Virtual Reality

OK, maybe the title is misleading but a couple of recent instances made me stop and look at how we connect, disconnect, reconnect and unconnect. The other day I was in Bombay and stopped by to look at some flamingos at a suburban creek. A man saw us looking out and came by to see the birds. We had binoculars and he was thrilled to get a glimpse of the pink visitors. Brief minutes where strangers met and shared a few minutes of delight.

Later in the day, someone I have interacted with only virtually reached out and in the course of our interaction, I mentioned that I was in his city, He asked if I was at the said spot that morning and I replied in the affirmative. Turns out that he had spotted me on his morning ride but had shaken the thought that it could be me simply because I live in another city. As much as I remain in the shadows online, in real life, I do tend to be noticeable. Tall, short haired and in a sari makes for an unusual sight in this millennium.

A few days before, I had another strange virtual meets real meets virtual sort of moment. One of my recent acquaintances and peers from another country and I were chatting. We connected at a convention and have been in occasional contact thanks to love for a subject dear to both of us. In the course of something, I shared something I had written on another blog and turns out she had gone through the entire site and even shared about it with her teacher and friend! It was surreal to connect with a reader who already knew me and then met me but didn’t know it was that same blogger.

Took a local train and enjoyed watching quintessential Bombay sights.

These are just a couple of recent instances. Over the years, there have been others. Some spilled into conversations on a screen, others became exchanges in person. But, in all of them there is a strange kind of intimacy. I suppose that’s what social media does. Reading or seeing someone or their content makes one feel like the other person is familiar, well known. But, how much is real? What does real mean anyway?

The spread of stunning images of people, places and things that do not exist except as an imagination of machine and words that are put together to create seamless reading make me wonder what the shape of human interactions would be in the coming generations. Technological connectivity and the speed of it have been directly proportional to the depletion of actual connections, with all its tender and difficult edges. It is inevitable, this march of machines and increasingly isolated lives. I suppose it is the speed at which these changes are happening makes it difficult to pivot into such a world. Evolution of head and heart is a slow process after all. Maybe in a few generations, we might find our rate of complete adaptation will match the state of technology.

As to this post, who really wrote it?

Highway Highs

Hitting the highway is a good feeling. Inevitably, familiar music accompanies coffee and the wind in my almost non-existent hair 🙂 Throw in a gorgeous winter morning with blue skies and shiny leaves and I’m weak in the knees. Solo is best but sometimes company is nice. As the city is left behind, there is a steady rhythm that sets in. Often, there is no need to shift gears and there is simply a gentle steering. I only wish cars ran on air.

The last couple of months have seen quite a few long drives and there are a couple more before the month is out so it has been an unexpected delight, an adult version of childhood abandon. As a child, having a cycle meant freedom. We bought our two hours of freedom with two rupees and roamed all over the place, the parents blissfully unaware of our location. Circa 2023, there is too much information available, for parents and kids.

Every time I pass through the city to head out of town, I am glad to live in an area that still has some green and open spaces. Much of the newer parts are grey with glass buildings and unending infrastructure projects. I don’t see mud and easy wild growth. The highways too have been eaten up by swanky high rises and malls. Right now the city is a Potemkin village, spruced up for the G20 delegates. Big pots with exotic plants, murals, token recycled planters, lanterns, lights and the likes. The fake trees in particular are ironic, considering how many real ones have been chopped. I wonder if any place will be spared considering the huge requirements of a burgeoning populace.

But, today the sky is still blue, the trees are shiny and the beginnings of a season of flowering are visible. The glyricidia trees have lost their green and are now blushing pink. The highway has palash in all its fiery glory and the semals blooms are beginning to make an appearance. Just for today, all is right in my world.

