This Season

This season stirs the rain, reminding that the wet’s fury will soon be gone, prodded along by winds that hurry to find their break. It is the beginning of a season of festivals and will continue across months until it culminates in fireworks marking the turn of another season. There are festivities across the length and breadth of the country, all accompanied by flowers and foods of the season, offerings and benedictions, passed on from generation to generation. Some homes ring with peals of tradition while others bristle against it.

This season stirs more than rain, it whips up memories of a mute month by the sea. The grey skies blur into grey waters or is it the other way around? Perhaps, it is best not to find out. The ambiguity is better, a blending into rather than a separation. The seas are rough, their dance too wild for domesticated festivities. It is the season of storms and the sea has to spend herself, so she whips herself into a frothing that will die multiple deaths on the sand. Her churn is restless and sometimes you can hear her wails that beckon you to walk unarmed into her reckless bruising. Some have been known to succumb to her beguiling calls. Maybe beneath the undulating unrest, there is silence, comfort and stillness like in the womb.

This season stirs torrents, banks that overflow and floods that lay stake to the right to devour- in the sky, on the ground. It also feeds, a lush feeding of greens that are goaded into awakenings. Shraavan’s rain is the mother of all things that birth in the soil but a capricious one that will leave her offspring to the vagaries of the next seasons. The price for making a verdant world- lives demanded through uncontrollable waters or claimed by millions of invisible fevers festered in winds. It is just the way of the seasons, always has been.

Birth, Growth or Death. Awake, Dreaming or Sleep. Morning, Night or twilight. Earth, Heavens or the nether worlds. In threes. The trinity of creation, sustenance and destruction. A three sided coin that is the currency of existence.

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.

On not writing

Over the weeks, I’ve consciously reduced consumption of the written word, sticking mostly to study texts and work related reading. I’ve also resisted the urge to buy more books and instead finish the ones I have or reread those that call for a second reading. There’s been a withdrawal of sorts happening right in the middle of my life with everything else as is, almost a parallel living. One firmly in the world outside and the other in an inner world. Yesterday, I experimented with not writing a single word just to stay with silence. It was incredibly hard. Truly, silence is not the absence of noise, it’s the absence of thought as I read somewhere! The urge to pull out my book or screen was very compelling but I didn’t, choosing to let memory record them as mental notes instead. Maybe that’s why sleep was unsatisfactory. Perhaps, that’s a cue to work on letting go of the attachment to the act of writing?

Rereading a book on Ayurveda

On an average day, words are strewn about on my blogs, journals, letters etc. They number up to a fair bit, often unruly and raw. It’s almost a compulsion- this need to capture the fragments of my days, thoughts, opinions, contemplation, practice notes, scraps of imagination etc. Maybe I’m afraid of forgetting, maybe it’s a way of keeping record or then it is just a journal of my experiments in living. They are an essential part of my day. The thought of not indulging in them is uncomfortable, strange how sometimes attachment can be to things without substance. At the end of my days, will it matter what I thought or wrote? But here I am, continuing to fill pages, leaving markers of a period in time where I occupied some space.

June is a week old

And just like that June is one week old! Today was a complete rest day but I was up at an insanely early hour thanks to an impossibly early night. So, a morning walk seemed like a good idea and the youngling decided to accompany me. We caught a sunrise out in the open after months. I saw the teen at a little distance and realized with a start that she’s grown quite tall! She suddenly seems more older and I think I must be too. It’s funny how the mind and body perceive age, sometimes very differently. We spoke about many things, mostly art and music, running, religion and she had questions about my life as a teenager. It’s interesting how memories lie below the surface ready to come up, quite like the dormant life that has been sprouting green all across the forest floor.

She mentioned some song and I remembered RSJ, a music magazine founded by the artiste’s father. It was one that I would pore over with a friend. Back then, the publication was novel and we would share a single copy but it was a short lived shared pleasure as life took us both different ways. The 90’s were a wild, interesting time to be a teenager; actually maybe it’s the teenage years that are wild. Thankfully, there were no mobile phones then and all that is remembered remains as sepia tinted memories rather than inerasable photographic evidence.

Since the rains, the trail has been teeming with life and it’s always in motion. All life is movement, every breath, an inhale and an exhale. Stop that movement and you cease to be, plant or animal. And yet, there is stillness in motion. I found it while running or swimming, I find it in asana as also in writing by hand or doing the dishes. It’s a different inhabiting of the body and mind, one that is not quite finite.

