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.

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.

Homelessly home

Homeless across 3 cities with homes in each…

At Amboli

But not these macaques. There were two of them, (not seen here) who seemed to have some tumour like growth.

Drove past backwaters, lush jungles, dry grasslands, rolling hills, grey highways and city streets till a pit stop. And now, onward we go.

What’s in a name?

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.

On Being

Ever since going bald early on in the pandemic, I’ve maintained a short buzz, about half a cm at best. It’s convenient, fuss free and I don’t need to depend on anyone for a haircut. The funny thing about going bald is how it has made me feel more feminine than before while confusing some people in the world outside. Errands and walks tend to see me in pants and a tee which mean I could very easily pass off for a man. I rarely wear earrings now because of the mask and it’s no surprise that there is confusion. Inevitably, the gaze moves from my head to the chest to verify that I am a woman. I wonder if it should bother me and I realize it doesn’t simply because I don’t feel naked.

It made me think about what does it mean to be a woman? A younger me would have a different answer, one of rebellion perhaps. As an older person, I don’t consider myself as being limited to the identity of a woman. I just happen to be female among the many other things I am and do. There is no neat box that contains a person, we are so much more than our limited identities.

A few days ago, I saw a delightful little film, Dancing with the birds. Such elaborate courtship rituals with the ladies needing to be impressed and their almost ruthless practicality when it comes to choosing a mate. The male and the female of the species have their place and tasks to accomplish, neither more necessary than the other. While we lament the disparity between men and women, there have always been the free spirits who have sung their own tune, taken off on their own flights. Nothing could hold back the force of their freedom. I suppose it boils down to one’s own sense of personhood and how much can be tolerated. When the pain of remaining in a situation is greater than the pain of the unknown, there is the possibility of change. I’m inclined to think of it as being mostly personal. Change begins in the singular; its fruits though are collective.  Quite like a seed that grows into a tree, a gift to the future. The trail blazers have forged ahead, mostly solitary and with their sights on moving to a song only they hear. In the process, they also cut a path for those yet to come.

Another packed work day but managed to carve out an hour at lunch time to go on a walk around the neighbourhood. It never fails to energize and refresh thinking after long hours staring at a screen. Besides the urban wild, there were cricket games, a drum seller, some delicious masala dosa and  wafting music.

“Flowers for you”

If it weren’t for a pandemic, I wouldn’t have received this bunch of saptaparni flowers from a fruit vendor. I’d most likely be out at work or at the institute at that hour. A lock down rearrangement has made place for work and play, with greater flexibility. There are days I work in the morning and then there are days I spend the first half outdoors. Leisure first then work or vice versa.

The fruit seller had seen me admire the flowers a few nights ago and was amused at my fascination. The hour was late, he was packing up but we exchanged a few words about their lovely scent. He mentioned that it drove him mad at times, it is indeed a maddening fragrance. They’re blooming early this year, I’ve usually seen them around Navratri time. Yesterday morning I walked by again just to meet the tree and he snapped off a branch and handed me these bewitching beauties. They are wonderfully fragrant especially in the nights. They go by the botanical name of alstonia scholaris or the common Devil’s tree or Blackboard tree. There’s a lovely compilation on it that I came across which covers some of the traditions associated with it from across the country.

The weekend that passed was a leisurely one meeting friends over coffee and Ganesh Chaturthi sweets. The picture above is from a friend’s home, she is an artist and makes beautiful paintings in the Thanjavur style. The Ganesha in the image is one of her earlier creations.

Some of it was also spent meandering along the sullied rivers of Pune watching our winged friends. There were dozens of them although I couldn’t get any clear pictures on the phone. Cormorants, egrets, kites, herons and the usual smaller ones. The Mula and Mutha are in full flow now and the sound of their waters is mesmerizing. Recently, I saw a movie which had frames of the sea against a cliff and I recalled the sounds of crashing waves at another rocky beach. It’s a treacherous drawing in, the combination of sound and movement. Almost hypnotic and there are times I imagine them saying dive in. Nature’s fury has a wild, raw beauty- dangerous as it is mesmerizing.

Lest it seem like it’s all play and no work, the days have an ‘easy busy’ (like a recent professional acquaintance termed it) nature as far as my professional commitments are concerned. A rather incidental fall into teaching also happened a few months ago and I discovered that I enjoy the process of sharing what I have learned. It is a deep contentment to see eyes light up when others experience the awakening and awareness of their own bodies. It has made me a better student too. Despite the devastation and loss wreaked by the pandemic, there have been gifts, like an unfettering in the way we work, learn and play.

It’s a beautiful world

What a beautiful world we inhabit!

Lately the walks have been sporadic considering the extremely wet weather. There have been the odd late night ambles and some highway tripping though. The latter was an absolute delight, long stretches of pitch dark and very little traffic. This evening, I went for a short walk and it was another one of those bursting with happy kind of days. Just at the sheer pleasure of being alive and being able to enjoy the lavish spread of nature. The green is lush and walking under their cover is incredibly rejuvenating.


