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.

Gained in translation

About a month ago, my teacher mentioned a Marathi poem that I might want to look up if I could understand the language. I do follow the script and can get by in conversation but not so much in terms of literature. Nonetheless, I decided to give it a go and looked up the poem. I read it aloud and while some of the words made sense, a large part of it was lost in unfamiliar words. So, I attempted a translation, reminding me of school days when that would be one of the questions in the Hindi and Marathi examination papers.

It took me a while to complete it and I’m not too sure if it captures what the poet was trying to say but in some of the reflections, there is a lot of quietness, a quality that is timeless. Attempting the translation, I may not have got it right but I did gain a renewed appreciation for the way language can provide the very soil for reflection with all the gravity of its geography, history and culture. It is a new experience, this immersion into another language, a familiar one and yet so different. Entering into this exercise began as a way to make sense for myself but it does feel like there is probably a new way to study language.

I’ve mostly glided on sounds and let the meaning seep from it even as someone would translate it for me. Kannada was almost exclusively absorbed in this manner and there is complete comprehension of the colloquial version. Sanskrit too has been an endeavour by soaking in sounds while Tamil has been a piggybacking on Malayalam and translations in English but then my exposure to it has been limited. Hindi and Marathi are tongues that are around me and also used in everyday transactions. So, the poorly learnt two that I use almost daily have not quite got the attention the others did. Part of it was also a mental block from school days when the general expectation of the teachers was that one had to replicate answers verbatim. Decades later, the freedom to dabble in language for pleasure has been an interesting journey.

Here’s the poem and a first attempt of a translation. I’d be happy to hear from anyone who might be able to help with editing or correcting it.

आधार

जोवर फुलांच्या बागा फुलताहेत,
पहाडामागे वारा अडत नाही.
शब्दांपोटी सूर्योदयासारखा अर्थआहे,
फळे नित्यनेमाने पिकत आहेत,
माणसाला उपकार आणि आणि त्याची
निर्व्याज परतफेड करता येत आहे,
एखाद्याची महायात्रा पाहून एखादा
सहजच नमस्कार करतो आहे
तोवर आम्हाला एकमेकांबरोबर
अबोला धरण्याचा अधिकार नाही.
आम्ही आमच्या पडजिभेइतकेच
सर्वार्थांनी एकमेकांचे आहोत.
कालच प्रत्येक क्षण उष्टावतो
तरी काल ताजा टवटवीत आहे.

ईश्वराने दिलेले हे अंग प्रत्येकजण
बारा दिवसाच्या अर्भकाइतक्याच
हळुवारपणे सर्व तर्‍हांनी धूत राहतो,
आपापल्या मापाचे पापपुण्य बेतून
सगळे आयुष्य कारणी लावतो.
म्हणून कधीतरीची प्रसन्नताही
मनाची उन्हे करते आणि सारा ताप
उन्हातला पाऊस होऊन टपटपतो.
धरेच्या पोटात पाणी आहे,
घशाखाली त्याची तहान आहे,
माणसाच्या पोटात आनंद आहे
म्हणूनच नेहमी भूक लागते,
इंद्रियांची वेल पसरत पसरत
झोपेचा गारेगार मोगरा फुलतो.

शेतकरी पिकाला जपत असतो
पहिलटकरणीसारखा, रात्रंदिवस
कायावाचामनाचा पावसाळा करुन
मातीच्या कणाकणातून झिरपतो,
अशा वेळी आकाशाच्या कोनन कोनाचा
स्पर्श त्याला झुळकाझुळकातून होतो,
हवेचेही कोनेकोपरे प्रत्यक्ष चाचपतो.
दाण्यादाण्यातील धारोष्ण दुधाची जाग
पाखरांच्या पिसापिसातून जाते,
थव्याथव्यांनी आनंद उतरतो,
शेतमळा डुलतो, वारा डुलतो,
शेताचा पिका पिका दरवळ
झुळझुळत्या झर्‍यासारखा
शेतकर्‍याच्या मनातून वाहतो,
सुईणीच्या मुखावरील कष्टासारखी
रसरसून लखाखते कोयतीची धार.

जीवनावर प्रेम करणारे सगळे जण
एकमेकांना नमस्कार करीत करीत
सुखदुःख वाटतात जिवाभावाने.
सर्वांना पोटाशी धरुन सर्वांवर
स्वत:च्या आयुष्याची सावली धरतात,
एखादा अनवाणी चालणारा विरक्‍त पाहून
सांगतात : सर्वांच्या पायतळी जमीन आहे.
एखाद्या मेलेल्या मित्राच्या स्मृतीवर
हलकेच कधीतरी अमोल क्षणांचा
एखादा ताटवा वाहून रात्रभर जागतात,
आणि मग कधीतरी झोपेतून उठून
स्वत:वरच आनंदाश्रू ढाळतात,
स्वत:लाच नमस्कार करतात.

