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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Reptiles, a scorpion and a rainbow

S is one of my young friends and I enjoy her company immensely. Actually her mother is my friend and over the years, S and I discovered that we liked hanging out too. We’ve been meaning to go to the trail together for a long while and were waiting for the end of lock down to do so. Finally, we made it this afternoon and she was excited to see parts of it that she had never seen before. I was equally chuffed to show my favourite spots and sights too. Soon after we entered the woods, it started to rain, a passing shower against a sunny sky. And we were treated to a rainbow so close that we could almost walk through the light! By the time we thought to take a picture, it disappeared but it was such a delight. It was an even greater thrill to see her enjoy the greens and stones and gambol like a free animal.

We walked through the rain, got a little drenched and it soon passed away. The sun dried us quickly enough and we continued walking. We sighted this poser who stayed like that for the longest time, he was so well camouflaged that we almost missed him. Much of the teeming life in the woods is hidden in plain sight and unless you are aware, they can be invisible. This one seems to be a fan throated lizard of some kind but I’m not sure. Happy to know more if anyone can identify this one.

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watch me pose!

We continued towards the tree I like to sit by and she got to listen to ocean sounds in the tree tops and the creaking of their branches. I enjoy solitary walks but these jaunts with the young ones are special too in the opportunity they provide to share my love for the outdoors. In a natural way, it also becomes a kind of teaching experience when I can pass on what I’ve learned from the flora and fauna around. I’m no expert on the species in there and am learning as I go. It’s nice to pass on the sense of curiosity and I hope they retain the magic of not knowing and wanting to find out as they grow into adults.

We were on our way back with a bag full of trash and saw a police van with a few of the force carrying a couple of large bags. They had come to release a couple of snakes that were caught in their compound and so we got to see a beautiful yellow rat snake, dhamin as it is called in Marathi. We weren’t allowed to take pictures as one of them was holding it for security reasons but S got to touch a live snake! We watched it being released into the wild and then one of the cops asked if we wanted to see a scorpion which was captured as well and we got to see that one too up close. Here’s a picture.

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watch out for his sting!

Just as we thought we had a good day on the trail, we got to see one more infrequent visitor, the black ibis. S was thrilled beyond measure and now wants to come as often as I can pick her up. I was caught up in her excitement too, it’s heartening when these kids discover the pleasure of the open. All my life, I’ve considered myself a perpetual student, needing to understand more, know more but somewhere along the way I discovered that I have learned enough to share too. In the woods, it is a natural activity that unfolds quite organically, making the exchange very relaxed and pleasurable. The sensory inputs also make for more vivid recollection where it’s not just a new piece of information which has been gathered but also an emotional memory which has been made. More than them, I am rewarded as I become a child again.

 

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.

Many are the lessons…

The trail was empty for the longest time and then one guy strayed on my path, he clapped his hands and said good job. What people don’t realize is that I’m selfish in cleaning the place up. It gives me satisfaction to see an expanse of brown and I can walk without having to watch out for broken glass and other trash. Today, I managed to clear only a small section, the bag got full and heavy as there were many glass bottles. There is so much rubbish, this is going to take a while.

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a fallen tree that has adapted to growing horizontally 🙂

The gloves make my palms hot, sweaty and smelly. Thankfully, there was sanitizer which sort of masked the horrid smell but it still lingered. And I thought of all the medical personnel with the PPE suits who spend hours together soaked in perspiration while treating those afflicted with Covid. Drinking a glass of water, using the washroom and other such tasks that one takes for granted would be such a challenge in those suits. I thought of the discomfort of all the women in healthcare who faced the additional burden of dealing with their periods, often bleeding onto their clothes. And I thought of millions of migrant women walking back with little to no access to privacy to deal with childbirth or menstruation. The ickiness with the smelly hands was no longer bothersome.

The trail makes me think of others, it is time away from the screen and in the quiet of its heart, I sift through the unknown faces I see or read about during the day. These days with the added movement of picking up trash, I find a different quality to the thoughts. Physical work always does to me, it simplifies things to their bare essentials. The mind automatically kicks into a kind of efficiency mode and I watched the constant stream of chatter in the head. 