Inspite of all that we’ve ravaged, there’s still so much magic in every step. From rot to ripe, a continuous cycle of rebirths. Seed to fruit and back, endlessly. The same in the animal kingdom with species continuing to keep themselves continuous. Endless procreation in their own image even as their lives get snuffed.

As I walk in the now, I’m conscious of the insignificant tiny blip of my existence against the long past of this universe as we know it today as well as the unknown length of the future. I look at the fallen leaves and imagine that hundreds or thousands of years from now, some one may unearth fossils from this ordinary piece of land and imagine how things would have been in 2020, the year of corona. What would a world in 3000 look like? What imprints would our species carry into that millenium?

Some sights from today as I walked with a skip in my step and music on my lips. It’s so easy to slip into a make-believe world. 🙂



Abandoned houses

Sundays have been restful days since the last couple of months. A complete day off. Sometimes, the youngling and I take off either for a long walk or a drive. Yesterday, we quickly finished stocking up a bit of fresh produce and a few essentials before heading out to the other end of town. We got a takeaway breakfast, listened to music of her choice and drove past the cantonment in our neighbourhood to the one further away in Khadki. Khadki or Kirkee as it used to be known is an old cantonment, approximately 200 odd years old. It is home to some beautiful old trees, quaint churches as well as old houses, some of them abandoned and in various stages of disrepair.

Kirkee War Cemetery

The light was really pretty around this house.

This one had a bovine squatter!

While a strict lock-down is imminent, it doesn’t feel restrictive personally since the lock-down lifestyle continues save for the restriction on walks and drives. I guess this lock and open game will continue as surges become unmanageable and hospitals run out of beds. In the hour or two that I am out, I see many screeching ambulance hurrying through red lights. The pandemic has lost its ability to shock. Now, it’s simply a part and parcel of everyday living. I suppose when the loss hits closer home, it will bring its own sorrow but else there seems to be a desensitization to its virulence.

Methodist Church

Over the centuries, we have developed some control over some diseases and have come up with tools and techniques to predict natural calamities but largely control is illusory. The planet and her natural laws are boss, we’d be smart to acknowledge that and learn to co-exist with her other creatures and the natural world at large. It seems doubtful though that we will really change if the current is any indication, not just in terms of the environment, hygiene and the likes but also in the way we live amongst our own kind.

I’ve often dwelled on death and dying to understand what it might mean to live and be alive. In yoga practice, one often ends with savasana or the corpse pose. It seems deceptively easy. How difficult can lying down with your eyes shut be but to really inhabit that pose, one has to be prepared to experience being dead. That sense of surrender is a difficult one, making it quite a challenging asana to stay in. Much of what passes for savasana is often guided relaxation and not really resting in the space of not being.

The daughter made an interesting observation that we spent more time outdoors in these months than pre lock-down. She’s gone cycling for at least an hour or two most days while I’ve gone on long walks. It’s been an immersion into the local flora and fauna and there has been a curiosity to understand more about the mini forest that is just around the corner. The woods facing my balcony have also been a rich experience ever since I moved here in December. Seeing it as a green headed space to stark browns to a verdant green again has been a meditation on the march of seasons. The balcony is a restful space and an old pair of binoculars has allowed me to enjoy watching birds and butterflies. The lushness is camouflage now and one has to sit simply for a while to notice the avian activity. I still can’t identify many of the birds, especially the smaller ones but it is interesting to find out. There are many enthusiasts who share freely of their knowledge and then good old books.

Balcony birding

The butterflies are in full form now. In fact, yesterday at one of the old ruins of a house I counted around 10 different species in a matter of 2 or 3 minutes. That compound was a large one and I suspect that the property has a well or another water source. I saw a man, presumably a wandering mendicant in an orange lungi who was putting on a shirt. In another corner of the property, a man sat on a tree with a bag next to him. Homeless people also need their makeshift homes to sit out the vagaries of the weather or people. That particular place had a section of the outer wall still standing and wooden window frames. The brickwork on the house seemed to be from a later period compared to the other ruins I’ve seen. Those bricks are much slimmer.

This property had a riot of butterflies

I found myself looking at the top left window and imagined a woman looking out from a century ago. What would her world be like? What might have she seen from behind the curtains? Did a family live there? Was it a large one or a small one, a happy one or a tormented one? Whose were the ghosts that roamed within its walls? How did the house come to be derelict? Abandoned homes and the stories they can tell. So many reasons, why they are left without pulsating bodies. But that is perhaps something best left undisturbed.

It reminds me of a few lines I wrote a couple of years back.

Abandoned Adeniums

The garden lies untended

No wild overgrowth

Just desolate dust

The Buddha, silent

The house, still

The windows, blank

The doors, unopened

No baby cries

No kitchen smells

No music of life

No singing birds

No blinking lights

Just a mute house

and abandoned adeniums

that bloom

I used to know a house like that…

Days of the body

And some days are purely of the body… Most days, I begin with a yoga class that I attend at 6 am. On a Wednesday, the mat remains open for another 2 odd hours at the end of which, I feel like I’ve finished a rather long run. I suppose it is also endurance of a kind, to work with the limitations of injury, degeneration and the likes and sculpt body shapes that have integrity and beauty.

