A little bird sings

A myna’s picture made me wander down halls of R&B with two blind musicians even as the skies kept time with pelting raindrops. It turned a room of light into a space of liquid amber and rich voices from the past behind closed eyelids. And just like that a weekday afternoon transformed into a room textured with late night live music even as long columns of numbers stared out of a screen. Between sheets of data and rain, there was a drenching in memory too, one in particular. A night of good food, great music, sounds of conversation, balmy sea breeze and sun tanned bodies dancing without a care. The evening continues in a private club for one.

All this thanks to technology, that brought a little bird on my screen and flew me back in time, recent and way before…

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Had such a good time that night that I barely took any pictures. I don’t know if this is a replica of Mario Miranda’s art or a copy of his style.

A floral Sunday

The city was out shopping and I went out walking in the opposite direction, far away from the madding crowd. While everyone was busy standing in line outside shops, my feet found their way to the closed post office. On a whim, I decided to take pictures of all the different flowers I met on the way and they added up to around 40 or so, some of which are here.
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It’s hard to choose favourites when it comes to flowers, I love them all but there’s a little extra special space for the seasonal ones. Right now, there’s a patch of babool trees that have burst into tiny yellow suns.
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Lock down letters

Another work week passed by like the clouds drifting past. This one was a slow one with tasks mostly on hold due to the latest lock down. The good thing was I finished one of the darlingest books in two days flat, stepping away just to do what could not be avoided. A few letters also got written and there’s a trip to the post office waiting for me when this opens up. Quite a few friends texted with images of letters that finally reached them, almost a month after I put them in the red metal box and that has made me a little more enthusiastic about another round. It got me to reach out for a shoe box of old letters and cards from across the years.

Letters are slow living and I enjoy writing them for a variety of reasons. Often, when I feel stuck, my day begins with a letter or two or three. In the pandemic, I even started writing a monthly letter to myself to be read sometime in the future. It will be interesting to see how I will react to it then. I imagine when I turn 50 there will be a pile to look at and see how the journey over the previous years panned out. Many books and even movies have references to letters and when I come across them, it brings a smile. The act of letter writing is not dead, at least not yet if it is being kept alive through other media. But it does seem like a fading practice or perhaps art.

I enjoy slow correspondence with a few good friends now and it is always a savouring to read their long, thoughtful letters. And when I think of letters, I remember J, long gone now. She wrote gorgeous letters, rich in detail about her days and travels. We got acquainted in the early 90s and continued our exchanges until she passed away in 2007. Letters were how we grew as young women in an age before the internet, sharing the pains and joys of life.We met every time she visited the country and the last time was the year she passed away.

I guess in the age of instant messaging and e-mails, the news in a letter is dated but seen from another perspective, it is a more alive memory. There is reference to the immediate as well as a think aloud that happens in their writing. Sometimes they just rush out in a stream and the times I don’t read it before posting, I wonder if it was all just nonsensical ramblings. But, then thankfully, I forget what I wrote and by the time a reply arrives, life’s river has already flowed far ahead.

Sometimes I am curious to know how many people still write letters like these. At one time, there would be letter writers who would be hired by those who couldn’t write. Those were days before the ubiquitous cell phone and news travelled in mail bags via road and rail. Recently there was an article that revisited the story of a postman who walked through jungles to deliver letters to remote villages in South India.

Last year, on a whim, I wrote a letter to the postman and dropped it in the box. I’ll never know who read it but I like to think that it might have brought a smile to his face, a letter in terrible Hindi but heartfelt gratitude. I have one letter brewing in my head as I type and that’s what I’ll do tonight. A long note to a radiant friend across the seas who writes beautiful letters of light and love.

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.

Cave of forgotten dreams

Saw a brilliant documentary today on the Chauvet Caves in France, Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Discovered in 1994, these are over 32,000 years old and in pristine condition, as fresh as though they were drawn yesterday. They are the oldest known paintings in the world! And all that history lay undisturbed for so long. I was reminded of the time the youngling picked up burnt charcoal pieces from the ashes of the holi fire and sat down to sketch as a 10 year old. The need to create is a primal one, even the Gods are not spared according to myth.

The cave paintings are beautiful, firm of hand, steady, sure. The subject matter is mostly animal life, fauna that would have abounded in the region in that period. I wonder where did they practise to have such steadiness? Proportion, light and shadow, perspective, contours, motion – that takes keen observation, practice. Where did they hone their skill? The pictures are incredibly beautiful. How old or young were the artists? Did they learn from someone or was it spontaneous? What were the thoughts that led to the creation? Did they have a concept of a future far ahead? Did they/he/she think of it as something to be left behind? How did they experience the seeing and the recall of the animals that came to be sketched on the wall with charcoal and red ochre? How would it have been to create in that space? Would the dark and silence have heightened their senses? There are more questions than there can be answers.