सखीने सजणाल्या दिलेल्या गुलाबाच्या
गेंदाप्रमाणे, वचनाप्रमाणे प्रत्येकानेच
कधीतरी मन दिले – घेतलेले असतो;
सखी-सजणाच्या संकेतस्थलासारखेच
हे आयुष्यही एकमेकांचेच आहे.

या जगण्यात खोल बुडी मारुन आलेला
एखादा कोणी सर्वांना पोटाशी धरणारा
आणि ते पोटाशी धरले गेलेले सगळे –
दोघांनाही एकमेकांचाच आधार आहेआरती प्रभू

– आरती प्रभू

Support

As long as gardens blossom
the wind behind the hills does not get entangled
The essence of words illumines like the sunrise
fruits ripen in the rhythm of their cycle
They bestow a benediction on man
They give back without interest
Seeing someone’s great journey(inwards?)
One naturally acknowledges
that which is but one’s own
Until then we have no right
to be separate from another
In every sense we are like the uvula to ourselves,
in relation to one another
even though each moment of yesterday is tasted yet it is still fresh

This God given embodiment of each one of us
is bathed completely by the grace
of a gentle wind (existence) as much as that of a 12 day old infant.
We each grow into our lives as dictated
by the measure of our acts- auspicious and inauspicious. We are planted. Our lives are realized
basis the measure of all our karma – good and bad
That’s why some peaceful joys fire up/ enliven the mind
and all the feverishness comes down as summer showers
The belly of the earth has water, its thirst lies below the crust
The belly of man has joy, therefore the hunger, always
As the vines of the senses spread and spread, so also the pleasant jasmine fragrance of sleep

The farmer tends to his ripening crop
as though a first time mother.
Raining body and thought into the earth,
day and night, that it seeps through each pore.
At such times the touch of the corners of space
makes him blink with each graze of air
Streams of grain like milk froth,
madden the birds, delighting them.
The fields dance, the wind dances,
The crops yield the farm’s bounty
like a gushing stream flows from a farmer’s mind
The sharp edge of the scythe draws the rasa
like the pain on a midwife’s face

All those who love life greet each other
as they experience the joys and sorrows of this life
Holding everyone dear,
the shadows of one’s own life blankets each.
Seeing a barefooted man without a care,
it is said the ground exists under every sole
Sometimes the memory of a dear departed friend lightly touches
in a precious moment- a length of a long night of wakefulness.
And then waking from sleep,
weep tears of joy on their existence, they greet themselves.

Like roses gathered into a ball given by a friend to adorn,
like promises, everyone gives or takes the mind (thoughts)
Just like the friend’s nudge to adorn, this life too is one another’s

Immersed in this world, someone is holding every stomach
and all that is contained in it. Both have the other’s support.

– Arati Prabhu

Note:
Chintamani Tryambak Khanolkar wrote his poetry under the name of Arati Prabhu.

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

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.

Of words and tongues, silence and knowing

Words find you.

A re-reading of a book on yoga pointed me to Ananda Coomaraswamy and from then on it was a cascading into Indian culture and regional literature. I picked up books I had with me for a while and proceeded to get hold of a few more until I was swept away in the sheer volume and brilliance of thought and language. And these are translations in English. It made me want to listen to them in their original, so I found myself listening and watching related works in Malayalam, Kannada, Tamil, Marathi and Hindi. It’s something we take for granted in this country, being conversant in multiple languages. I had never really stopped to consider a proficiency in multiple tongues but that’s something I’ve started to rectify by including more of their flavours in my consumption.

There’s something about regional languages, at once a particular lineage of a family/community tongue as well as a transmission of collective memory of spaces, times, events and associations that come down the ages. A continuum of sounds, unbroken as generations of their vibrations spill from womb to womb until they reach the present individual. I’m reminded of a line from a movie I recently watched, “From the first human hand print on a cave wall, we’re part of something continuous”. And as the species evolves, memories associated with words begin to fade away keeping time with the experience of living changes from one that used to be deeply rooted in the rhythm of the natural world to one where we rearrange time and space. Sangam literature, for example, is rich with descriptions of the landscapes of their action but many of the scenes that come alive in their verses are no longer quite the reference for our expressions of emotions and thoughts.

