Armoured feet

I’ve enjoyed barefoot running and walking for a few years now. Ofcourse I put on sandals or shoes when required but these are as lightweight as possible. After treading lightly for so long, the gum boots felt like clunky armour but the upside, I could walk without having the shoe soles getting clumped and needing to stop every now and then to shake it off. It will take a little getting used to but that seems a small price for the freedom to walk in the woods. The trail is impossible in this season for naked feet with the slippery mud as well as broken pieces of glass. A couple of dogs got injured and had to be bandaged, one of them requiring stitches.
Let’s see how these fare through the season.

Today was a relatively dry day and the place was busy. On my way back, I stopped to watch the last few minutes of a cricket game in progress. 6 runs needed off 4 balls and the tensions were running high. That team didn’t make it. Bumped into Mr.C after long. Barring the crows and mynas and a few shrieking lapwings, there weren’t many feathered ones. Too many humans stomping about. Butterflies and dragonflies were in their usual strength and I spotted a blue moon butterfly, my first in there. I saw a young girl running and it made me very happy.
There are only two gulmohurs in this section and they’ve laid out a beautiful carpet. I’m imagining a saree in the exact same colours…

On my way back, I stopped to buy groceries and saw that the neighbourhood was being shut down. The pandemic has arrived at our doorstep and we’re a containment zone now. There has been a cluster of infections and one death a few blocks away. Time to brace for impact by the looks of it. The apartment complex I live in will most likely see cases considering that there is little to no social distancing here. Kids and adults are out in large numbers in the evenings and barring the odd senior member, no one wears a mask. I wonder if this household will also be a statistic in the pandemic.
And saw a couple of these around the place. Surprising there wasn’t any one taking credit for the banners.

There’s just so much happening all around but I find that my world has shrunk to a fullness with the outdoors, movement and words. It is enough.

After the rains

Today, it was bugs day out! And predictably a lot of birds were having a field day. I saw a black ibis, lots of green bee eaters, four or five smaller birds that I couldn’t identify at a distance besides the regulars. Ants were busy everywhere, on the ground, on trees and crickets were leaping all over the place. There were a few butterflies too and gorgeous dragonflies, spotted about 4 different varieties, a lovely crimson one, a couple of blues, a few amber ones and some goldenish green ones. The first creepy crawly that I laid my eyes on though was a red velvet mite as it moved on the ground.

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managed to get one picture of one of these fast flitting beauties

There was just so much life in the woods today and it was a symphony of different sounds. There were hardly any people save for a group of young men playing cricket and a couple of bikers. Most days, I am the only woman in the woods for a long time until a few of them come in twos or threes. But in there, I become genderless, one with the ground and wind. Ever since I went bald, I feel outside of the limitations of gender as though along with the hair, something else also was freed. In this country few women choose to go bald and it is associated with widows, renunciates, those undergoing treatment for cancer or then those with a non-heterosexual orientation. Going bald for was a spontaneous decision and I found I like it. It’s non-fussy and looks like it might remain this way for some time to come.

The only thing that stopped me before was meetings outside but with work calls coming into homes, there is a diluting of the work persona. I found that professional relationships have become a little more personal. An interesting work call was one where there were four of us and three were bald! One of my yoga teachers and his entire family (wife and two kids) also turned bare headed and it was the sweetest picture I saw during the lock down. I suppose this encounter with uncertainty and mortality has allowed people to let go of many fixed ideas about life and work.

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white shirish flower

I roam the woods as though it’s my playground and I catch myself appropriating the wild as mine even if it is in my thoughts. It’s so easy to slip into this sense of feeling at home in a place that is free. I think of a tree as ‘my tree’ even though it is not mine and am reminded of the concept of aparigraha. Sometimes possessiveness is not things but beliefs and thoughts and these are as binding as actual things. As I reflected on the thought, a spill over from yesterday’s reading, I ambled to the southern end of the woods and saw the most delightful sight, a dog sitting in the shade of a tree. There was also a shirish with some flowers still on it, they have a lovely mild fragrance. In full bloom, they scent many streets of Pune. The strong winds had broken quite a few neem branches and I picked some fruits off the ground. The grass has already started to sprout and soon it will become tall as the rains set in completely. I do hope to see it through the season, hopefully there will be enough days that are not too wet. And the next time, I should remember to carry a pair of binoculars.

