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.

 

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.