The need for information is greater than knowledge and so we tend to approach meaning directly when an oblique reaching out and patient receiving would perhaps reveal its meaning in a different, multi-dimensional way. I suppose darsanam that is spoken about is probably a result of something similar. It is something I have observed during time on the mat as I settle into shapes of the body and breath and let the mind expand without resisting. Things express themselves, connections make themselves apparent. The meditations on conjunctions in one of the Upanishads provide a valuable clue in how one might approach this way of knowing, a subjective, experiential one as opposed to an objective one. Over time, much of these intuitive sensations and experiences are validated through an objective exploration.

I’ve often wondered how it might be if we lived in a world without language. Our first expression is sound, the wailing as we enter a world of senses. The same Upanishad begins with a reminder about phonetics and progresses from there on. That’s how language begins for all of us- varna, swara, matraa, balam, saam, santaanah. It is through being washed in sound that we learn language. And silence is probably the most eloquent of all languages. It is in silence that we begin to hear, life pulsating within the body, the songs of the breeze as it moves through trees, bird sounds, the music of waves or the stunning quietude of mountains.

Perhaps, I have broken a magical spell by writing here but it felt like a moment to emerge from a cocoon and fly, if only for a day.

A smattering of current reads that decided to come along for a ride.

Day 3

The day was tedious but productive. Susegad is the best way to describe how work happens in Goa. I’ve been coming to this place for nearly 25 years and while much has changed, a lot still remains the same. Siesta time is still sacrosanct.
Maman had a good day today and there were moments of comic relief thanks to Chitti but that is more like a set of stories, web series style.

The highlight was a quick sunset dip in the sea with the firstborn for company. The ocean is mesmerizing in all its shades.
The road beckons again and tomorrow night I’ll sleep in another city.

Straddling generations

Strange times these but lovely too in a fragile way. Last night the youngling was texting her friends on a group chat. On a lark, she recorded our banter and sent it on the group and just like that I was part of teenspeak. I got a speedy schooling in gaming slang, memes and music most of which don’t make any sense but it is their world after all and language serves each generation in ways they choose. They’re heartbreakingly beautiful, these children but not children. One of the kids she knew took his own life a couple of days back. All of 16. I can’t begin to imagine his pain.

In another place, an old woman lives within the confines of a shrinking mind, bewildered. Time has decayed for her, it has lost its linearity and become congealed into a shape shifting island. It is hard to reach her world, where names and numbers, memories and dreams are a continuous tumble in a kaleidoscopic prison. She remains locked in a time and space warp within her mind while her body collapses or wanders as it pleases. It must be terribly frightening, vertiginous at the speed at which all of it devolves.

60 years separate the teen and the old woman. Viewed from the middle, I am conscious of the closing in of a past and a blossoming of the future. But I also wonder if they both are any different in the world we now inhabit.

Cynicism is separatist

Some time ago, I had an exchange with a blogger elsewhere and there was a term that jarred not for its descriptiveness but for its cynicism. As a descriptor, it was spot on but the spirit of it seemed one of jaded mockery, of the self and others. Cynicism is separatist.

Since then, I’ve found myself straying into thinking about how easy it is to slip into its viscosity. It’s a familiar mindscape, I guess most people go through it either in phases or then as a way of seeing the world, I’ve occupied that space too. It’s a comforting worldview to have, there is no expectation of anything good so one cannot be disappointed. But it is also limiting in its reluctance to be open to the vulnerability of hope. Cynicism tends to be based on outcomes rather than process and braces for dissatisfaction. In a way, it is an expression of fear, a fear of possibility. And therefore the mental posturing is usually one of looking in from the outside, strengthening separation in an already divisive world.

It is an immobility which could become stasis ultimately leading to decay. That is a loss, for oneself and the people in one’s orbit. When I consider it through the lens of asana, cynicism might express itself as I’m never going to be able to get into that pose so why bother. It throws a spoke in the wheel of progress if one does not even attempt because the mind has already decided the end result. But there is a parallel dimension where transformation happens even when it seems impossible. The hundredth attempt perhaps lifting you up effortlessly into a headstand. I see it in a seed growing into a tree, a human breaking the 2 hour marathon barrier and so on.

“There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?”

― Erin Hanson

There’s much that is wrong and terrible in the world but there’s also much that is good and joyful. Every time an icon passes away, there is collective mourning. Perhaps, it is a mourning for the loss of hope in a world where it is easy to be trapped in the desolation of cynicism. If I stop to consider how those people lived, what I see is a forging ahead. There is no place for cynicism in that march. It’s just stepping into the next right thing that is possible. It calls for creativity, ingenuity and fortitude and the ability to laugh at oneself, dust oneself up after a fall and climb up that tree again. I write this as a note to myself if ever I need a reminder.

Poking through for an all too brief season but what a joy!