In that space, things seem as they should be in their presence. Away from the wild, I find the same sense of presence in the trees that line the cantonment streets. Back at my desk, there is another world of disbelief and suspension.

Just a marker post for a day in a pandemic. Soon, these moments spent in communion with beloved trees will come to a halt as the inevitable lockdown will clamp the country. It is only a matter of time.

Selfish, this act of self preservation.

In other news, I may have found some organizational help in cleaning up my beloved woods. It would be nice to get that done thoroughly once and for all.

Desolate

No vehicles at the station meant a cricket game for the attendants
Desolate food court, all eateries shut except Starbucks and McD but no takers
Ronald McDonald is masked and staying safe
Summer showers
Empty streets
Chasing Gulmohurs has been a pandemic pursuit, some images from the summer of 2020 and 2021

An unexpected trip to Bombay and back on a desolate highway. The city streets at both ends had nakabandis, screeching ambulances and reduced traffic. The cops have a tough job screening people and sometimes lose their cool. It is not a pleasant sight.

Entering my home city, it was a balm to see favourite trees in full bloom, oblivious to the madness of a pandemic.

The numbers of the dead are like a ticker, non-stop. Each of them linked to families and friends, colleagues and acquaintances. By the time the virus and it’s cascading madness lose momentum, we will be a country populated by mourners. Imagine the weight of collective grief and rage, fear and paralysis. How does one heal enough to pick up the pieces of broken hearts, mangled minds, silent homes and lost livelihoods?

A photo note to remember a day when empty roads did not inspire speed but slow reflection

An incoherent grief

I just got to know about N’s passing away. It’s a shock, I didn’t expect her to pass away so soon The kids are hovering around. The firstborn says, “Mama don’t be alone.” But, I need space and silence. I need my woods. I’ll escape into its quiet in a bit but before that, words.

I never met N, we spoke on the phone occasionally, exchanged letters and shared sarees. We were two strangers who shared a love for the quiet pleasures of books, nature and sarees. Instagram brought us together and we’ve followed the snippets of our lives through a little window. Despite all the bad rap social media gets, it has brought me some wonderful people I now call friends.

Two weeks ago, I received a parcel from N, a lovely grey ikat saree and a slim book, ‘The Living Mountain’ with the sweetest note inside. The title and book blurb sounded like I needed to read it right then and that’s what I proceeded to do. One of the few instances where I read a book cover to cover at a go, despite knowing that it is best savoured slowly. But, I wanted to read a work that my friend thought I’d like and so I gulped it, greedily. I called her as soon as I finished the book and she was apologetic for not feeling more cheerful. She had recently tested positive for Covid-19. That was Neelu, always concerned about others than herself which is something I realized about her, early on in our acquaintance.

Nan Shepherd’s book is the book I wish I wrote. This book will be doubly precious now for it has come to me from her. There is a little bit of her in that note written on its page, the closest to feeling her touch. Soft, tender, gentle, kind, considerate, caring, encouraging, supportive – I could go on about her and it would be echoed by many like me who haven’t met her but only known her virtually.

Now, I sit here, typing because I know of no other way to feel grief for the loss of a friend I only knew through a screen and handwritten notes. I miss not having felt the dazzle of her smile, what I imagine would be the scent of her presence, the warmth of her hug and her lilting voice. She may be gone but she left me a title that I need to complete, if not for anything else then simply for her.

RIP N.

A pandemic afternoon

It’s incongruous, the panic of people at large and the absolute assurance of nature in all her glory. 200 metres into the trail, the city fades off and there’s nothing but dry browns and fresh greens of an Indian summer.

I walked a while until I came to a rocky patch a little off the trail. While bright, the sun was not hot so I lay down on the rock and watched the kites riding the thermals against the moon.

And right there, the world was perfect and I was a butterfly basking in the sun.

Reflections on asana

At best, I’m a mridu student, what the purists would call a mild one. The gains in asana have been more a function of a few years and a meandering exploration rather than a strict, structured one. In practice, I am curious rather than outcome led, the shift having happened during a long period of knee rehabilitation. Many of the poses and positions I assumed then were passive, heavily propped and required long stays. It helped the body alright, I can walk long and far, sit cross legged and even attempt the odd lotus pose now. But, more than that, I learned to simply be. This really is why I return to the mat again and again.

As a raw beginner, there was a lot of doing, energetic muscular actions but with time, there has been more efficiency in quieter, less effortful movements. A certain luxuriousness of curiosity, an embracing of the unknown, an openness to experiences of the senses, the mind and textures of silence. The same asana is never the same just like the oft trodden paths I walk are never the same.

Honing a craft involves repetition, countless repetition and yet it is new every time. The nectar of any activity is revealed and received as benediction but before that one has to strive, sweat and bleed. In the few years of study, I’ve been fascinated by the very first pose that was taught, Tadasana or the mountain pose. It is a deceptively simple act of standing straight but like many fellow practitioners, I can spend an hour or more exploring and examining the actions, reactions, responses, effects and so on.

This morning was again a study in tadasana through the anatomy of the hamstrings and sartorius muscle. The very act of standing is a symphony of so many parts, each coming together to hold the body upright. Close your eyes and you begin to see how despite the seeming symmetry, there’s a favouring of one side. Sometimes, we explore tadasana through a headstand and that’s when their firmness comes into play. At others it is through being seated or in supine positions. Each approach is a bit like climbing a mountain from its different faces. The texture of a tadasana arrived at from sirsasana is dramatically different from one that is a result of seated poses like dandasana or upavishtakonasana.