Elegy for a jungli badam

While driving, I have an eye out for some of the trees I’ve grown fond of, sort of like familiar faces when I used to be a regular runner. In some measure, they seem to say all is well. I remember tree locations better than I remember people’s homes and in their season, visit them just like one would visit a friend. It is comforting to see them year after year, watch their rhythms, look forward to their flowering and fruiting. One such gentle giant that marked a turn on my regular weekday route is the wild almond tree. A tall and handsome tree outside Akashwani Bhavan in Shivaji Nagar, Pune. Yesterday, as I turned the bend, the space occupied by its canopy was empty. The tree had been chopped with just the stump. It’s almost visceral, the sense of loss at the amputation of a tree.

Much has been written and many fight the good fight to save our trees, rivers, hills but it does seem like a lost cause. The city has been seeing frenzied work in terms of infrastructure, the Metro one being the most talked about in recent times. I wonder if it will really be all that it is touted to be. Most people use two wheelers here as that is still the fastest way to get around and it provides freedom from having to keep time of erratic buses. Rickshaws are not very dependable as their drivers tend to be moody and refuse fares if they think the distance is too far. In many respects, it is still a lazy town. Parts of this place still operate as though we were in an 80s warp.

The tree that no longer occupies a piece of the sky was one of my markers along with a few others on that street. The species is fairly common in the city and come January, they begin their transition here. The leaves fall, new leaves emerge, flowers bloom in all their foetid beauty and their green fruits appear only to turn a gorgeous scarlet. There is more than enough botanical information about the Sterculia foetida on the internet should you be interested so I won’t repeat all that here.

I don’t have any images of the tree that is no more but there are memories of its presence over the years. It is a route I have been taking for 7 or 8 years now and the trees along the way are etched in my mind as firmly as they stand on the ground. The loss of this tree is simply added to other tree phantoms. An old eucalyptus that stood outside an erstwhile home, a babool outside my old office, a putranjiva in one of the gardens and so on. I’m sure there would be others who miss some of the trees that used to be. A natural death of a tree is one that is celebrated for a life well lived but getting loped off is murder so it elicits reactions of sadness, anger, frustration, despair.

While there is indiscriminate hacking of nature, there is also the well-intentioned but harmful plantations across open spaces that are best left alone. As very young species on this very old planet in a very, very old universe, how do we even imagine that we can fix things we don’t know fully? Is it even possible to know fully? I suppose one can but that would need something more than science, more than imagination. I suppose consciousness might be the answer but that moves into the realm of the metaphysical and is perhaps best left to those who have seen.

Across the country, we are losing mature trees to ‘development’ like F1 tracks, metro construction, building of car sheds. There is ‘replacement’ that happens with saplings, often in places far away. How does one replace the loss of 40-50 or more years of a tree’s existence which encompasses so much more than just a tree? Imagine the frantic fluttering of birds that lose their nests and other creatures, their food? Younglings don’t have the maturity or the capacity to maintain the balance as it is their time for being nourished and nurtured. Many, if not most of them, perish in environments that bewilder them.

Every living being needs a mother’s care, love and wisdom. In the absence of that vital nourishment, life is stunted. Trees are our mothers.

late night notes

Life changing transformations happen in an instant, often in quiet mundanity. It is only when looking back that one realizes the enormity of it. Like, a late hour when one finishes something that has taken years in its commencement. Many years from now, will I remember a night when that little BIG shift happened? I don’t know. My memory is fickle. What seems so important in the now is lost in the future and what seems ordinary is vividly remembered.

Just a marker for a day when I’m old and might want to remember a moment.

Slaying the Slump Dragon

A few days off thanks to Diwali meant more time for books and walks. And somehow, despite the new books waiting to be read, I ended up reading on the kindle. One such was Bruce Lee: Beyond The Limits. I watched the movie first as a young teen and was impressed with the early part of it, the powerful short sentences that Bruce Lee made iconic. Since then, I may have watched ‘the movie ‘Enter the Dragon’ a few times. One of my teachers mentioned Tao of Jeet Kune Do recently and I had filed it in my head to read as and when I could get my hands on a physical copy. And in the meanwhile, I stumbled upon the book I read. Books find one.