Language is beautiful, powerful and elaborate. Yet when it comes to sheer awe, perhaps aural and visual art score a little more. Their eloquence is in their capacity to reach the senses where the immediate responses are less cerebral. Words seem extraneous to the experience of that state of being. And I wonder, what other art did those people indulge in? Did the artist/artists make music, hum in languages we will never know as they painted in those dark spaces? How much time did they spend looking at the walls before the images emerged? How much time did it take to complete? Did they identify themselves as creators of the art in some fashion?

And it makes me question what would our art tell someone 32,000 years from now? Would it inspire the same awe? Would there be a coherence like the ones these paintings seem to exude? In 2020, we are a Babel of art, leaping over a multiplicity of themes, crisscrossing boundaries.

The documentary has men and women from different disciplines, trained in the ways of science but they too sense something beyond the realm of pure science, something at a more primal level. Julien Monney, one of the team present during the movie talks about “A feeling of powerful things, deep things. A way to understand things which is not a direct way.” Clottes speaks about fluidity and permeability and brings in the ideas of transformation, transmigration and the communion between the spirit and the material world. Did those anonymous artists use art as an end or as a means?

There’s the recollection of an Aborigine’s point of view that comes towards the end. The man touches up a decaying painting and a western archaeologist asks him why is he painting over it? And he tells him that he is not painting. It is the hand spirit who is actually painting. And that thought there feels like an echo of what I experience when I write whatever I write. A sense that the words come through me but are not of me.

There are a couple of disjointed scenes like the random introduction of a perfumer and crocodiles which don’t add anything much. It almost feels like the trick question in class that a teacher poses just to see who is paying attention. Post the movie, I spent some time looking at the stunning images. You can find them here 

And couldn’t resist a few lines…

When the ice melts, who

hears its silence as it swells

in a water drop?

 

Wanderings

The last three days were wanderings in the cantonment. I’m not entirely sure if I am supposed to be on those roads but no one has stopped me yet. The trees there are elder ones, tall and wide. They would have been planted by people who may or may not have seen them grow to their adulthood. An act of paying forward.

Still chasing gulmohurs

The gulmohurs are still raging crimson and with the recent rains, their foliage is a refreshing green. The peepals stand grand and many of them have a shock of pale tender leaves which will turn green in a few days and the banyan’s hanging roots have also sprouted shoots. The neem fruits are ripe and there are patches of them quietly rotting on the ground. This season sees a spurt in growth of trees and I’ve often felt as though they creep to the verge. But that seems to also be their undoing as tree cutters come and chop off their branches. Many lanes are strewn with these hacked parts and they release a beautiful tree fragrance even as they bleed. These gentle beings have been around much before us and yet they’re the ones that have to be tamed into order for our convenience.

swaying roots beginning to shoot

One of the trees I mourn is a babool. There used to be one outside my office window and it was the tree I looked at as I worked things out in my head. Tricky work issues, impossible personal ones but I found an anchor for the restless mind in that tree. It’s not a flamboyant species but there is a tenacity about their hardiness and usefulness. It was a problematic one for vehicles though, too close for the comfort of crazy traffic. A couple of Novembers ago that the tree fell in a storm and I mourned its loss for a long time. No one else seemed to care much but I missed the Babool every day. Every time I pass by, I see an unmarked grave, unknown to anyone except me. If you never knew the existence of that tree with a thousand tiny, yellow suns, you would never guess that it stood there for many seasons, long before there was a street.

bael

The cantonment area is old, over 150 years and many of the trees there would be almost as old. Most of the trees in my neighbourhood are young ones in comparison. Pune loves her trees and plants, atleast most of the Puneris who have lived here for generations do. There are many groups of nature lovers and eco-friendly living has many takers. One of the houses I passed by had a hen roaming in the grounds and it was such a delightful sight. It reminded me of the tharavad in Kerala where hens would range free and suddenly there was a desire to go to the land of my foremothers. Work is remote and managed via screens. And I find myself thinking, why not move to God’s own country? Lockdown flights of fancy. We all need our escapes, I suppose.

green wheels! this cheerful man supplies tiffins to houses in the area

The day’s ambling was a steady walk in the cantonment, it was a sunny day and I enjoyed the light and mild heat. Out in the streets, I look to the skies. Often there is a kite or two flying in spirals, effortlessly riding wind streams and as always, I find myself mesmerized by their elegant flight. If I were to be isolated, I think I would be able to tolerate it as long as I had a patch of sky to look at. As against this, the woods make me look to the earth and see life on ground. There is space for both. As I walked under ageless trees, I thought of age and ageing, how it is relative to the state and stages of our lives. In a strange way, the older I grow in chronological years, the lighter I feel, more childlike without the weight of tomorrow and a forgetfulness of the past. Maybe it’s the magic of the outdoors, be it in the woods or on city streets.

