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.

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.

Nine Days of the Devi

Since the last couple of years, I reread the Devi Bhagwatam every Navratri. It started on a lark and I have no other reason but the satisfaction of a timed challenge for myself. Start to finish in 9 days. This time, I’d like to summarise each chapter so I have a reference to the stories in them. This is a post in progress until it gets done.

The book is a modern day rendition by Ramesh Menon and I like the lilt in its words.

  1. Krishna Dwaipayana wants a son and Narada suggests that he worship the Devi for his boon.
  2. Story of how vamris were responsible for Vishnu’s decapitation, which was the fructification of Lakshmi’s curse and the story of Hayagriva
  3. Story of the asuras Madhu and Kaitabha and how the earth came to be called medini
  4. Story of Budha’s birth- son of Soma and Tara
  5. Story of Pururavas grandson of Budha, son of Sudyumna/Ila (only person to have lived as both man and woman, as Ila she bears Budha’s son) who falls in love with Urvashi who abandons him
  6. Story of Suka’s birth and the origin of the 18,000 shlokas of the Devi Purana. “All that I see is myself, only I am eternal.”
  7. Suka goes to Mithila, gains wisdom from Janaka and comes back to his father and lives as a householder. The four ashramas of a wise man essential to cleanse the mind until it is still to see the truth that is immanent. Eventually, he attains moksha. His father is distraught but his time is not up yet. ‘The seeker had become all times and places, and all things. He was free.’
  8. The story of Matsyagandha, Vyasa’s mother.
  9. Mstsyagandhi becomes Satyavati and gives birth to Parasara’s son, Dwaipayana who would be famous as Ved Vyasa, the greatest poet.
  10. Parikshita’s death, Janamejaya’s sarpa yagna and the telling of the Mahabharata by Vaisampayana
  11. The story of Astika who prevented the sarpa yagna and how the snake got its forked tongue. Vyasa begins to tell the Devi Bhagavatam
  12. Brahma recounts to Vyasa how he along with Vishnu and Rudra saw the Devi Bhagavati and received the Mula mantra from her.
  13. Vyasa recounts the tale of the Ikshvaku dynasty and how Dhruvasandhi’s oldest son, Sudarshana and his mother Manorama are forced to flee after his death.
  14. Sudarshana grows up a Devi bhakta. Shashikala, princess of Kashi loses her heart to the prince without laying eyes on him. Her swayamvar has princes from all over and Sudarshana also shows up at the Devi’s command.
  15. Shashikala and Sudarshana are married in secret.
  16. There is a battle outside the gates of Kashi, the Devi slaughters the enemy kings. Yudhajita and Shatrujita are killed. Devi tells him to celebrate Navratri Puja in autumn. Sudarshana takes his rightful place as long of Ayodhya.
  17. ‘Spring and Autumn are the months of sickness and death; they are even called Yama’s teeth. These are the thresholds of Uttarayan and Dakshinayana, when the sun turns north and south, and these are the seasons when the world is unstable.’ The story of Mahisha asura’s birth and his boon of protection against death by no man of any of the races from Swarga, Bhumi or patala. Only s woman can kill him.
  18. How to do the Navratri puja. Mahisha sends message to Indra to be his vassal. Armies and allies prepare for war. A great war between asuras and devas commence.
  19. The battle rages for 100 years andthe asuras win the war. Mahisha sits on Indra’s throne in Amravati. The devas go seeking help eventually.
  20. The devas reach Narayana. The shaktis of the devas join to fuse into Devi Mahamaya with 18 arms. She is worshipped and armed by all Devas. Her laughter draws the attention of Mahisha who sends his generals to bring her to him.
  21. Mahisha receives conflicting advice on how to deal with the Devi. Tamra is sent to meet her but returns terrified. Vaskala boasts that he will vanquish her.
  22. Vaskala and Durmukha face the Devi in battle and perish. Chikasura and Tamra take their place and are killed too.
  23. Asiloma ans Vidalakhya are sent next and they too perish. Mahisha himself comes to the battlefield and tries to convince the Devi. Mandodari is cited as an example of the regret of spurning an eligible husband.
  24. Continuation of the story of how Mandodari marries Charudesna, regrets spurning Virasena. Mahisha attacks the Devi and dies. Dharma is restored. Shatrughna is set on the throne.

Friends Library

A few weeks before a pandemic shut down the world, I had paused my membership at the neighbourhood library. I’d gone a little book crazy then, buying an assortment of titles from an exhibition. This was topped with a pile of books I received from an acquaintance. It made sense to pause and finish what I had on hand. But I guess it’s a common reader tendency to always end up having unread books. Additionally, I also bought a few on the kindle during lockdown. My reads were mostly non-fiction interspersed with children’s books from the youngling’s shelf when I needed a break.

Last evening, I took myself on a nice long walk in the old Cantonment and rounded it off by heading to the library. It’s a quaint little place, over quarter of a century old and run by two ladies, K and A. Friends Library has had a loyal clientele over the years and the two ladies know all their regulars well. K is usually the one at the desk in the evenings and she knows the kind of books that I like. Sometimes I ask her to pick me something and she unerringly chooses the perfect one. She’s crazy about dogs and the library is always fostering abandoned ones. Shadow was a long time resident, he was gone though, someone adopted him. Four new strays had made themselves comfortable. Shadow would be sprawled between two shelves where I’d browse. It felt strange not to see him in his usual spot.