After a long time, I went yes, yes, yes. A life spent in honing one’s craft is a distilled one. Practice regularly, practice obsessively and what is churned will be like the proverbial treasures that the Samudra Manthan spewed. As a practitioner of a discipline that is rigorous, purist and yet incredibly dynamic, there is much identification in many of the terse statements and interpretations of the author. Many of the insights are ones that are an experienced reality. In short, the book left an imprint. Needless to say, I ended up watching the movie again.

Some gems from the book

“​Styles are parts dissected from the whole, divisive by nature, and keep men apart.”

“​The important thing to bear in mind is that the physical body and energy body are not separate, but like different interpenetrating frequencies or substances”

“​The quantum world — the Void — is like an invisible ocean both around and within us. We can’t see it — like the wind, we can only see what it does. We can’t see it, because it’s already in the eye that’s looking. And we can’t touch it, because it’s already forming the hand that touches. Yet all that we see, hear, feel and touch is ‘it’.”

“​Sometimes the best thing we can do is simply ‘walk on’.”

“​From the moment we become more concerned with what things are than how they are, the world stops yielding to us directly — and a description of it begins to stand in between”

“​Here, ‘individual’ carries the same meaning as ‘indivisible’. It describes someone who is whole and integrated within — and so is indivisible from all life, everywhere.”

“​The martial artist’s challenge is the same as everybody else’s — to integrate body, mind and awareness, while learning something very practical — how to prevail in divisive situations and a fragmented world”

‘​There is only all the energy at our disposal — it doesn’t matter where it comes from — we get to use it all the same.”

“​An artist’s expression is his soul made apparent.”

Sometimes, there is a reading slump. One goes through the motions of reading but that sense of satisfaction and tinge of sadness at its ending can be missing. I consume a fair bit through the year but very few books make that cut. This was one of them. Likewise, there is another delightful book which was on my list, Birds and Birdsong, which is a current read and it promises to be a delight. M. Krishnan is one of India’s finest naturalists.

Reading for pleasure has taken a dip this year thanks to more reading for study but the foil those books provide makes the study material that much richer. I do believe the more interests one has, the better one assimilates and synthesizes. Something gets rewired, something new gets sparked. Imagination gets activated, creative instincts get fired. Slumps are good for they allow all the assortment in our lives to give rise to something new.


Sunday began fresh and early. There was no agenda to the day as such but it turned out to be quite a full one. And sometime in the afternoon, Sukanta landed at my doorstep with three large bags. I hadn’t seen him for a few years, partly because of the pandemic but mostly because I didn’t feel like buying any festive looking sarees. Long story short, he came, we saw, he sold.

Some of the sarees he showed us

I haven’t bought a new saree in a long while, there was no need. I have a cupboard full of mother’s sarees and another that holds my own. Many of them have sentimental value and so remain in my possession. Despite periodic shedding, I still have far too many and so didn’t see the need to buy one. And that has been the case since a few Diwalis. But, this year, I felt the stirrings of wanting a warm tradition to call my own. And so, I decided to get the offspring and myself sarees.

I might have gone to one of the handloom shops to buy them but the saree seller landed at my doorstep and we had no choice after that. He whipped out colours, craft and fabrics from his cavernous bags. And I found myself saying, Sukanta, saadha wala saree dikha do (Sukanta, show me plain sarees) and he would go didi, Diwali hai, thoda bhaari sari chahiye (Sister, it’s Diwali, you need a fancy saree). He insisted on emptying all three onto the floor and presented each one with a flourish. Bahut accha Sadi hai, didi.(It’s a very beautiful saree, sister). Many, many years ago, another saree seller would use the same lines. I’ve wondered what happened to him occasionally. It reminds me of an earlier post.

Sukanta showing off one of his favorites, a kantha on silk

My friend happened to be visiting and between the two of us, we ended with 3 beautiful sarees. Like she said, we need to buy new things as well to keep the energy cycle in our lives. Earlier in the day, we had gathered and given a whole load of things to the collection drive folks. E-waste, kitchen utensils, appliances, bags, books, clothes, bed linen and the likes found their way out of our homes and to a sensible destination for recycling or reuse. With the coming in of new yards, the circle did quite round the day nicely.