As expected, the virus struck close, we have three positive cases in the compound. Luckily, they haven’t sealed the place as yet. I’d miss the daily meanderings. Today’s highlight was this handsome fellow. Isn’t he gorgeous?

Oriental Garden Lizard

Armoured feet

I’ve enjoyed barefoot running and walking for a few years now. Ofcourse I put on sandals or shoes when required but these are as lightweight as possible. After treading lightly for so long, the gum boots felt like clunky armour but the upside, I could walk without having the shoe soles getting clumped and needing to stop every now and then to shake it off. It will take a little getting used to but that seems a small price for the freedom to walk in the woods. The trail is impossible in this season for naked feet with the slippery mud as well as broken pieces of glass. A couple of dogs got injured and had to be bandaged, one of them requiring stitches.
Let’s see how these fare through the season.

Today was a relatively dry day and the place was busy. On my way back, I stopped to watch the last few minutes of a cricket game in progress. 6 runs needed off 4 balls and the tensions were running high. That team didn’t make it. Bumped into Mr.C after long. Barring the crows and mynas and a few shrieking lapwings, there weren’t many feathered ones. Too many humans stomping about. Butterflies and dragonflies were in their usual strength and I spotted a blue moon butterfly, my first in there. I saw a young girl running and it made me very happy.
There are only two gulmohurs in this section and they’ve laid out a beautiful carpet. I’m imagining a saree in the exact same colours…

On my way back, I stopped to buy groceries and saw that the neighbourhood was being shut down. The pandemic has arrived at our doorstep and we’re a containment zone now. There has been a cluster of infections and one death a few blocks away. Time to brace for impact by the looks of it. The apartment complex I live in will most likely see cases considering that there is little to no social distancing here. Kids and adults are out in large numbers in the evenings and barring the odd senior member, no one wears a mask. I wonder if this household will also be a statistic in the pandemic.
And saw a couple of these around the place. Surprising there wasn’t any one taking credit for the banners.

There’s just so much happening all around but I find that my world has shrunk to a fullness with the outdoors, movement and words. It is enough.

Form & Substance

Some days the world is too much with us and the centre cannot hold. Appropriating Mr. Yeats here. Why waste words when someone has already said it so beautifully?

The pandemic has not only unleashed a virus but a lethal cocktail of fear and fatigue. Its manifestation ranges from cruelty, intolerance, anxiety, grief, confusion and a plethora of other states of being, often a flux. At times, it can get too much even for incorrigible optimists. Silence is relief then. I’d read somewhere that silence is not the absence of words but the absence of thoughts. How difficult it is to be truly silent!

And so, the news has been silenced and life has been lived slowly. The frequent and sometimes long power outages have been helpful to keep the expanse of quiet and slowness of analog life moored. The woods aid that sense of anchoring. I’ve been enjoying its green heart in the rains, especially since it is almost devoid of people. No two days in there are the same, it is always fresh and new. The ground is teeming with life now so I stick to the tracks rather than stomp down on some creature. It’s messy with thin soled shoes so got a pair of wellies. Hopefully, ambling will be a little easier over the next few wet months.

A few days ago, I wrote a letter to a little boy who turns 11 later this month. Usually, letters are easy to write, it’s like speaking but occasionally I want them to be a little extra special, like this birthday special for a young man I have never met. So, I let it remain unwritten for a couple of weeks. Finally, it came to me as I lay down on the floor after practice. There was music wafting from the kid’s balcony studio. Perhaps, it was the state of mind after practice, maybe it was the music, maybe it was the morning reading or perhaps it all coalesced into a question. What is the form and substance of our lives, our living? And in that thought, I found my letter for R. Of course, not in quite so serious a manner but hopefully he will pause to consider it.

As much as it was a focal point for the letter, it became a question to myself too. I found articulation of the answer in Maudie, a movie I saw today. It is a dramatized account of Maud Lewis’ life, a folk artist from Canada. Brilliant essaying of roles by the lead actors, a gorgeous Nova Scotian landscape and beautifully restrained dialogue. There is harshness, hardship and pain yet the entire movie flows in love- quiet, slow and content. “The whole of life, framed.”

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found this on the youngling’s table a few days ago and it reminded me of Maud’s home. Water colour on paper