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the good life 🙂

It’s a blessing to have this patch of green to disappear into, to become a child again, full of amazement. Some days, poetry erupts while there and I have no choice but to note it down as it writes itself. These walks have never been for fitness but an escape into wonder and a suspension from life as a city dweller. And so there’s no thought of time and it ends whenever I feel like it. In fact, over the last couple of weeks three hours have been set aside expressly for this purpose and it is sacrosanct even if I don’t go out. Today was a little over a couple of hours and I didn’t realize it until I got back home. At one time, I’d have covered about 4 times the distance in that time but now I don’t even think of distance. It’s time, elastic time unbound by anything except having my fill of a space that is special.

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Being barefoot, one develops a keen eye for the ground and its stories and there’s always interesting things to notice. Barefoot heightens all senses for some reason.

After long, the thought of my father’s ancestral lands came unbidden, fertile green acres in a forgotten corner of a tiny sliver called God’s own country, which now belong to some stranger. And I found myself thinking it may be nice to have a patch of wild to slip into right in one’s backyard. Perhaps the sea nearby and undulating rolling greens as far as the eye can see…

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.

Thinking about Trash

Slipped away into the woods again this afternoon and it felt like how it used to feel before a virus threw the world out of whack. I walked for a while on the path usually taken by walkers, runners and bikers. It’s relatively cleaner but all the trees that would be perfect to sit down under and lean against were sites of trash. Beer cans, whisky bottles, empty packets of chips and condoms, cigarette packs, slippers, plastic cups and bottles made up today’s haul. There’s something deeply satisfying about cleaning up. And on my way back to the car, a biker on the path stopped to speak. He said that a group of them were planning to start cleaning up post lock down and asked if I would like to join them. I said yes, it should be faster to work in a group.

Since the trail does not have provision to dispose garbage, I had to drive a fair distance to dump it appropriately. The roads were empty, my car stereo turned up and I drove around drinking in the rages of crimson. It’s a short season of gulmohurs and being able to enjoy their fiery loveliness has been a pleasure in a summer that has been unlike any other.

Much of the human activity markers of summer have been missing like swims and golas, beach holidays and late night walks. So we made do with balcony sunbathing and cool showers, icecreams and jasmine scented moonshine rains. All it takes is a little imagination and the mind can wrest much even out of impossible situations.

Driving with a bag full of trash made me think of the people who handle and sort our waste. Most urban dwellers’ association with garbage ends outside their doors and there is little thought given to what happens after. The more affluent the household, the more trash and less consideration in general. During the course of field work in the city a few months ago, I found slum dwellers were more sensitive to who handled their waste. They were concerned about animals feeding on rubbish and their waste being strewn about. Unlike the more tony neighbourhoods, the trash in their bastis is often visible and overflowing.

Many of them are a sandwich generation, caught between rigid elders and children who live in the future. They struggle under the burden of old thoughts which they don’t quite believe in anymore but can’t seem to shake off either. My work was primarily with women and there was not a single story I heard that did not inspire me. Their lot often included drunken spouses, domestic violence, poverty, squalor and yet they managed to carve out little indulgences. They all displayed resilience, grit, courage and tenacity even while retaining their softness. All traits that would see them ride an unpredictable time probably a little better than many others who are used to planning their days and years.

Physical Labour

I must confess that during lock down, I’ve wished (more than once) that I was an essential worker. That way, I wouldn’t have needed to wait for a supplies dash to roam the streets. Mostly, it’s the insatiable desire to drink in the sights of people, places and their intersection. Today was a legit supplies day but took the car out and went to meet a tree a fair distance away. The amaltas (golden shower trees) are gorgeous and I went to see one of them on a hidden running route. Sadly, the full burst was over and there were just a few flowers left. It is a sight to behold in full bloom. I did manage to see one a few days ago on another street.

From last week

A large chunk of my week would be physical, in class or then adjusting bodies as part of therapeutic yoga. Additionally, my professional work required me to spend time on field with health workers and then there were the long solitary walks. Zoom was restricted to one client and the screen mostly to consolidate thoughts and learning. I didn’t need to have it open all day. Now, it’s the other way around and I find myself impatient for more real world work rather than working via video/ voice.