The internet brought some lovely people into my world. Faraway folks became regular correspondents, via snail mail or e-mails. A few of them spilled into the real world as well. If not for this invisible web of computers, I would probably never have made their acquaintance. 

One of my biggest joys has been letters. I don’t write as many now since the pandemic sort of messed the postal system in my neighbourhood.​ Many of my letters have lost their way and those that were sent to me disappeared too. After quite a few of such wayward missives, I decided to stick to e-mail. Maybe another address may have better luck. The speed post ones do find their way but regular post cannot be trusted.

This afternoon, the postman handed over a couple of books and a letter from a regular correspondent. We met via the internet and discovered shared stories and interests. Over the last couple of years, we’ve shared letters and swapped books. Friendships grow in unexpected ways. So many things shape the nature of this unique relationship. Proximity, frequency, the basis for the bond and the like.

One of the books from today.

Loss of friendships due to any reason is painful but there is very little that talks about it. Music, movies and books speak of heartbreak and loss of romantic and familial relationships but not very much about friends being separated. As I type, I am reminded of N & S, two wonderful ladies I got to know thanks to the internet. N passed away during the pandemic and her friend was left bereft. But, there is no word that acknowledges a very different bereavement. Usually, one associates that kind of grief with family or romantic relationships but loss of friends could be intensely painful too.

The grandmother I never knew

Stumbled upon a post that said it was grandparents day and it reminded me of two photographs. The first one was a picture of my grandmother, mother, me and the firstborn in a frame, 4 generations of women connected by blood and the second was this one, of my maternal grandmother on a swing. It was taken during one Onam season. She must be in her late 90s here.

She lived to be a 105 and I met her all of 5 times in my life. There was no bond or connection since I never grew up around her. She was just this wizened old woman who spoke in a language that was soaked in a hillside accent. My cousins, who grew up around her, had a different relationship though. She told them stories, they embellished it in their retellings. I never quite completely understood all that she would say. She would talk to herself too and lived to a tune she alone heard. Maybe we aren’t so different in that respect. After all, we are bits and bobs of countless foremothers.

We called her veliammachi. It’s funny how grandparents are simply aaji, ammachi, granny etc. Their names don’t quite come into play for grandkids. I have fragments of images in my mind’s eye rather than memories. Her sweeping the courtyard, roasting cashews over a fire and shelling it for us kids, her pendulous breasts that seemed way too large to be real, the old people smell in her room, her crinkly eyes that seemed sleepy. I remember her vetiver mattress and the way she’d fall asleep at evening prayer. She didn’t have teeth but would eat everything quite heartily. Her room was dimly lit and she had her favourites among the 4 dozen odd grandkids who helped her with some tasks. She had 9 kids that survived into adulthood.

My paternal grandmother died before I was born. As for grandfathers, the paternal one was gone when my father was very young and the maternal one was blind. He passed away at 92 and I met him twice. We kids grew out of the country and by the time, India happened, the rift was too wide. We rarely did the ‘native place’ summer vacations and the ones we went on could be trying. The urban-rural divide was a tough one to bridge.

My firstborn was practically raised by her grandmother, Amma to her and me too. For the first time, I saw what a lovely bond that could be. From food and feeding to medicine and stories, Amma scooped her into a cocoon. A quarter of a century later, that bond is still strong. They fight too but the affection is unmistakable. I can close my eyes and see the firstborn hoisted on a saree clad waist, being fed rasam-rice. Both of them smelled of tamarind and curd and ghee. Both of them would stare into a loud Tamil serial which would be endearing and annoying (those shows could be very loud). Amma would take Big K to the temple and have a blast dolling my girl. I think she always wanted a girl. In fact she lost two daughters at a very young age and so having a little girl to lavish all her love was precious. I see it now, in retrospect. Back then, I was mildly resentful.