I almost went for a walk in the neighbourhood in the evening but changed my mind when I saw the crowds as also the disregard for social distancing and masks by many, especially the young. While it was heart warming to see them in their robustness of youth, it was also worrisome as it appeared as though they had let down their guard completely. I suppose it is inevitable after such an extended lock down and we’ll just have to brace for a new wave of infections.

This year has pretty much been written off in terms of old routine. The child’s school has nothing planned yet for the new academic year and she’s not complaining. Neither am I. Recently she pointed out that all her friends who had something that they liked doing seemed to have done ok during the lockdown. She has her art and found ways to adapt when art supplies were low. A lovely young doctor friend who was stuck in Pune began a podcast , check out Dr. Gypsy here on Gloves Off (Real doctors, undoctored opinions). A passionate doctor since the time I’ve known Dr. G and it comes through even now. We’ve shared a few runs and many coffees together.

As for me, I have spaces like this where I think aloud besides walks and yoga. Volunteering and a little work wrapped up the remaining time. While the head and heart remained steady, sleep got disrupted but that seemed more a function of packing too much in a day. I also found it difficult to watch any movies or shows, perhaps because the eyes were tired. Sometimes, it would take 3 days to watch one movie in installments! The last couple of weeks have been easier as I consciously rearranged my day to increase leisure time. And the woods have helped, as always.

Slow

The trail was wet today. We’ve had slow rain since yesterday and the mud has become soft, like a belly on which children like to rest their heads. This kind of rain is reminiscent of Pune monsoons until a few years ago. Lately, the weather patterns had changed to mimic Bombay rains, heavy and incessant which would make sludge of the trail and then dry into hard packed soil when the sun would get out. Slow, soft rain is gentle, teasing the soil to open up to receive footprints and leave clumps of soil on soles of feet or shoes, maybe with seeds that have flown from bursting pods?

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Mynas, drongos, the crow pheasant and crows (both varieties) were out in much larger numbers than usual today, they’re noisy. The cicadas were also louder than usual and I heard 3 or 4 different sounds. The strays were missing today. I didn’t expect to see too many people considering the rains but there were a couple of boisterous groups. It means more litter inevitably. Another really sad sight is the broken branches. It’s the handiwork of those who come for firewood. There are plenty of dried twigs and branches on the forest floor but those are abandoned and live ones are butchered. I suppose it makes it easier to carry. Alongside this is also the happier sight of smaller trees, the neems in particular growing near larger ones. Small rebellions of life erupting amidst the glyricidia.

As I walked about, I thought about my day until then. It began with yoga as a shared and studied practice, cooking a meal, a few working hours, a talk on handicrafts and finally the trail. All of them have one thing in common, they are slow. Yoga for me has been an extremely slow progression through various stages of fitness, injury, rehabilitation and health. Cooking is always a simple affair and from scratch. My work involves changing attitudes in menstrual health and hygiene and is a long term project. Handicrafts and handlooms are slow arts and the woods take their time in the making.

All these various facets of my living have a longish horizon and in the short term there is a chipping away at them from different angles, sort of like sculpting. Most of the time, there is very little to see as progress until one fine day, there is a breakthrough and I step back to see a whole picture rather than a part of it. Working on the part, the whole is worked upon be it body or mind. It’s the same in the making of many handicrafts and the trail is a sum of many different parts, mobile and immobile. There is the passage of time implicit in their becoming and at any stage, the shape taken by these is a sum of many different parts.

In yoga poses, it begins with very gross actions of the muscular system and progresses to quieter, internal work. Artisans working with their craft spend years perfecting their skill, beginning with learning the different tasks of their art. The forest is a continuum of birth, growth, decay, destruction and regeneration. There’s also the element of individual effort be it on the mat or of the creatures that make the green spaces.

In these times of a pandemic, it again boils down to the individual. We see it as people question their lives and choices. In today’s talk, Laila Tyabji touched upon Swadesi and it’s a word that is a separate post in itself. While there is a collective or community aspect to all of the above, it is a sum of many individuals too, be it arms and legs working together in an asana or a wood carver and block printer or then the stones and birds, insects and plants in the woods.

