This Season

This season stirs the rain, reminding that the wet’s fury will soon be gone, prodded along by winds that hurry to find their break. It is the beginning of a season of festivals and will continue across months until it culminates in fireworks marking the turn of another season. There are festivities across the length and breadth of the country, all accompanied by flowers and foods of the season, offerings and benedictions, passed on from generation to generation. Some homes ring with peals of tradition while others bristle against it.

This season stirs more than rain, it whips up memories of a mute month by the sea. The grey skies blur into grey waters or is it the other way around? Perhaps, it is best not to find out. The ambiguity is better, a blending into rather than a separation. The seas are rough, their dance too wild for domesticated festivities. It is the season of storms and the sea has to spend herself, so she whips herself into a frothing that will die multiple deaths on the sand. Her churn is restless and sometimes you can hear her wails that beckon you to walk unarmed into her reckless bruising. Some have been known to succumb to her beguiling calls. Maybe beneath the undulating unrest, there is silence, comfort and stillness like in the womb.

This season stirs torrents, banks that overflow and floods that lay stake to the right to devour- in the sky, on the ground. It also feeds, a lush feeding of greens that are goaded into awakenings. Shraavan’s rain is the mother of all things that birth in the soil but a capricious one that will leave her offspring to the vagaries of the next seasons. The price for making a verdant world- lives demanded through uncontrollable waters or claimed by millions of invisible fevers festered in winds. It is just the way of the seasons, always has been.

Birth, Growth or Death. Awake, Dreaming or Sleep. Morning, Night or twilight. Earth, Heavens or the nether worlds. In threes. The trinity of creation, sustenance and destruction. A three sided coin that is the currency of existence.

Births in pandemia

Do not read if you get queasy about childbirth.

I received a picture of a masked migrant woman, holding a new born baby, the umbilical cord still attached and blood dripping between her legs. That image had a quiet dignity to it which made the message all the more stark and terrible in its silent depiction of one of the horrors of this lock down.

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Birthing is such an exhausting act at the best of times and in the case of women who have given birth during this mass exodus, I can’t even begin to imagine what they have endured. I remember feeling as though each pore in my body was burnt out when I gave birth to the firstborn. I was a very young mother then and not as strong then as I was with the second one. The body felt ravaged and the insides raw. The body is vulnerable following birth as it begins to get over the shock of an empty womb after 9 months of life growing within.

It doesn’t quite end with expelling a child from your insides but continues through the days with the internal organs readjusting to a pre-pregnancy state, a process that takes a few weeks. Every time the uterus contracts to shrink into its normal size, there would be a violent cramping. If the baby refused to wake up and feed on time, the breasts would harden into rock solid pain which could in turn lead to an infection taking a few days to settle. If the baby was a large one, chances are you would have to be cut to make way for her little bawling self to emerge into a blinding world. If you were unlucky, you were torn in jagged edges to let life fulfill itself. The birth wounds eventually heal and leave scars hidden from sight and the pain would be eventually forgotten. If not for the forgetting, women would probably refuse to have multiple children.

Millions of women have gone through this, some in the confines of their homes, hospitals or then out in the open. There are women who have brought children alone into the world, severing the umbilical cord and delivering the placenta themselves and there have been women who have had babies in hospitals or at home with midwives or doulas or then doctors and nurses. It is a period that requires rest to recuperate from the internal brutalizing and the comfort of a familiar space makes it a little easy to bear. I suppose that is why traditionally women went to their parent’s homes to have their children. Of course, these days sometimes convenience of access to the regular doctor dictates staying put.

I found myself thinking of all the mothers who delivered their babies in a pandemic, far away from anything familiar and in conditions that were worse than those of their tough lives before the exodus. The pain of that is something that raises silent screams in vague places inside me for the terrible pain of another woman. If it’s her first child, the terrors of childbirth are a hundred fold. The anticipation of pain as shared by older women who have had children or then what is depicted in movies makes the fear of the pain to come acute. And by the time, it is time, the body is exhausted carrying all that additional weight and fatigue. A long drawn out labour compounds the agony, the body drenched in sweat as the radiating pains of contraction hit you multiple times. Add to that the embarrassment of having your insides on display.

Birthing strips you of shame. It’s gory, the blood and fluids as a naked child emerges out of a naked mother. Strangers poke around and tease reluctant babies who take their time entering the world. Once you have gone through that experience, it is hard to feel embarrassment about the body.

And now imagine walking for endless miles with an additional 10 or 15 kilos under a punishing Indian summer sky. Imagine the heat rising in waves from the road and an unending stream of people walking with you. Imagine having to push a baby out of your body by the roadside. Tell me if you wouldn’t scream for more than just the pain of labour?

I wonder what the new mother would think or feel about her child, the one born in a pandemic which upended her life. What would she name the little person who would need feeding and nurture regardless of her state of mind and body? Would she see hope or bitterness? Would she howl in pain or resign in silence? Would she be resentful or glad? And then I ask, who would care what she feels when the immediate concern is about making it alive to her home far away.

The days will heal the wounds of childbirth and the weeks will wrap themselves around survival of the bodies of mother and child. Hopefully. Maybe the months will add layers of new memories burying old ones and she’ll find pleasure once again. Maybe a child’s unbridled laughter will make her forget the price of his/her being. I’d like to rest in hopeful thoughts because the alternative is unbearable.

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.