Notes from a summer day

It is summer in the world outside, I catch glimpses of it as I cruise the Mumbai Pune expressway every week. It’s a familiar stretch, one I have seen being built over the last couple of decades. The cities it connects have spilled over at either end, shortening the bare open stretches. The trees on the verge are grown ones. I wonder if they were planted or they somehow crept into their tallness. They’re a mix, nothing planned about their arrangement, unlike the Satara- Kolhapur stretch which has neat lines of flowering trees. While driving back last afternoon, I wondered about what the person or team would have thought of as they decided on the landscaping of the road. What might have been my recommendation if I got to choose? I don’t know if we really ought to choose in the first place.

Over the last month, I watched jacaranda trees create lovely clouds and carpets, saw jackfruits ripening into sweet stickiness. Now, the copper pods mimic millions of suns as they smile between the leaves. In some places, the golden shower trees cannot wait and have begun to preen in dainty bunches. There are a few precocious Gulmohurs, early bloomers peeking through the green. Yesterday, I missed my leisurely ambles so much that I stopped on my way back home to say hello to my old tree friends. The ones that have been familiar are still waiting for their cue to burst into colour. I stopped by the old baobab tree on my way back home simply to see it before its season of flowering. There is something dramatic about trees in bloom, the entire run up to their flowering followed by their quiet retreat into anonymity. It’s beautiful how completely inconspicuous trees come alive in all their flamboyance and go back to being one among many. Tree time is slow time, perhaps the kind of time which we humans should also keep.


The weeks have been a blur between cities, zoom meetings, classes and lots of time behind the wheel. In the bustle of life and it’s little dramas, I got to witness the blossoming and fading of a semal on the highway over the course of a couple of weeks. An absolutely beautiful tree by a small bridge, I’ve stopped near it almost every trip to watch the sheer profusion on life thriving in its branches.

Between the hurly burly of responsibility, there were also snatches of absolute abandon, like a few hours of ambling in the woods, lazy swims far out in the blue, scenic drives and mesmerizing old temples. Of all the pleasures, swimming in the sea is probably the most indulgent. It’s strange this call of the blue where I don’t realise when my body is swept up into the waves and then there’s nothing but silence. At some point, there is satiety and the limbs move towards shore, slowly finding steady ground.

The travelling yoga mat!

Truly Incredible India

But the magnetic pull of moving remains and it continues on land, both on and off the mat. Long stretches across beautiful beaches, dizzying hills, thick forests, stunning temples and idyllic villages. In the countryside, there is no sense of a pandemic having ravaged the world and there is an even rhythm to life and living. It is precious, this comfort of continuity, of a simple unhurried way. These days seem like a gift, all the more special for its transience. Soon, there will be a need to brace for impact but for now, there are miles to go…

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.

Homelessly home

Homeless across 3 cities with homes in each…

At Amboli

But not these macaques. There were two of them, (not seen here) who seemed to have some tumour like growth.

Drove past backwaters, lush jungles, dry grasslands, rolling hills, grey highways and city streets till a pit stop. And now, onward we go.

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.

What’s in a name?

Leg 2 of a multi city merry-go-round and this one involved an airplane. The airport was not as busy as it used to be and the sense of hurry was absent. While masks were ubiquitous, there was also a slipping into old ways. I guess it is inevitable with the increase in number of people. How does one maintain protocol for 450,000 square metres anyway? The flight I was on had about 25 people. Mostly young people heading for a holiday by the looks of it. How long will airlines continue to operate if this continues?

Covid is here to stay and people of Bombay have made place for it in the same way they absorb new things. Speaking of Bombay, actually Mumbai, the renaming of the city happened nearly a quarter of a century ago and there was much resistance to the change by those who knew it as such. It was a way of reclaiming Indian identity and disassociating with a colonial past. It was also a strong political posturing by the party in power at the time, a chest thumping of Maratha pride. Name changes of cities, streets and other public places don’t see the same resistance anymore. I guess in part it may be due to an increase in the transient nature of jobs and livelihoods. People move more easily.