There is much that is terrible in the world right now both man made and nature designed. In the face of nature’s fury, one has to acquiesce and brace for impact. As to human inflicted violence, I don’t have an answer. Neither shows any sign of abating. Literally and metaphorically, this year has been stormy to say the least. But in the midst of the wildly careening world, my days are quieter. I’ve had time to rearrange my routine to have an increased component of the physical rather than just the cerebral, both in work and play. And that makes me glad to work with what I can experience with all my senses.

A Baobab

Last night, the youngling and I were talking about the lockdown and she mentioned that all her friends who had some kind of hobby or interest seemed to have been very productive and relatively ok compared to those who didn’t have any special interests.  She’s been prolific with her art through these days across different media and has also 1made album covers for her friends who have composed music. A couple of days ago, I got her some art supplies and she got to dabble in oil colours for the first time and it’s a messy affair as she learned the hard way.

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if it’s possible for the woods to be even more beautiful!

The woods always manage to bring more time to my days. This evening I didn’t feel like collecting the trash and decided to walk or then just sit under a tree and maybe read a book. The place was empty as usual and I stood watching the birds for a long while. There’s a thicket where they make a merry racket. There are butterflies too but they are further inside the trail. I saw a couple of green bee eaters, robin magpies, fantails and mynas and heard the saat bhai (jungle babblers) not too far away but didn’t see them. After a while, I settled down with a book that I had left half unread a while ago.

On the way back, there was an old man with 5 young children picnicking. The kids had steel dabbas with poha and it was an idyllic sight, didn’t feel like we were in the middle of a pandemic at all. Also, bumped into the young man who wants to become a police officer and we walked together for a good distance. He’s quite the badass runner, does a full marathon in 3 hours and change. So, we got talking about running, his training and elite athletes etc. His training consisted of running up and down the hill in circular loops and he said he could do it nonstop for 10 loops. No need for any other training after that!  There was a time when I was obsessed about all things running, now they’re packed in forgotten boxes of nostalgia, opened only when something prompts it.

 

It’s almost a given now that I drive around for a while after the woods chasing gulmohurs and today I found my way to a stranger’s house to admire a grand old baobab. The security guard there was kind enough to indulge my desire to see the elder one in person. The tree had such a presence, an energy which is quite inexplicable. It needs to be experienced. The tree had shed sticky flowers on the pavement outside the compound wall and was fruiting which is what made me stop. I’ve never seen the flowers until today and it was the highlight of my day!

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gulmohurs in the evening

Pune has never been this gorgeous in recent history. The current Covid crisis has crippled much and it seems selfish to take pleasure in enjoying the beauty in nature, urban and wild when so many suffer. But, I go anyway. There’s an urgency to pack in all I can before the rains set in. And then I wonder am I the only one who cruises like this, solely for soaking in fading summer sights? Most drivers and riders seem intent on a destination and hurry towards the residential areas while I go in the opposite direction. It’s a different viewing of the trees in the evening light, somewhere between silhouette and colour. I return as night wakes up, that too is a deep pleasure this season. Fragrant, cool inky nights with stars that come alive when you look into the dark.

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Even stones speak to those who listen…

The couple of hours out every afternoon/evening are a long meditation in a manner of speaking. Sometimes I think if I keep this long enough, I may become mute. Actually, speech has reduced significantly even as the written word has become more voluminous. Perhaps it is time to pause for a while and learn a mutism of the written word too. That’s a restraint I am yet to embrace.

An unusual birthday

Today was an eclectic day. Myth and Science, a pleasurable walk in the woods and an unexpected visit to a temple. That last kind of underscores a personal notion that temples beckon. I had no thought of going there but somehow landed outside the orange gates. It’s been nearly two years since I visited this place and the last visit I remember was on a Saturday morning. The pundit had given me a red rose as prasad and I put it in my hair. Those days, I had long tresses and would frequently wear a hibiscus from my garden. I don’t miss the hair but the flowers, occasionally. Later that day, the petals of that rose went into one of my books and remained pressed between its pages.

The trail was a pleasure today unlike the last visit with its drunken visitors. I couldn’t take off my shoes though until I got quite deep into it since the path as well as the interiors were trashed badly. Beer bottles, broken glass, lot of plastic rubbish and so on. It makes me despair for us as a people, this disregard for open spaces, green spaces. But, the woods are special and often lovers of the place clean up after those who wantonly rubbish it. There are a few regulars who love the brown as much.