K was shocked to see me bald but like with most people, it was just an initial reaction. I’m still the same old me. Although the place was open, there were not many visitors. Most of the members are senior citizens and have been staying at home. K rued that a lot of folks hadn’t bothered to return books they had taken months ago. A long borrowing inevitably gets written off. Everytime I see the copy of Tughlaq at home, I feel mildly guilty at not having returned the book to my college library. But it’s also nice to have some relic of that short period in my life. I don’t think I have anything else from those years, no pictures, nothing. Maybe I should leave a note in the book about how it came to nestle among the other books at home. I digress.

Wonder what the autobiography of this book might read like…

Back to the library, it was quiet. Earlier, a little charm with bells that hung on the door never stopped tinkling. It was a place of comings and goings, of seniors and children, indulgent parents and solitary bookworms. There was a small sense of community in a largely indifferent city. The pandemic has erased that camaraderie. I suppose it will eventually come back but there is a certain apathy that is visible. The tiny place also has an attic for the kids, with books and toys along with a cosy area for reading. The youngling has spent countless hours reading there and often I’ve had to climb up to get her to come home. There are no children lounging there anymore.

I picked up a couple of books, one I’ve been meaning to read for a while and the other a random pick for its title. By the time, I got to K with my books, she already had the long green card with my name ready. I’d forgotten my number but she remembered. Come today evening, I was back at the library and returned one of the books I had read and the youngling got herself a nice, fat book to read. It feels good to slide into a familiar haunt, one that is warm and welcoming and smells of books.

Stories and Rememberings

I do remember,” he said, “only Pooh doesn’t very well, so that’s why he likes having it told to him again. Because then it’s a real story and not just a remembering.

A couple of disassociative days, fragments of lives and times, houses and homes, a remembering and many rememberings. Of a real story. But, like Pooh sees it, a story. That’s where the difference ends. Pooh lives in pages and human lives play out in breaths. In and out, inextricably linked to threads of, well, living. And that is a complicated story.

So, it made sense to slip into Pooh’s world in a strange place, at once familiar and distant. Somehow in these kaleidoscopic days, the old teak trees were an anchor. It is the season of their blossoms and I’m glad to witness another cycle in their years.

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.

A day in pictures

Morning visitor says my garden is a happy place

Propping up with bricks and books

Wore jewellery after months!

All bets off.

Green grave for bikes

Sometimes the resident artist approves of picture take-outing 😁

She sings and I ride on her words and the clouds, half a century away…

Locked Libraries

A few weeks before lock down, I had taken membership of an old library and reading room in the city. The Albert Edward Institute and Cowasjee Wadia Hall are adjacent to each other and sit snugly in a canopied compound. The first floor has been let out as consultation rooms to some city doctors. It overlooks a busy street and is neighbours with the popular Kayani Bakery and Victory cinema theatre.

The Albert Edward Institute houses a nearly 145 year old library and the Dinshaw Cowasjee reading hall was added on some years later. There is a small passage that connects the two structures. The latter has cupboards built into the walls to hold books although it is fewer in number. Between the two, the subjects range from science to philosophy, social sciences and literature. While the main library is functional only in the mornings and afternoons, the reading hall is open all day from about 9am to 8:30pm. It is outdated as far as facilities go – no wifi, no permission to charge your devices, poor lighting, lazy ceiling fans. There is some noise from the traffic that streams in through the window but mornings and afternoons are generally peaceful. It has a charm about it and perhaps the intense energy of focus and concentration of many heads makes it conducive to work without distractions. The few times I used the place to work and read, I found that I accomplished a lot more than I do at home. If I shut my eyes, I see a sepia tinted photograph of the place and it feels expansive and still. Note to self, check with the librarian if there are any historical records.

Pune streets are strewn with history with old temples, houses from the period of British rule and wadas. Most of them are ill maintained and in varying states of disrepair. Perhaps it is their everyday presence which makes it less of heritage for the average Punekar. The city is best seen on foot and besides the architectural beauty, there are a great many trees and plants, growing wild as also in carefully manicured gardens.

The collection in the main library seemed eclectic as I browsed through it before I signed up but I’ll have to wait to explore more. There are over 20,000 old tomes as well as spanking new ones jostling against each other in wooden cupboards that groan under the weight of their spines. The dusty portraits of grim old men stare and a mildly wild imagination can conjure up images of watchful eyes following all the readers, making sure they don’t snuck a book or two.

The reading hall has long wooden tables down the centre of the hall and generous sized single ones along the walls. The day’s newspapers remain on the centre table. It’s usually filled with students hard at work, making notes and cramming information. Most of the single tables are stacked with thick tomes on economics, political science, computer science etc. It also sees the odd middle aged academics, researchers but they’re fewer. The senior citizens are usually found in the verandah outside the hall as most of the places inside are taken up by the younger ones. They sit with the newspapers, lounging on the chairs outside and often in quiet conversation with each other.

I had just started to get familiar with the reading hall and was hoping to get to speak with the librarian to find out more about the place but it will have to wait now. In terms of social distancing, it would meet the norms with the tables being wide as well as long and sufficient distance between the plastic chairs.

This morning there were a few tasks to be done outside home and decided to pass by the library. And as usual, took the long route home passing by some favourite houses and trees.

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Red House is really pretty in the early morning light and one of my favourites on Napier Road.

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I also spotted a beautiful Spanish Dagger in bloom outside one of the other houses

I stopped at a bakery to pick cake for S who completes 74 trips around the sun today. She is the funnest old person I know,  her life story is chapter after chapter of adventures across the globe but that’s for another day. Maybe if she agrees, I will write it just for the pleasure of reading it. Just for today, it was a delight to see her face light up when she opened the door. Friendship is truly a gift.

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Happy Birthday, S!