Amaltas

Fridays usually see a grocery run to stock up on fresh produce to cover the weekend. It’s also an opportunity to have my fill of the flowering trees on city streets. Pune is flush with amaltas now.

On one hand, I seek the woods and soak in all their gentle wildness. In that space, things seem as they should be in their presence. Away from the wild, I find the same sense of presence in the trees that line the cantonment streets. Back at my desk, there is another world of disbelief and suspension.

Just a marker post for a day in a pandemic. Soon, these moments spent in communion with beloved trees will come to a halt as the inevitable lockdown will clamp the country. It is only a matter of time.

Selfish, this act of self preservation.

In other news, I may have found some organizational help in cleaning up my beloved woods. It would be nice to get that done thoroughly once and for all.

An incoherent grief

I just got to know about N’s passing away. It’s a shock, I didn’t expect her to pass away so soon The kids are hovering around. The firstborn says, “Mama don’t be alone.” But, I need space and silence. I need my woods. I’ll escape into its quiet in a bit but before that, words.

I never met N, we spoke on the phone occasionally, exchanged letters and shared sarees. We were two strangers who shared a love for the quiet pleasures of books, nature and sarees. Instagram brought us together and we’ve followed the snippets of our lives through a little window. Despite all the bad rap social media gets, it has brought me some wonderful people I now call friends.

Two weeks ago, I received a parcel from N, a lovely grey ikat saree and a slim book, ‘The Living Mountain’ with the sweetest note inside. The title and book blurb sounded like I needed to read it right then and that’s what I proceeded to do. One of the few instances where I read a book cover to cover at a go, despite knowing that it is best savoured slowly. But, I wanted to read a work that my friend thought I’d like and so I gulped it, greedily. I called her as soon as I finished the book and she was apologetic for not feeling more cheerful. She had recently tested positive for Covid-19. That was Neelu, always concerned about others than herself which is something I realized about her, early on in our acquaintance.

Nan Shepherd’s book is the book I wish I wrote. This book will be doubly precious now for it has come to me from her. There is a little bit of her in that note written on its page, the closest to feeling her touch. Soft, tender, gentle, kind, considerate, caring, encouraging, supportive – I could go on about her and it would be echoed by many like me who haven’t met her but only known her virtually.

Now, I sit here, typing because I know of no other way to feel grief for the loss of a friend I only knew through a screen and handwritten notes. I miss not having felt the dazzle of her smile, what I imagine would be the scent of her presence, the warmth of her hug and her lilting voice. She may be gone but she left me a title that I need to complete, if not for anything else then simply for her.

RIP N.

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?

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.

The luxury of being all on my own

And just like that I find myself with the luxury of complete solitude. An empty house, a clean one and all the time in the world. I took the day off work today and let the hours unfurl at their ease. Like the fox tells the little prince, “it is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” And important it was, I saw a rainbow, smiled at the sun and enjoyed a nap before lunch. Without child or mother, I was a teenager left to her own devices. Swathes of nothing time and short, meaningful stretches of listening and reading. Days as these, my tongue forgets to speak, to make shapes of words. Maybe we never really do quite grow up, we just play at being adults.

Actually 2 rainbows

This morning, I got to know that Mr. M passed away due to Covid-19. He was a stocky man, old but one could never quite make out his age. (He was 72.) Energetic, strong and quiet, he was always willing to help and served quietly. He used to assist at the yoga institute since the 70s and was a familiar face to all of us students. I’ve been the recipient of his sharp eye and gentle compassion. Every time I adjust myself or someone else in one of the poses he corrected me in, I remember his attention to detail and not losing on the basics. Some day when the institute opens and I go back to the large hall to help out, I will miss his presence, him in his shorts hoisted high up on the waist and white vest. He’d slip in quietly with his old fashioned bag that would hold his regular clothes. Before class or after, he would often be seen draped on one of the props and resting. M is indelibly associated with one of the long standing students, an elderly gentleman who would always be assisted into the various supported asanas by him. I wonder who will adjust the old man now. And then a stray selfish thought, when can I go back to the large hall and breathe in its cool air and feel the touch of the cold floor.

I also stumbled on the story of Mr. Ripple and it reminded me of Kailash, the gola wala who would frequent the lane where I used to live. One afternoon, I ran down to speak to him when I heard his bell, I needed to know his story. You could read about him here. The upturned and locked handcarts I saw today reminded me of him too, he would get his impounded every once in a while and would often arrange for another one rather than getting it back.

In today’s unplannedness, I also ate a delicious masala dosa at the little joint I would frequent pre lock down. Of course, it was washed down with a piping hot filter coffee. It’s an outdoor space with sufficient space between tables and not too many diners now. Pre-pandemic, the place would be packed and like any self-respecting small joint, would not encourage lounging around. Today, I sat and enjoyed the sounds of the rain and the sun as they played together for a long while before heading back home.

A hearse in front of me

Death, life, living and in all this, I find a quiet meditation, a refrain that our lives are meant to be lived in joy. It’s not a happiness borne of things or accomplishments, just the deep contentment of being fully alive, the satisfaction of service. The words of B.K.S Iyengar say it best, ‘Live happily, Die majestically’. Much of living is an exercise in productivity, accomplishment, getting somewhere. So, we study, work, plan and do the adult thing and forget to lavish time on things that have no purpose save that we enjoy them, they are the sap of our lives.

