Silence

Last April we were in lockdown. This April too is a lockdown one although not as restrictive as the previous year. But there is a hunkering down mindspace that rearranges the days. Like the year gone by, we occupy our private bubbles of words and art, emerging for chores or meals or chess. The last is probably a marker for a second year of a pandemic. This time around, it is much closer with most of us knowing people in our immediate circles who have been affected. I graze on news just enough to keep abreast of travel restrictions.

Once again, I spend hours in my terrace garden with its scents of jasmines and an expanse of sky and tree tops. It is easy to slip into silent mode and I am reminded of the rustiness of speech after days of silence. It almost feels like a violation, talking after being in quietness. But that is only silence as absence of sound. The mind continues its chatter. I read somewhere that true silence is really an absence of thought. Would it be possible to be truly silent?

Abandoned houses

Sundays have been restful days since the last couple of months. A complete day off. Sometimes, the youngling and I take off either for a long walk or a drive. Yesterday, we quickly finished stocking up a bit of fresh produce and a few essentials before heading out to the other end of town. We got a takeaway breakfast, listened to music of her choice and drove past the cantonment in our neighbourhood to the one further away in Khadki. Khadki or Kirkee as it used to be known is an old cantonment, approximately 200 odd years old. It is home to some beautiful old trees, quaint churches as well as old houses, some of them abandoned and in various stages of disrepair.

Kirkee War Cemetery

The light was really pretty around this house.

This one had a bovine squatter!

While a strict lock-down is imminent, it doesn’t feel restrictive personally since the lock-down lifestyle continues save for the restriction on walks and drives. I guess this lock and open game will continue as surges become unmanageable and hospitals run out of beds. In the hour or two that I am out, I see many screeching ambulance hurrying through red lights. The pandemic has lost its ability to shock. Now, it’s simply a part and parcel of everyday living. I suppose when the loss hits closer home, it will bring its own sorrow but else there seems to be a desensitization to its virulence.

Methodist Church

Over the centuries, we have developed some control over some diseases and have come up with tools and techniques to predict natural calamities but largely control is illusory. The planet and her natural laws are boss, we’d be smart to acknowledge that and learn to co-exist with her other creatures and the natural world at large. It seems doubtful though that we will really change if the current is any indication, not just in terms of the environment, hygiene and the likes but also in the way we live amongst our own kind.

I’ve often dwelled on death and dying to understand what it might mean to live and be alive. In yoga practice, one often ends with savasana or the corpse pose. It seems deceptively easy. How difficult can lying down with your eyes shut be but to really inhabit that pose, one has to be prepared to experience being dead. That sense of surrender is a difficult one, making it quite a challenging asana to stay in. Much of what passes for savasana is often guided relaxation and not really resting in the space of not being.

The daughter made an interesting observation that we spent more time outdoors in these months than pre lock-down. She’s gone cycling for at least an hour or two most days while I’ve gone on long walks. It’s been an immersion into the local flora and fauna and there has been a curiosity to understand more about the mini forest that is just around the corner. The woods facing my balcony have also been a rich experience ever since I moved here in December. Seeing it as a green headed space to stark browns to a verdant green again has been a meditation on the march of seasons. The balcony is a restful space and an old pair of binoculars has allowed me to enjoy watching birds and butterflies. The lushness is camouflage now and one has to sit simply for a while to notice the avian activity. I still can’t identify many of the birds, especially the smaller ones but it is interesting to find out. There are many enthusiasts who share freely of their knowledge and then good old books.

Balcony birding

The butterflies are in full form now. In fact, yesterday at one of the old ruins of a house I counted around 10 different species in a matter of 2 or 3 minutes. That compound was a large one and I suspect that the property has a well or another water source. I saw a man, presumably a wandering mendicant in an orange lungi who was putting on a shirt. In another corner of the property, a man sat on a tree with a bag next to him. Homeless people also need their makeshift homes to sit out the vagaries of the weather or people. That particular place had a section of the outer wall still standing and wooden window frames. The brickwork on the house seemed to be from a later period compared to the other ruins I’ve seen. Those bricks are much slimmer.

This property had a riot of butterflies

I found myself looking at the top left window and imagined a woman looking out from a century ago. What would her world be like? What might have she seen from behind the curtains? Did a family live there? Was it a large one or a small one, a happy one or a tormented one? Whose were the ghosts that roamed within its walls? How did the house come to be derelict? Abandoned homes and the stories they can tell. So many reasons, why they are left without pulsating bodies. But that is perhaps something best left undisturbed.

It reminds me of a few lines I wrote a couple of years back.

Abandoned Adeniums

The garden lies untended

No wild overgrowth

Just desolate dust

The Buddha, silent

The house, still

The windows, blank

The doors, unopened

No baby cries

No kitchen smells

No music of life

No singing birds

No blinking lights

Just a mute house

and abandoned adeniums

that bloom

I used to know a house like that…

Getting ready for lock down

We’re in for another lockdown, this time a ‘strict’ one, starting 14th July for ten days. This time, it’s supposed to be even more stringent than Lockdown 1.0. So, the streets were chaos, the market place already out of stock and people in panic mode.

