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

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.

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.

Friends Library

A few weeks before a pandemic shut down the world, I had paused my membership at the neighbourhood library. I’d gone a little book crazy then, buying an assortment of titles from an exhibition. This was topped with a pile of books I received from an acquaintance. It made sense to pause and finish what I had on hand. But I guess it’s a common reader tendency to always end up having unread books. Additionally, I also bought a few on the kindle during lockdown. My reads were mostly non-fiction interspersed with children’s books from the youngling’s shelf when I needed a break.

Last evening, I took myself on a nice long walk in the old Cantonment and rounded it off by heading to the library. It’s a quaint little place, over quarter of a century old and run by two ladies, K and A. Friends Library has had a loyal clientele over the years and the two ladies know all their regulars well. K is usually the one at the desk in the evenings and she knows the kind of books that I like. Sometimes I ask her to pick me something and she unerringly chooses the perfect one. She’s crazy about dogs and the library is always fostering abandoned ones. Shadow was a long time resident, he was gone though, someone adopted him. Four new strays had made themselves comfortable. Shadow would be sprawled between two shelves where I’d browse. It felt strange not to see him in his usual spot.

K was shocked to see me bald but like with most people, it was just an initial reaction. I’m still the same old me. Although the place was open, there were not many visitors. Most of the members are senior citizens and have been staying at home. K rued that a lot of folks hadn’t bothered to return books they had taken months ago. A long borrowing inevitably gets written off. Everytime I see the copy of Tughlaq at home, I feel mildly guilty at not having returned the book to my college library. But it’s also nice to have some relic of that short period in my life. I don’t think I have anything else from those years, no pictures, nothing. Maybe I should leave a note in the book about how it came to nestle among the other books at home. I digress.

Wonder what the autobiography of this book might read like…

Back to the library, it was quiet. Earlier, a little charm with bells that hung on the door never stopped tinkling. It was a place of comings and goings, of seniors and children, indulgent parents and solitary bookworms. There was a small sense of community in a largely indifferent city. The pandemic has erased that camaraderie. I suppose it will eventually come back but there is a certain apathy that is visible. The tiny place also has an attic for the kids, with books and toys along with a cosy area for reading. The youngling has spent countless hours reading there and often I’ve had to climb up to get her to come home. There are no children lounging there anymore.

I picked up a couple of books, one I’ve been meaning to read for a while and the other a random pick for its title. By the time, I got to K with my books, she already had the long green card with my name ready. I’d forgotten my number but she remembered. Come today evening, I was back at the library and returned one of the books I had read and the youngling got herself a nice, fat book to read. It feels good to slide into a familiar haunt, one that is warm and welcoming and smells of books.

“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.

“I wouldn’t be Lorena without my skirt.”

Running films do something inside, they give rise to an ache and a firing up simultaneously. It is a sport alright but it is also something more fundamental at its core, a way to go beyond limitations. As a novice runner a few years ago, Born to Run was the first running book I read when I was nursing an injury. A few weeks after I started running, I fell and tore the ligaments on both sides of my foot pretty badly, necessitating a cast and a longish recovery. It was frustrating to have a grinding halt just when I had begun to run 5ks with ease and was enjoying their rhythm. That’s when my running mentor and friend gave me ‘Born to Run’ and I devoured the book as I waited out the injury. Perhaps that’s when the seed of running barefoot was planted although it took a while before I ditched the shoes.

Yesterday, I watched Lorena and it took me back to that book and the heady days of running. The film reminded me of the silence that would come after a long run. Before I learned to quiet the mind in less exhausting ways, running long and far was a way of emptying it. On the ground, there is nothing but one foot in front of the other and the swing of arms and a head full of chatter which settles into calm as the body and breath finds its rhythm. Walking is different, it slows thoughts to pick them at leisure, atleast the kind of ambling I indulge in.

The film speaks in the whispers of silence. As a composition, the movie is in the nature of an observation or contemplation, a looking from the outside into the quiet of an ultra-marathoner. The landscapes speak more than the individuals and give a glimpse into their stoicism, Resilience and quiet certainty of their lives. They make the threads of the 30 minutes and the rare smiles that the ultra runner flashes light up the screen as brightly as her yellow skirt. Running strips one of all that is unnecessary and some days the longing for it is almost unbearable.

Lorena,_Light-Footed_Woman_poster
image courtesy: Wikipedia

There’s one place where she impishly comments on her clothing during runs, “I wouldn’t be Lorena without my skirt.” In one section, she lifts her skirt and runs while swinging it in rhythm, an unconscious action but such a fluid one. Her footwear is a pair of humble sandals that remind me of the rain shoes we use to wear to school during the monsoons in Bombay. It was an aberration in the uniformity that was the norm otherwise in the school. We could wear any rain shoes as long as it was black but every other element of the school uniform was the same for all the kids. The pandemic has put a halt to walking barefoot outside considering that our roads are not the most hygienic of spaces.

The days have been full and incidentally work has been about a film as well. We were meant to shoot in the last week of March and then the lock down happened. Finally, we shoot today and I’m looking forward to watching some young talent do their magic. It didn’t strike me until today that it is a Saturday and a national holiday. These days have blurred the separation lines between work and home but strangely, I find the work-life balance better now.

I packed a bag

The last time I packed a bag was 5 months ago, almost to the date. I packed one again. No desire, no aversion just one foot in front of another as I travelled to a place a hundred metres away but so, so far away from a person I used to be.

The bag is the same and while putting things in it, I found a hotel tag reminding me of a sunny March. A spring when I soaked in the sun and enjoyed a lazy swim, watching buffaloes in the fields nearby. Back then, the bag held gorgeous sarees, a book or two and swimwear.

Today, it held yoga props, books, a couple of tees and shorts and my trusty old laptop. Come to think of it, I could roam the world with just this much.