A floral Sunday

The city was out shopping and I went out walking in the opposite direction, far away from the madding crowd. While everyone was busy standing in line outside shops, my feet found their way to the closed post office. On a whim, I decided to take pictures of all the different flowers I met on the way and they added up to around 40 or so, some of which are here.
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It’s hard to choose favourites when it comes to flowers, I love them all but there’s a little extra special space for the seasonal ones. Right now, there’s a patch of babool trees that have burst into tiny yellow suns.
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A balcony view

One of the criteria in choosing a house to stay has been a decent sized balcony or two or three, mostly for the plants that come along with me. I’ve been in this location for nearly 9 months beginning 29th November. By the time everything was unloaded and dumped in the house, it was late evening and one of the first things I did then was sit with a cup of coffee in the balcony. Since then, it has been my favourite space. Yoga, reading, working, movies, chats, birding, day dreaming, sun bathing and pretty much anything that doesn’t need me tied to a place, all find space here. Lock down days were probably not too difficult simply because the balcony provided a sense of the wide open world.

The woods in front are part of the Forest Colony and home to about 20-25 species of birds as far as my untrained self has gathered. Mornings begin with birdsong and continues through the day. Sometimes late nights also with the lapwings screeching. It is home to a family of peafowls and I’ve been waiting to see them in their splendour but the camouflage now makes it hard to spot them. All the wild greens have attracted a herd of buffaloes and they are led by a man into its dark sumptuousness for a feasting every morning.

Pune homes usually have balconies and I look up at them when I walk on city streets. During the early days of lock down, I would look out at the few people walking on the streets and have an irresistible urge to wave out. Later, as I started going out for walks, I’d wave from the ground to an old man in one of the buildings. He would give me the most beautiful, toothless grin and it would make me incredibly happy. To truly connect, one doesn’t need a name or conversation. A smile is enough. Enough to reassure someone, enjoy a joke, set a heart aflutter, appreciate something or just plain acknowledge another.

Besides the trees and birds, the cloudscapes have been an endless fascination. They lend themselves naturally to reflection and in their shapes and shape shifting, there is a loosening of the knots in the mind. And these days are days of clouds and rain. While the skies are mostly grey, above the continents of clouds overhead are brilliant blue skies. Hope. There’s a lovely song, Both Sides, Now by Joni Mitchell which reflects on love as seen through the metaphor of clouds. Her closing refrain, ‘It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all’ is probably what says it best. If you fancy a listen, it’s here 

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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

All things wild and wonderful

The last few walks were out in the cantonment but they have cordoned off sections now, seems to be a surge in infections. It’s a common enough pattern to open and close off areas as the number of cases fall and rise. Another change is in the number of ambulances I see in a day. Earlier, I’d average sighting to once a day, these days it is 3 to 4. I don’t know if they are related to Covid 19 or not but sometimes a screeching siren insists that the virus is the culprit. People are out and about but mostly masked now. The young crowd though tends to hang out close to each other and some of them are without masks.

Lantana flowers are all over the trail now.

The youngling chooses to accompany me now and then. I must confess I sneakily nudge her in the direction of trees, hoping to see her paint the lovely peeling barks of Eucalyptus trees. Another image I’d like to see on canvas is brown earth, darkened by rains and patterned with faded leaves. Our conversations outside home end up touching various topics and it is a relief that she has a commonsensical approach to some of the burning topics of discussion right now. She’s been dabbling in a little skateboarding and its been another learning opportunity to discover the physics of it as well as understand the biomechanics of balance. She’s a bit of an autodidact so these moments are good to plant seeds for further exploration. I’m not surprised that she enjoys learning via online school as compared to classroom lessons.

Some companions today

Thanks to her and other kids, I learn how her generation views the world. It’s strange how most of my friends and acquaintances have been significantly older people or then much younger ones. I enjoy seeing life from their viewpoints, one set for stories of a time gone by and the other for how they navigate a world that is changing so rapidly. Middle age is a good mean I guess, straddling nostalgia and curiosity about the future. It’s also a time where the transition into becoming an elder begins in a way.

I found myself on the other side of a presentation by 5 teams of young people. Listening to their work, evaluating it and providing feedback they could use made me realize I’ve gotten older and am viewed as such. As a parent to a grown up and a teenager, I am reminded twice over that there comes a time you have to gracefully accept that the young have gone further than you can go and allow them to lead the way
while you celebrate their successes.

Classes opened up for the next couple of months and I think I may have bitten off more than I can chew. Despite the virtual nature, they are intense and perhaps I should have stuck to just the ones I have been attending. I’ll just have to treat it as a two month intensive. There’s been more hours in my day lately and I’ve managed to include new pursuits which also help flex those old grey cells in different ways. Personally, the pandemic has rearranged my life in a good way, simpler and more fulfilling.

And the fig begins another fruiting

The balcony garden is quite happy with the season and there are fruits getting ready. Some of the flowering plants are in bloom – raatrani, parijat, jui, ixora, marigolds and rain lilies. One of the adeniums also strayed into a bloom.