It is also tiresome to see the endless prompts for addressing a ‘changed‘ world by experts. None of them have lived through a pandemic of this scale so it’s all estimation and conjecture anyway. Some of it will come to be and many will be off the mark but that’s been the nature of projections. But I still get in on some of them to keep myself somewhat professionally relevant and speak the same language. I’m looking forward to the lifting of the lock down and getting back to some of the old work although it seems unlikely to experience it the same way considering the necessary precautions one has to take now. The hit is especially hard in yoga considering that much of therapeutic yoga requires touch. But, it’s an ancient science that has reinvented itself over the ages. Infact, it has already pivoted to a new avatar online, it will be interesting to see how it evolves.

One bag full mostly plastic cups, bottles, empty pouches etc.

In the meanwhile, I managed to get some large trash bags and sturdy rubber gloves so decided to tackle the rubbish on the trail. It was satisfying to get rid of whatever I could manage to collect from the interiors of the woods today. Much of the debris is scattered around trees which have a wide clearing around them, they’re the perfect picnic spots and so make the worst sites to clean.

All in all, it was good to labour under blue skies, a bright sun and music in my heart. Nothing like a good sweat, summers are meant for it.

Sunrise Sunset

It’s rare that I get to sit and enjoy a sunrise and a sunset on the same day. Mostly it’s a hustle- work, home, yoga, writing and escaping into the woods. But somedays I get a perfect ordinary day that rolls out rather spaciously. Yesterday was one such serendipitous Saturday. I woke up to a sleeping household which is unusual considering an insomniac mother who is fast fading into senility. A quiet cup of coffee later, I took off to the woods nearby. No one saw me or heard me leave home and I was reminded of a younger me as I hurried out with a skip in my step. Those days I sneaked out to meet a boy, these days I sneak out to meet myself.

Five minutes later I was swallowed by the woods along with the sounds of the city and transported to a different soundscape of parakeets and distant train horns. The dried leaves felt satisfactorily crunchy as they disintegrated under my feet becoming part of the spread of forest floor in front of me. The glyricidia is almost at the peak of its blooming and I remembered my poet friend in Bangalore. So, I tagged her on a photo I scattered on the internet in one of the countless web notebooks I’ve opened and never closed.The trail never disappoints. It has its assortment of humans, things and animals . Mostly, I leave the beaten track and amble without any design,, that’s where the magic comes alive. I’ve come across a bunch of papers with notes and poems, seen voodoo dolls nailed into trees, a bike that has been steadily coming apart, pants hanging on a tree and so on. Sometimes, there are little tableaus left behind like a clearing with broken coconuts, vermilion, flowers and ash suggesting a very romantic runaway marriage. Then there are the groups of people at play or chopping firewood, running or doing drills- those I steer away from.

These objects or arrangements of things or even people are rich fodder for an overactive imagination. It’s always interesting to see two or more people and watch from a distance. Without the benefit of verbal communication, body language speaks volumes and it’s easy to make up stories. Writing is a sly craft that way, piggybacking on real lives. Often the watched are unaware and I’m aware of my voyeurism but I can’t stop myself.

Like the barechested man I saw at a remove. He was in a yoga pose and part of me wanted to adjust his torso while another was curious about his sequence and still another wondered about his motivation. And then the story making began, without any warning. Slow brush strokes of imaginary people and circumstances of his life and once a flimsy narrative begins to emerge, the details start filling themselves in. Barring a name, he is alive in a way he probably isn’t in his real life.

And it repeats for all that I encounter, people and things, living and inanimate. Abandoned poetry and essays, voodoo dolls hammered into trees, pants hanging on trees, a motorcycle without wheels and handles, the old man and his gorgeous Alsatians and the list goes on. Every day, different stories unfold. Yesterday, I heard music but didn’t look behind to see simply because words began to unfurl…

a voice sings behind me
plaintive, it dips and meanders
somewhere behind
but i walk on

the melody is haunting
perfect perhaps
for a song I wrote
but i walk on

maybe it’s a troubadour
i see gypsy tents
in the distance
but i walk on

the music is relentless
urgent, insistent
a message
but i walk on

the wild woods spill
onto a beaten path
i am expelled
i walk on