I had two outings yesterday, one in the morning after wrapping up yoga to pick up supplies and another in the evening. Morning drives are on quiet roads to visit tree friends and watch old houses or ruins of old houses. At one time, I’d imagine homes complete with people and stories but now I see just the houses, in and of themselves. The street cruising is usually to step back into the world from being immersed in the body but today was a restless day. I let an algorithm decide the music and it turned my day into a contemplative dusk.

Some part of the afternoon was spent trying to tame a document but it just kept growing wild on me so decided to head to the woods and maybe tackle the trash. That is uncomplicated. It’s amazing how a few minutes into the trail, the mind clears up as I look at the ground and tree tops, a child in wonder. Nothing exists then except what is around me and it is all green, mostly a wilderness of weeds and bugs that clamour around the trees.

In the woods, the restlessness that I enter with disappears as I walk in between the trees. It usually begins by feeling a filling up and overflowing of something akin to love or thirst. Perhaps, they both are the same thing. Or maybe it is the call of the sap that makes this bubbling over that I don’t feel for humans. It is wordless, thoughtless, without language. After all, language only speaks of attributes and connections. It can only feebly express or rather attempt to express, it does not experience. In the case of trees, their expression is their existence. I suppose it is a good example to show what dharma might mean.

The sun was out and the skyscapes were gorgeous so I sat on a stone and basked in its light as though I were a butterfly. Elsewhere I saw a man sleeping peacefully in the shade of a tree. Dragonflies were all over the place as usual and I watched them idly, got a reasonably clear picture of one. Post walk, I still didn’t feel like I had my fill of the skies so did a quick trip to the race course and was treated to some spectacular views.

While I prefer the vaster spaces, empty roads mostly, I also enjoy the city streets and its moments, ordinary moments like the man feeding the strays, a mother tying the shoelaces of her child, a young couple snuggling on a bike on a secluded road, an old man with baggy pants and a beret waiting for a bus, perhaps? The frames are endless and exist only as a photograph in my mind. Being a human is mostly about doing and less about being for the vast majority of us. Never a still moment. Maybe it is this trait that makes all our stories possible, real and imagined.

All things wild and wonderful

The last few walks were out in the cantonment but they have cordoned off sections now, seems to be a surge in infections. It’s a common enough pattern to open and close off areas as the number of cases fall and rise. Another change is in the number of ambulances I see in a day. Earlier, I’d average sighting to once a day, these days it is 3 to 4. I don’t know if they are related to Covid 19 or not but sometimes a screeching siren insists that the virus is the culprit. People are out and about but mostly masked now. The young crowd though tends to hang out close to each other and some of them are without masks.

Lantana flowers are all over the trail now.

The youngling chooses to accompany me now and then. I must confess I sneakily nudge her in the direction of trees, hoping to see her paint the lovely peeling barks of Eucalyptus trees. Another image I’d like to see on canvas is brown earth, darkened by rains and patterned with faded leaves. Our conversations outside home end up touching various topics and it is a relief that she has a commonsensical approach to some of the burning topics of discussion right now. She’s been dabbling in a little skateboarding and its been another learning opportunity to discover the physics of it as well as understand the biomechanics of balance. She’s a bit of an autodidact so these moments are good to plant seeds for further exploration. I’m not surprised that she enjoys learning via online school as compared to classroom lessons.

Some companions today

Thanks to her and other kids, I learn how her generation views the world. It’s strange how most of my friends and acquaintances have been significantly older people or then much younger ones. I enjoy seeing life from their viewpoints, one set for stories of a time gone by and the other for how they navigate a world that is changing so rapidly. Middle age is a good mean I guess, straddling nostalgia and curiosity about the future. It’s also a time where the transition into becoming an elder begins in a way.

I found myself on the other side of a presentation by 5 teams of young people. Listening to their work, evaluating it and providing feedback they could use made me realize I’ve gotten older and am viewed as such. As a parent to a grown up and a teenager, I am reminded twice over that there comes a time you have to gracefully accept that the young have gone further than you can go and allow them to lead the way
while you celebrate their successes.

Classes opened up for the next couple of months and I think I may have bitten off more than I can chew. Despite the virtual nature, they are intense and perhaps I should have stuck to just the ones I have been attending. I’ll just have to treat it as a two month intensive. There’s been more hours in my day lately and I’ve managed to include new pursuits which also help flex those old grey cells in different ways. Personally, the pandemic has rearranged my life in a good way, simpler and more fulfilling.

And the fig begins another fruiting

The balcony garden is quite happy with the season and there are fruits getting ready. Some of the flowering plants are in bloom – raatrani, parijat, jui, ixora, marigolds and rain lilies. One of the adeniums also strayed into a bloom.