Changing names is reasserting identity and ownership. Until some years back, it was not uncommon to find a girl changing her name to a new one chosen by her in-laws when she got married. I don’t know if the practice is still prevalent. It used to be couched in tradition emphasising how the girl was beginning a new life and so a spanking new name signified her changed identity as a wife and daughter-in-law. It was common to assume the husband’s surname. It’s now common to retain one’s maiden name post marriage.

Some time back, I was thinking about the names of trees, the ones we have given them. If they chose their own names, what would they call themselves? Would they also speak of themselves as individuals or would one name suffice for their intertwined lives underground? How do they call out to each other? Or perhaps they don’t consider themselves as separate at all, like gemels. That’s for the likes of us humans. We learn to love our names first as they are crooned to us by those who care for us. Much later we croon the names of those we love- lovers, children, gods. I remember something I scribbled a while ago

Greet one another
by name, it is beautiful –
the sound of a name

And then at some point, names fall by the way side just as form dissolves into formlessness, when structure becomes being.

Day’s end saw another walk, this time by the backwaters in Siolim where I caught a beautiful crimson and grey sunset. Just for a little while I lost myself in the flight of the birds, the gentle lapping of the waters and the cool breeze. Dusk has a different charm. It was also sad to see how little we care for natural spaces, they’re trashed without regard. Many of these places have religious symbols like crosses or shrines. At one time, they were sufficient to ensure respect for the surroundings but their influence has faded. I do feel that the time to reverse the ill effects of the systemic abuse of this planet is past. Now it’s simply a matter of time, maybe decades, perhaps less. Until then, we drink in what still remains and leave accounts of a beautiful world for those who will come after us.

Finding home

Lately the walks have been fewer and the ones I do end up carving out of my day have been under old trees. It is a relief after long work days. After a fair bit, I walked on city streets that were bustling with human activity, in a place where I lived in transit for over 2 decades.

But before that there was a long, happy drive on a highway. Those lanes are still not as busy as they were pre-pandemic and it was a pleasure to really zip past a lush and vibrant landscape. Windows down, happy music and the wind on my face. At one time, it was wind in my hair and it struck me that I’ve had short hair, really long hair, really short hair and then this bald pate. Every decade, a different way to wear my hair and the common thread has been convenience.

When the coffee mug met the mask

The drive was pleasant and the city traffic was light. So, I stopped by Amma’s place and had coffee with her. It was a surprise for her and both of us were happy. She’s quite old so it was socially distanced but seeing her felt good. I got chided for the baldness but it’s Amma and she’s always allowed to scold. Another hour or so later and I came to my mother’s house. It is not the same without her and there’s an ache at her not coming back to her home. There was nothing else to do so I went out for a walk on streets I haunted as a teenager. I walked past Sunset salon where I had a haircut the last time I was here (it was an interesting experience), down the pani puri wala’s spot, lukka corner, the lane with fading buildings of the quaint names that await redevelopment, an open-air boxing club at YMCA and back home.


A few of those old structures have already been replaced by swanky looking new ones and the character of the entire place is changing. Saving these few images here of a time that will soon be erased like the lives it contained. It began a while back as reclaimed land gave rise to tall buildings .Were we meant to live so high up in the air?

I.C. Colony was predominantly a Catholic neighbourhood but there was a largish community of Malayali Syrian Christians too. The community was small and one knew everyone. It also meant a robust gossip culture but that has also withered. Bombay was both home and not home simultaneously. There was always a wanting to get away and the inevitability of coming back to the claustrophobia of cramped spaces. I passed BEST buses packed with damp bodies, trucks with men sprawled over sacks, limbs over sweaty limbs and vacant stares. I remembered local trains where I’d shrink into myself pretending there was an invisible bubble that shielded me from other bodies. It helped to be a whole head taller than the rest. Despite the discomfort, there was also a fondness of familiarity. Years later, it is nostalgia which washes all memories with softer hues. Maybe these are the last few trips to this city, there is very little left to bring me back.

Tomorrow, a sleepy little village by a river beckons. That’s a piece of land where my skin smiles and the heart sings. Maybe it is time to call that ocean kissed place – home.

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.