A city girl’s tree

I’ve been a city girl all my life but the heart and body have lived outdoors, enjoying the textures of their geography, whether dry desert, humid coast or landlocked elevation. There’s much natural beauty even in swarming cities with its bodies, concrete and sewage. The city that currently homes me is a mix of the old and new both in natural life and man-made structures. The last 8 odd years in Pune have been perhaps much more expansive in terms of time spent getting to know the flora and fauna that have been here even before the city grew over it. Trees have been fascinating in particular for their seeming silence and slow presence.

I’m no botanist and the thought of memorizing long botanical names is tiring and perhaps unnecessary for an ordinary person. I do graze on them though as I dig around to know what others have known before me but its a mere curiosity. Far more intimate is the connection between them and my short life as a singular of my species. I’ve seen many of them through their seasons and wait for their blossoming. Often, I travel a fair distance just to meet one particular brown trunk as though I was going to visit a friend. They feature regularly in notes to myself, poems and contemplation.

This summer, I chased gulmohars and their crimson flares. I waited for September for these gorgeous Indian Cork Tree flowers. These trees are tall and the flowers dangle like earrings high up. The kannada name for them is evocative, aakasha mallige which could be translated as jasmine of the skies. There’s a video of one of the large trees swaying in the wind from a couple of years ago here. The flowers are slender and smell divine. Yesterday, I gathered a few fallen flowers while out on a late morning walk. They came home with me and now sit in a tiny ceramic container filling my room with their scent.

The day began with an intense class at 6am like most days and went on to include some interesting work and conversations. And cake, freshly baked by a colleague and mentor. It was demolished in a matter of minutes by the crew at work. Film making is always fascinating to watch and today was no exception. Day’s end has me smiling, still on a high of a day well lived, work done well. And of course, a green hillside outside the large windows meant I got to feast my eyes on a lushness anytime I wanted.

It’s a beautiful world

What a beautiful world we inhabit!

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


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

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

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



Sunday Morning To-Do vs Did

Made a To-Do List and proceeded to do none of the tasks on it.

Instead,

  • cooked and ate a piping hot khichdi with bhindi, liberally garnished with ghee
  • watched birds and butterflies, buffaloes and dogs from my balcony
  • pretended to tidy up but only shifted books from one side to the other
  • read pages of said books 
  • washed the house with music

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Not a bad Sunday morning at all.

The luxury of being all on my own

And just like that I find myself with the luxury of complete solitude. An empty house, a clean one and all the time in the world. I took the day off work today and let the hours unfurl at their ease. Like the fox tells the little prince, “it is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” And important it was, I saw a rainbow, smiled at the sun and enjoyed a nap before lunch. Without child or mother, I was a teenager left to her own devices. Swathes of nothing time and short, meaningful stretches of listening and reading. Days as these, my tongue forgets to speak, to make shapes of words. Maybe we never really do quite grow up, we just play at being adults.

Actually 2 rainbows

This morning, I got to know that Mr. M passed away due to Covid-19. He was a stocky man, old but one could never quite make out his age. (He was 72.) Energetic, strong and quiet, he was always willing to help and served quietly. He used to assist at the yoga institute since the 70s and was a familiar face to all of us students. I’ve been the recipient of his sharp eye and gentle compassion. Every time I adjust myself or someone else in one of the poses he corrected me in, I remember his attention to detail and not losing on the basics. Some day when the institute opens and I go back to the large hall to help out, I will miss his presence, him in his shorts hoisted high up on the waist and white vest. He’d slip in quietly with his old fashioned bag that would hold his regular clothes. Before class or after, he would often be seen draped on one of the props and resting. M is indelibly associated with one of the long standing students, an elderly gentleman who would always be assisted into the various supported asanas by him. I wonder who will adjust the old man now. And then a stray selfish thought, when can I go back to the large hall and breathe in its cool air and feel the touch of the cold floor.

I also stumbled on the story of Mr. Ripple and it reminded me of Kailash, the gola wala who would frequent the lane where I used to live. One afternoon, I ran down to speak to him when I heard his bell, I needed to know his story. You could read about him here. The upturned and locked handcarts I saw today reminded me of him too, he would get his impounded every once in a while and would often arrange for another one rather than getting it back.

In today’s unplannedness, I also ate a delicious masala dosa at the little joint I would frequent pre lock down. Of course, it was washed down with a piping hot filter coffee. It’s an outdoor space with sufficient space between tables and not too many diners now. Pre-pandemic, the place would be packed and like any self-respecting small joint, would not encourage lounging around. Today, I sat and enjoyed the sounds of the rain and the sun as they played together for a long while before heading back home.

A hearse in front of me

Death, life, living and in all this, I find a quiet meditation, a refrain that our lives are meant to be lived in joy. It’s not a happiness borne of things or accomplishments, just the deep contentment of being fully alive, the satisfaction of service. The words of B.K.S Iyengar say it best, ‘Live happily, Die majestically’. Much of living is an exercise in productivity, accomplishment, getting somewhere. So, we study, work, plan and do the adult thing and forget to lavish time on things that have no purpose save that we enjoy them, they are the sap of our lives.