While the city got busy shopping, I went out into the woods and favourite streets to soak in some sights before being confined again. Some pictures got shot on the phone, the others remain stored in memory.

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munias come by in the mornings

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two of us reading ‘It’s like this, Cat’, a lovely book about a boy and a cat

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tunnel vision?

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the woods have given quite a few neem twigs as disposable toothbrushes.

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even rot feeds

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“we’re watching you”

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sandalwood tree tucked away in a lane

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Gods by the wayside

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fast fading gulmohurs now pressed in a book

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Maneck Hall is one of two houses which still has the ancient TV antennae.

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zooming in from the balcony

Wanderings

The last three days were wanderings in the cantonment. I’m not entirely sure if I am supposed to be on those roads but no one has stopped me yet. The trees there are elder ones, tall and wide. They would have been planted by people who may or may not have seen them grow to their adulthood. An act of paying forward.

Still chasing gulmohurs

The gulmohurs are still raging crimson and with the recent rains, their foliage is a refreshing green. The peepals stand grand and many of them have a shock of pale tender leaves which will turn green in a few days and the banyan’s hanging roots have also sprouted shoots. The neem fruits are ripe and there are patches of them quietly rotting on the ground. This season sees a spurt in growth of trees and I’ve often felt as though they creep to the verge. But that seems to also be their undoing as tree cutters come and chop off their branches. Many lanes are strewn with these hacked parts and they release a beautiful tree fragrance even as they bleed. These gentle beings have been around much before us and yet they’re the ones that have to be tamed into order for our convenience.

swaying roots beginning to shoot

One of the trees I mourn is a babool. There used to be one outside my office window and it was the tree I looked at as I worked things out in my head. Tricky work issues, impossible personal ones but I found an anchor for the restless mind in that tree. It’s not a flamboyant species but there is a tenacity about their hardiness and usefulness. It was a problematic one for vehicles though, too close for the comfort of crazy traffic. A couple of Novembers ago that the tree fell in a storm and I mourned its loss for a long time. No one else seemed to care much but I missed the Babool every day. Every time I pass by, I see an unmarked grave, unknown to anyone except me. If you never knew the existence of that tree with a thousand tiny, yellow suns, you would never guess that it stood there for many seasons, long before there was a street.

bael

The cantonment area is old, over 150 years and many of the trees there would be almost as old. Most of the trees in my neighbourhood are young ones in comparison. Pune loves her trees and plants, atleast most of the Puneris who have lived here for generations do. There are many groups of nature lovers and eco-friendly living has many takers. One of the houses I passed by had a hen roaming in the grounds and it was such a delightful sight. It reminded me of the tharavad in Kerala where hens would range free and suddenly there was a desire to go to the land of my foremothers. Work is remote and managed via screens. And I find myself thinking, why not move to God’s own country? Lockdown flights of fancy. We all need our escapes, I suppose.

green wheels! this cheerful man supplies tiffins to houses in the area

The day’s ambling was a steady walk in the cantonment, it was a sunny day and I enjoyed the light and mild heat. Out in the streets, I look to the skies. Often there is a kite or two flying in spirals, effortlessly riding wind streams and as always, I find myself mesmerized by their elegant flight. If I were to be isolated, I think I would be able to tolerate it as long as I had a patch of sky to look at. As against this, the woods make me look to the earth and see life on ground. There is space for both. As I walked under ageless trees, I thought of age and ageing, how it is relative to the state and stages of our lives. In a strange way, the older I grow in chronological years, the lighter I feel, more childlike without the weight of tomorrow and a forgetfulness of the past. Maybe it’s the magic of the outdoors, be it in the woods or on city streets.

As expected, the virus struck close, we have three positive cases in the compound. Luckily, they haven’t sealed the place as yet. I’d miss the daily meanderings. Today’s highlight was this handsome fellow. Isn’t he gorgeous?

Oriental Garden Lizard

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.

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.

A little about some of the things that matter

This was meant to be a blog about sarees when it started but lately it’s grown to be about the days of a pandemic and a mix of some of the things I enjoy. But then life too is like the warp and weft of the six yards. It crisscrosses and adds motifs in its weave or then through embellishments. Lest it be forgotten that this is still about pleated stories too, a saree picture from yesterday- this one’s from the home state of my parents, Kerala. I didn’t expect to be writing here everyday but it has become one of the things I look forward to after my hours outside.

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a mundum neriyathum from the state of my ancestors

As a runner, I preferred early mornings since it set the tone for the day. But as a walker, I find I prefer late afternoons and evenings for their ‘in-betweenness’. These days there is a pattern settling in, usually trash collection first and dumping it in my car before ambling. That’s followed by a drive around the cantonment, gulmohurs are my current excuse considering that they’re blazing away in all their summer glory.