“Another bag full of trash collected. I shall keep the tiny blue bottle from the trash as a reminder of today. Make it a planter. There are many intact bottles, it would be nice to upcycle those. But how to manage the logistics and who will upcycle? Also the sanitizing and storing. Maybe the child can paint those bottles and we can put plants in them and give them to people? I need to put a little thought to make this more meaningful.”

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Mr.C is usually there around the same time and we exchange hellos and pleasantries, he reminds me to be careful and I defer to his mop of white hair. He’s planted a banyan sapling near the peepals. It makes me very happy, the thought of a giant tree that will grow there. And years from now, there will be other people who come seeking the open and quiet and they will look at that tree. Maybe they’ll wonder how a lone banyan tree grew on a hillock. What they will not know is that it was an old man who planted a tree knowing fully well that he would not live to sit under it’s shade. Many are the lessons these walks teach.

Maybe I’ll grow me a forest

Late afternoons have settled into a nice rhythm with a large chunk of time spent in the woods followed by a spin around the neighbourhood to catch glimpses of the gulmohurs. The trail was empty when I got there and I walked aimlessly through the dry scrub for a while. The birds were not as noisy as they usually are, the mynas sound like they’re fighting most of the time. Perhaps it was the heat that kept animal and human away, it was about 40 degrees. And maybe heat that made the mind think slow thoughts.

If ever I end up being a caretaker of a patch of land I call my own, I might just let it grow wild and become a forest. Maybe animals and birds will come to live there and if they permit, I’ll also disappear into it for some time. Letting things grow the way they are meant to means giving up the need for control and the belief that we know better. Sometimes life unfolds its wild beauty quite like that, unplanned and far more richer in texture.

Raat Ranis – these tiny nocturnal blooms are quite heady

A few years ago, I stopped trying to tame my balcony garden and let the weeds grow alongside the plants. Mostly I did nothing save water them. Over time, the mealy bugs disappeared, the plants looked happier and caterpillars came to stay and morphed into beautiful butterflies on the curry leaves. Adenium pods burst and their babies sprouted by the dozen. Lilies sprung at the root of bougainvilleas and ferns emerged from nowhere. Instead of an orderly, tidy garden, I got a piece of urban jungle right outside my room, complete with visiting feathered friends and tiny creepy crawlies.

It happened by chance and then I discovered Fukuoka and the concept of ‘mu‘. I was reminded of this thanks to a fellow blogger who mentioned one of his books today. This was around the time I worked with fresh produce and was also running long distances barefoot. There was an intersection of earth, food and body and the connections between them started becoming clearer. Some of Masanobu’s work finds resonance in the Indian texts too, especially the Taittiriya Upanishad which talks about the food sheath. Food was not just what I fed my body but also my mind. Most of my learning has been a stumbling into self-discovery through the lens of yoga. Of course, a lot of it is incomplete and sometimes completely off the mark but even that teaches.

The horse with no name🎶

It was a quiet sort of a Monday and the highlight was the two odd hours spent outdoors. Since I was driving around anyway, headed to the racecourse which has been shut since lockdown began. All the common landmarks were also firmly shut and considering the situation in this state, they are likely to remain like that for much longer than the end of the month. The streets were fairly empty and it seemed a little tense. In another time, it would have been a busy period with Eid revelry but festivals and celebrations are muted now.

I did see a beautiful sight though, a young man taking a picture of his friend clad in pristine white against a wall of bougainvilleas. It was a moment I framed in my mind for the pure joy in that face – unadulterated light. These moments make it bearable when the horrors of the world outside make the heart heavy. Today, I ended up reading a terrible account of brutality and I couldn’t get over the cruelty against a 10 year old. Destruction exists in nature too and it has a cyclical purpose to regenerate. Unfortunately, in humans, sometimes causing harm is the purpose.

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.