I don’t know if I will ever be a grandmother and if I do end up becoming one, how would that role play out? Our world is in a strange transition and I wonder what shape social ties will take in a few decades.

A turning

One’s life is a turning. The pace could be varied, slow at times, dizzying at others but essentially it is a revolving from one year to another. We grow older, say hello to familiar seasons that evoke nostalgia for times gone by and march to a future that is more or less defined by factors way out of our control. I read somewhere that midway through this century, we would be about 10 Bn strong on this planet. Maybe, some ticker will ping when that number is hit and it will make headlines the world over. If I live that long, I might remember a Saturday when a cat lay sleeping next to me and I sat looking at a blue sky with great big puffy clouds.

It’s been a few turnings since I last posted here and many things have changed. Picked up some new work skills, got more steeped into studentship and sharing tree love. Except for a routine with being a student, time spent on work and other interests is rather unpredictable. So, everyday is an adventure, I never quite know what it will bring. It doesn’t seem like a very adult way to function but it is a good life, never a dull moment. Somedays, the hours are long and intense while many days are at a pace that is unhurried.

I suppose uncertainty is a familiar space. I’ve inhabited that world for a long time now. It’s a bit like swimming in the sea. Sometimes the waves are gentle, caressing almost while at others, it tosses you around. The pandemic was a good reminder to maintain the ability to remain buoyant, working with rather than against things outside one’s control.

Now that the rains are on the wane (it does feel like there will be one big goodbye spell though), the season is beginning to rumble, beginning with the current festivities of the elephant God. Soon, it will be time for the Devi’s arrival and by the time the light is ready to slip into autumn mode, Diwali will have made its crackling presence. But, I’m getting way ahead of myself. As of now, it is still the lush green of monsoon. It is also fungi season, reminding us of the incredible cycles of life, growth, decay and death in their rhythmic dance all around us. How transient, this life!

In other news, I’ve found myself some new friends, all under 10. It is fun to be part of their secret gang and listen to their stories. One of their biggest questions was how to distinguish between a male cat and a female one. I did struggle with answering that one. It took a little time finding something age appropriate. As you can see, they mean business.

As with the other blog, this post too was thanks to a nudge from a reader. Perhaps, it may be another beginning here? Time will tell.

Rainy Days

The Chatur Maas, a period of four months, is a time of observances as well as festivals and falls squat in the wet season. Raksha Bandhan and Janmashtami are just around the corner, Ganesh Chaturthi will soon follow. Stalls of brightly decorated Ganesh idols for sale have sprung up across the city. The slightly cool, clammy weather in this city makes it conducive to be indoors and often makes one contemplative. The trail is quite slippery and the last walk there was tricky but absolutely gorgeous. These days, the meanderings are fewer thanks to a combination of other commitments and the weather. But, city streets have been fascinating as usual.

The woolly necked stork is back in its nest. There is anticipatory joy as I turn the bend and come to the spot where it is possible to see the large bird. Today, I saw the pair, usually it is just one bird keeping guard. The nallahs have their share of winged visitors and compound walls have been draped in the pink of Coral Creepers with the bees getting drunk. Soon, the cork tree will be in full bloom and I will walk on a carpet of scented white petals. My balcony garden is also happy with a few regular visitors. The Red Pierrot has found a place to make home with the kalanchoe while the sunbird stops by for breakfast every morning. The crows have become more confident and sit on my windowsill cawing until I indulge their hungry stomachs. This is a season made for leisurely watching. The clouds hurry across, almost as though there is a deadline to keep. In a way, I suppose they have one, a discharge of their swollen bellies full of heavy droplets of water. 

Time on the mat has increased this year and it has kept the physical activity at a level that compensates for the lack of long ambles. Reading has been decent, broke a slow spell with some lovely books. I’ve been particularly thrilled with a tome on anatomical illustrations that is simply gorgeous. Highway tripping has been low key, hopefully that will change soon. There’s been some dabbling in learning a new script as well as a dip into some natural history. It’s nice to have these interests, like different trails within the same wilderness. 

A snippet of the last couple of months through images.