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roads in pandemia

This part of the city has been a familiar one through its different shades every season and I’ve mostly experienced it in the mornings. Late evenings were drives from class or work and often in the thick of traffic. The empty roads these days are a pleasure and sometimes I play speed demon on long stretches. But, mostly I cruise and stop to take pictures. It’s a frantic recording of these days. Much of change is invisible when it is happening and their unpacking happens with the distance of time. IMG_20200527_174708

and that’s the tree that called 🙂

The trail was a joy today, a little more than usual since I finally found my tree. Ever since I started walking here, I was on the lookout for that one tree that would call to me and today it did. I rested against it and watched the town below. There was a goods train snaking its way into the city and a truck lumbering along. Else, all was quiet. The tree swayed in the wind and my body moved along. The wind in the evenings makes the leaves rustle and it sounds like ocean waves. Most of the trees are glyricidias, closely planted and they creak as their branches rub against each other. There are a few neem trees and some of them are partners with the shishir. Today, the woods had a different smell, more herbal, maybe it was the section I was in although I didn’t notice anything different in the dried curly leaves on the forest floor. 

As I lugged the trash through the interiors, a young man joined me. Turns out he has seen me around and the trash bag caught his attention. He must be about as old as the firstborn and we got chatting. It is always nice to listen to young people and their dreams, this boy wanted to get into the police force and was out training for his physical fitness examination. As we parted ways, I thought of how easy it is to talk with strangers. No need for names or back stories, just the now. But there is also something comforting about the familiarity of faces on these walks which I haven’t been able to pinpoint. Like seeing Mr. C and his wife, even if it is at a distance. There used to be Mr. B  during my running days,  who would say, “things are on an even keel with all the familiar faces” and I’d think to myself yes.

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a bike with no rider!

The trail is always new. Every walk throws up interesting sights and sometimes a few things come back with me like a clutch of abandoned poems, pods, stones etc. Somehow, in its warm brown silences, a pandemic disappears and a child’s delight emerges.

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.

Hair today, Gone tomorrow

Ok, the title’s really cheesy but it pretty much sums up what happened last night.

I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like to go bald. Life is too short to not live a little more wildly and do the things one always wanted to do. A pandemic has made that quite apparent. Late last night, the youngling and I cut and shaved off my locks. She was disbelieving even as we were in the middle of the shearing and kept saying I might regret it. No regrets yesterday, no regrets now.

As we worked together, I was conscious of a memory being created for both of us. One that we would remember in the future. We will recount images of times when a planet halted and people were forced to confront great hardships of varying kinds. For some, hunger, for others loneliness, for others, homelessness and so on. We will recount how we lived our days as also how people the world over did. We’ll reminisce art and angst, silence and insomnia, music and deaths. We will hold all of these and more in collective memory.

She also wanted to shave her tresses but was attached to the long hair. She mentioned that it took her two long years for it to grow this long. Often, it’s not the possession but the effort it took to get there that we hold on to while clinging on to places, people and things. I find that as the years pass, it is easier to shed all that does not serve. And lockdown days show just how little one requires.

My eyes have been distressed thanks to increased screen time and that was the perfect excuse to get to a chemist. So, I took my bald head and enjoyed another beautiful morning under the sun as I walked around deserted roads and familiar trees, accompanied by music in my ears and a song on my lips. And my heart, this bald naked heart, full in its capacity to sing as deeply as it can bleed. For to live means to sing as much as it means to weep.

Another outing

This outing has been too close on the heels of the previous one. Much as I welcome the opportunity to walk on quiet roads, it is also a reminder of a bleak reality. I’m early and it seems pointless to go back home and come out again. So, I sit on the pavement under a gulmohar tree and look at another which has already started its summer dance.

Perhaps if I were not responsible for other lives that depend on me, I might have just remained outdoors. It is beautiful without the debris of human activity. Crisp mornings, azure skies, sounds of unseen creatures and beloved tree friends make it a world that is more than enough.

The cops are out in good measure, a wall of containment in a city that is contained within containment. An ambulance careens through the opening in the barricade, siren wailing and suited bodies in the windows. A motorbike escapes in its wake and there’s a dash to catch the errant biker but he’s gone. The momentary excitement lapses into silence and all I can hear are insect sounds. There’s a tantalizing whiff of jasmines although I can’t see it anywhere. Perhaps, it is coming from the compound of the reserve forces. The masked policemen sit on plastic chairs, swatting flies and chatting at a distance.

At a little distance is the spot where I used to commence my runs. It used to be a pause, the setting of the watch or app before the propelling into a distance, never knowing how it might turn out. Some days would be effortless, a few days were written off. Mostly, they were an endeavour. I want to go back, injury be damned. I want the taste of that sweat and the exhaustion of brutal runs. Maybe it’s an empty that is missing.

The wind changes direction and I can smell cowdung, it’s probably coming from the compound where the families of the forces live. In another time, I’d walk through the almost village with its idyllic scenes played under old trees. Children playing, women sweeping the yards, old men sitting on verandahs, rookies working the land. It would be a suspension from city busyness to dip into a slower pace of life.

I could spend the day here, on a pavement, below a tree. But…