I’ve missed my daily walks in their magic and music and was glad to get a pocket of time to indulge in ambling and couldn’t resist a little jog too. Today, the wind was from the North West and sounded like the ocean in the treetops. Waves upon waves rising and falling while the branches of the glyricidia rubbed against each other and creaked like old boats. A fragment of a creaky boat ride off the Konkan coast rose in my mind. Added to this mix was the sound of birds and the crunch of my feet on dried leaves. Again memory and its recall, I was reminded of a Canadian autumn many, many months ago and the warm spicy smells of maple and oak leaves. The Eucalyptus trees against the blue skies reminded me of the birches I had seen then.

The woods are peaceful, the people who pass through it, sometimes not so but I like to think that the trees and their whispers leave some of their magic on all those who walk under their shade. On my way back, I drove around to enjoy the sights of the pretty gulmohurs in the neighbourhood. Soon the rains will come and the crimson petals will lie destroyed on the ground, making the prettiest carpets. There was no destination and I cruised along until I found myself outside the temple. I’ve always been an outsider in places of worship, not knowing what is expected in terms of rituals. Hence, the preference for odd hours when they are empty and quiet. There wasn’t anyone else except D who said I should hang on as the pundit was on his way. Tulsi, the dog who loiters around the place was happy to see the old poojari as he unlocked the place and nuzzled against him.

I didn’t have anything with me as an offering but went in anyway and looked at the orange drenched idol of Hanuman. Legend goes that the son of the Wind God asked Sita why she wore vermillion in the parting of her hair and she replied for the love of Ram. So, he emptied a whole load of it on his entire body for that’s how much he adored the avatar of Vishnu. The pundit marked my forehead with the orange tilak and I received a flower as prasad which now sits pressed in a book.

I suppose it was an auspicious visit as today is also Shani’s birthday, Saturn for those who are not familiar. The lame planet is feared but somehow, I’ve never felt the dread that people associate with it. Perhaps, it is ignorance of the complicated Vedic astrology that warns of terrible settling of karmic debts or maybe it is having nothing to lose. While tradition is to offer flowers, fruits, leaves, nuts, seeds, oil etc. in worship, I have often wondered how can one offer things that are not ours to offer. We assume ownership of what grows freely and over the centuries have staked claim to mountains and seas as belonging to people or nations when they existed without title deeds for aeons!

Somehow, it already feels too late for change to really make a difference. It seems like time, Shani’s time is marching us to pay the price for rubbishing our planet, beginning with the current reality of isolation and distancing. Like the renaissance philosopher and astrologer Masilio Ficinno says, “We are subjected to Saturn through leisure, solitude and sickness; through theology, secret philosophy, superstition, magic farming, and through mourning.” In pandemia, people haven’t had the luxury of choosing solitude.

The rot of prosperity

Finally got down to sorting some of my old files and ended up looking at the piece below. I remember that September night which began nightly walks after dinner. They had an invisible feel about them, as though I melted into the darkness. Of course, it was not difficult to experience it as such since my clothing was inevitably dark to be as unobtrusive as possible. One phrase that kept popping up in my head through that long amble on familiar streets was the rot of prosperity. Partly due to the smells on the walk which registered dominantly as also the neon glare of shops and eateries bustling with people, spending. I haven’t been out in the night these last few weeks but if day time is any indicator, the streets will be desolate.

And letters back then were sent the old fashioned way 🙂

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It’s been many months since I walked and a while since I ventured out in the night. The dark of the night is so different from the dark of early dawn. Night time darkness is weary with noise and fumes of a mindless humanity. My tree friends also remain shut for the night. They curl their leaves and sleep while I make do with jazz in my ears.

My life is silent these days and words seem familiar in their written form rather than let loose on the wind. So, I write letters. Letters to stranger friends, the ones whose words and faraway presence somehow comforted me. I write letters to my daughters which may perhaps go out from all the mothers in the world to their daughters. Today, I wrote a letter to my daughter and one of the stranger friends, a woman I haven’t met yet. They couldn’t wait until morning so I went walking to the postbox I usually frequent. The clearing time mentioned on it is 1325 hours and my letters will sit at the bottom, perhaps with other letters.