Lessons from my garden

This evening after a yoga class, I stepped out to the balcony to look at a roiling cloudscape. Rain would come, thick, fast and short. A walk was out of the question. And sure enough, it came in a few minutes. So, I sat down to watch its dance and that’s when I noticed the fallen leaves. I thought the pigeons had made a mess again until I went closer and saw a feeding frenzy. There were hungry caterpillars, making short work of an old lily plant.

These will turn into the most beautiful lily moths soon. I reckon the plant is as good as destroyed since there’s an army of them feeding voraciously and what looks like a million more on the way. Should I let the caterpillars be or save the plant?

Who am I to decide who gets to live? And yet a choice will be made at some point, if only to move the plant away from the others to prevent infestation. Attachment, underlying everything we choose to do or avoid.

Nature’s seeming violence is probably not seen as such by her other denizens, it’s just business as usual. It is simply a matter of survival. There are no moral dilemmas there, all that hair splitting belongs to the world of humans.

Lilies in the rain

lilies strain to taste the showers

slanting lines of rain- ambrosia

soon, they’ll yawn flower blushes

pink, yellow, white

it is their season after all

of rain kissed lightness

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meanwhile unblinking people stare

into blue screens

scrolling, rolling, roiling, toiling

until their eyes stray to

growls of thunder

and a burst of lilies in the rain

Homeless in a Pandemic

These days when I see open spaces, there’s a sudden desire to run and disappear into its expanses for a long time, perhaps for good. And if I give that fantasy some wings, I imagine that I’d make a leap for it and somehow magically the world will close behind me as though I jumped through a portal. But that’s just the mind running riot.
Much as I love using the excuse of supplies for a long meander, it is also an ache to see a world of masked people, barricaded streets and downed shutters. Last evening, I drove out about 6km, the furthest since lock down just to get a sense of the outside world. Traffic was sparse, both human and vehicular. Cop patrols were quite visible with their loudspeakers warning the few open establishments to close for the day. An entire species is living indoors. Mostly. But there are those who fall through the cracks of having homes or even walking miles towards homes. These are the unwanted, unseen wanderers of the streets like B, the homeless man on my 10k route.
He loved crosswords and I’d see him with a pen and newspaper in the mornings. It’s still not clear how he got a newspaper every single day but he’d be busy. We’d smile at each other, sometimes I’d wave out and he became one of my visual milestones. His smile had a warmth to it. His assortment of a footpath home varied slightly with the change in seasons. Rainy days, there was a makeshift tent of sorts. Winter mornings, he would lean against a wall with a blanket around him. Towards the end of my running days, he even managed a mattress. I remember thinking he seemed truly happy. There was a certain lightness in his face and being. I was fairly certain that he could have had a different life if he chose to.
His eyes were sharp, intelligent and always had a twinkle. Although I wanted to hear his story, I never ended up stopping because I was inevitably in a rush to return home in time to get the kid up for school. And then it was too late. He died a few years ago, someone broke a bottle on his head. Wrong place, wrong time. I got to know his story from a lady who used to run a Tuesday kitchen for the homeless. She’s got quite a few stories of the streets and is someone I admire deeply. But P’s story is for another day. B used to be in the armed forces but a nasty temper ensured he was discharged. A few years later, his family threw him out. Anger has that effect, left unchecked, it ravages lives.

Yesterday, I was reminded of him when I saw another homeless man not too far from where B used to hang out. This old man wore similar dirty white pajamas and a kurta and was busy feeding the birds. It was a joyous action, his scattering feed for the birds. A little ahead, there was a man who had probably lost his mind a long time back. Barely clothed and with his hands stuck down the front of his pants, he swayed and walked as though drunk. There are many such fringe dwellers and people see through them.

One that is still very vivid is a thin, bare chested man asleep on the road with maggots in an open wound. Another recent image is of a woman with bare breasts picking off something from her saree which lay around her as I walked along a busy road one evening after class. And then this morning, amidst the beautiful trees and flowers, I saw a man wasted on the pavement, probably blacked out after a drunken spree. Addiction, homelessness, insanity make them invisible to the world, often even the cops leave them alone.

The overwhelming feeling is tenderness at such times, a desire to cover them if only to protect their selves from not being seen. And in the times of a pandemic, where do these destitute children of a tortured planet go?

Bald heart

Maybe she’ll walk
her way into being a monk
that way she can lavish
all her being which
beats in her bald heart
in moon rain that falls

Perhaps someday
she’ll grow like Ani
she of the beatific smile
and sweet voice
radiant beyond measure
sublimated

until then she will wander
bleeding, stanching
tears or blood
who is to know?

Unrush

A couple of days ago, someone left a nice comment on one of my IG posts and the word ‘unrushed’ stayed and grew into a few lines…

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Come my friend
Sit by me
Sit in silence
Sit a while

We’ll hear the
scents of woods
and taste
sights of sunsets
let them touch
the stillness
of our hearts
where
time and space

unrush

in
one
full
moment
and know that
all is as it should be