What does it mean to stand tall in tadasana? What does it mean to be a mountain? Every time I think of mountains, I imagine presence quite like the trees and stones, things of the earth element. Grounding and providing a substratum for the play of life. Our feet and legs too belong to that same principle of firm groundedness. Now more than ever, we need that stability and contentment to endure what is difficult and what is uncertain. Now more than ever we need the quiet strength and elegance to stay. Names of asanas are a lovely invitation to stay with their meaning and plumb their essence into one’s actions.

Silence

Last April we were in lockdown. This April too is a lockdown one although not as restrictive as the previous year. But there is a hunkering down mindspace that rearranges the days. Like the year gone by, we occupy our private bubbles of words and art, emerging for chores or meals or chess. The last is probably a marker for a second year of a pandemic. This time around, it is much closer with most of us knowing people in our immediate circles who have been affected. I graze on news just enough to keep abreast of travel restrictions.

Once again, I spend hours in my terrace garden with its scents of jasmines and an expanse of sky and tree tops. It is easy to slip into silent mode and I am reminded of the rustiness of speech after days of silence. It almost feels like a violation, talking after being in quietness. But that is only silence as absence of sound. The mind continues its chatter. I read somewhere that true silence is really an absence of thought. Would it be possible to be truly silent?

Slipping into the woods

Slipped into the woods this morning and it was empty save for the elderly couple who came to walk their beautiful German Shepherd and a couple of runners. I’ve been walking the western edge lately and it is a delight for there are more birds there. I saw two Indian thick knees today, last week it was just one bird in the same spot. Perhaps, there is a nest and little babies. They’re masters of camouflage, I didn’t realize how close it was until it took off to stand still at a little away.

In plain sight
Walking off the regular track, one gets to see and hear much more not to mention the pleasures of being alone. I walk the same browns and never tire of it, it is rather like chipping away at the same asana and discovering something new every single time. I hear echoes of what my running mentor would say, “master the route”. I never really listened to his words until much time passed for back then I chased new roads. Perhaps it was loss of running and the subsequent fallowness as I spent hours in passivity on the mat that allowed to go deeper rather than wider, look through a microscopic lens rather than a telescopic one.
The floor of the woods points me to the skies
Sometimes I think all the damage we inflicted on this beautiful planet is simply because of this tendency to look outwards and probe rather than being still and receiving when we are ready. We really should leave some things to their own mysteries, unknown and hidden but that probably will never happen. How much is our need to know, to get control over what is outside of us! Perhaps, it is to compensate for unruly thoughts and feelings that emerge, how does one stop them from arising anyway?

Walking through Pandemia

We’re back in a kind of lockdown again with nothing but essential goods and services. It’s been this way for a while now and the rest of the state joined in last night. But this time around, the announcement was like bracing for that sharp cold of the first lap in a pool rather than an unexpected shove into it. Pune has been under similar conditions over a week so this new set of restrictions hasn’t really changed anything. Quite a few people I know, including some dear friends tested positive and some even took quite ill but thankfully, they are recovering.

Life’s been meandering along highways and my beloved woods almost equally. But looks like there’ll be a pause in all that long distance driving for a couple of weeks. The woods may still be a possibility in the wee hours or early afternoon but that is to be seen. Yesterday, the youngling and I went to a hill at a distance. The sky was overcast and we got some rain on the way. The amaltas made a beautiful contrast against a grey background and the trail itself was mostly empty. We sat down and watched three men fish in the quarry below although I’m not sure they would’ve caught anything. Much of the water has dried up and it looks a little naked.

While walking on the soft earth with the youngling, I thought about how walking in nature with another person is such an intimate act. There is something about wooded spaces that naturally lowers the need for control and conversation unfolds from a place of vulnerability, like the soft underbelly of animals. It is a period when the whole and the particular, the distant and the near are both available in their fullness. Time too takes its rightful measure outside of the human constrictions of minutes and years. During the last couple of years, the woods near my place have been where I spent many delightful hours. That place taught me many things, continues to teach me much still and I go like a wild child into its calm, to wander and become one with it.

Lately, all the pandemic panic I see around me has been a bit fatiguing and it also feels like a regression into last year’s bubble. The kid has a pandemic playlist and while we listened to it on our way to the trail, we reminisced about our routine in 2020. She’d paint late into the night to the same playlist and I could hear the music waft through my balcony. We were a fuller household then but more withdrawn. Mother lived with us then. These days we have Speedy, a rescued turtle who is a temporary guest. He’s absolutely adorable and has a terrible foot fetish which makes him quite the speed demon. Luckily, he likes to just look and not snap.

Today, I had a surprise delivery from someone I got to know virtually. She sent a saree for ghadi modane (you could read an earlier post about it here) along with a most delightful book, The Living Mountain. Needless to say, I sat down to gulp the pages greedily. Nan Shepherd writes about the Cairngorm mountains what I feel about the woods in my neighbourhood. Her words make me want to skip in joy, withdraw into the quietest silence within and dissolve into all that I love. The book is on the immediate re-read list.

Throughout pandemia, I received many gifts, most of all the gift of connection from those I’ve barely known, those I’ve known intimately and absolute strangers. It echoes what my teacher mentioned this morning, about the necessity to connect with others as well as with oneself. That latter one comes easy through time outdoors or on the mat or then simply watching the sky from my floor. The former though is a navigation and one I probably still have to learn from my beloved woods.