Maybe I should write a letter addressed to the postman who clears that particular box. What would I write and tell him? I don’t know. I recall a story about a postman who discovered unsent letters when he retired and was distraught at the fact. I can’t seem to remember anything beyond that point, perhaps I didn’t finish the story. It’s quite possible. I’ve lived long enough not to suffer through books that don’t speak to me. If they have words meant for my eyes, they will find me somehow.

The letters dropped, the weather pleasant and the prospect of endless hours to myself led me to amble on roads I knew so well at one time. The streets were packed with headlamps and frantic drivers all rushing to their destinations. The food carts and stalls were doing brisk business and I watched people eating without really eating. I found myself behind young couples with cheap perfume and the unmistakable musk of lust. Somewhere, there was a dead animal behind the bushes and the fetid smell of rotting garbage. There was also the fragrance of a carpet of the cork tree’s flowers. Mild, just a hint masked by the haze of pollution.

I passed parked cars with their owners playing games, a paani puri wala chatting on the phone even as he whipped up the puris in quick succession, bikers speaking with 2 people behind them. There was barely anyone without the ubiquitous cell phone, me included although mine was in my pocket and on Spotify. Even this is distraction, music.

It’s a confusing worldview, this rot of prosperity.

 

words

I want to gather all the words from all the beautiful sentences and read them, with their curves and slashes, printed or handwritten. I want to let my eyes wander over their structure and form, balance and asymmetry, reach out and trace their shapes as though they are alive. I want to do all this before the light dims and my eyes go silent.

But then there are too many to gather, my heart and head can hold only so much. So, I watch them go by, some on a blinking screen, others in the smells of pages I will never turn. Some linger and yet others grow into words that will escape from my fingers. They hold memories of words tasted and shared, hidden and abandoned.

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Some of them roam in moonlit dawns and alight on blank pages

the moon on my floor_
reluctant lover of mine
denying always…

Others will fall into time

time yawns, swallowing
days, words, thoughts, dreams, silences
unending chasm…

Most | restrained |

A letter from Norway

Sarees brought me the love and friendship of many special people across the planet. Some of them lovers of the six yards, others not but all of them wonderful people. A few have grown to be friends I’ll love all my life. Some have also been correspondents over the last couple of years and I have enjoyed the slow pleasures of letters written in beautiful hands. Often these notes are accompanied by something handmade, in the case of a special sister of the soul, tea for two. 🙂

Most days, I go through life unconscious of my presence in anyone else’s life. But every once in a while, I receive an act of kindness which makes me feel overwhelmed. It is a surprise that one is thought of in private moments of the spirit of another person. One such happened today. I received images of a letter that was written about a couple of years ago in a train between Bergen and Oslo.

R discovered the notepad on which she had begun writing that letter to me recently and shared pictures of the pages today. I was deeply touched to know that someone remembered me on their travels, enough to write their deepest thoughts as they watched a white landscape hurtle past a silent window. The pictures through the glass speak of harsh winters although this was a trip in April or May. I’ve never seen snow, not yet and often wonder how it might be to experience the silence of a giant white blanket for months on end.

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Picture courtesy : R from her train ride between Bergen and Oslo

Letters though are a wonderful way to break that silence. They are a window into thoughts that are free from the constraints of conversation. Of course, they have their moods and colours. Sometimes playful, often contemplative, at others obscure and so on. But, generally, they tend to be a plane where there is a relaxation of our personas and an emergence of our person. Often they are about the mundane while at times the pen wanders to think about deep questionings and at still others they are simply a record of activities. It made me question why I write letters almost compulsively but that probably is a separate post.

In an age of instant news, instant sharing, I find an almost fierce need to protect the slow savouring of thoughts that belonged to a loved friend but could be relived in the reading of a letter. Perhaps it is a result of growing older and wanting the comfort of a touch of lives through paper, a medium that is comforting. Or maybe it is a need for a physical reminder of something that transcends distance and time. Most of the letters I have received have been from friends, very few from family. In my books, friendships are probably the best among different kinds of love.

As I type this, I realize that this too has turned into a letter of sorts, perhaps a reply to that letter written on a train miles and months away from here and now. Maybe that’s what this blog is too, one long endless letter. Thank you R for your gentle, compassionate touch in my life. It has been much the richer for your radiance.

Some letters are best received much beyond their writing.

Love

S.