“I wouldn’t be Lorena without my skirt.”

Running films do something inside, they give rise to an ache and a firing up simultaneously. It is a sport alright but it is also something more fundamental at its core, a way to go beyond limitations. As a novice runner a few years ago, Born to Run was the first running book I read when I was nursing an injury. A few weeks after I started running, I fell and tore the ligaments on both sides of my foot pretty badly, necessitating a cast and a longish recovery. It was frustrating to have a grinding halt just when I had begun to run 5ks with ease and was enjoying their rhythm. That’s when my running mentor and friend gave me ‘Born to Run’ and I devoured the book as I waited out the injury. Perhaps that’s when the seed of running barefoot was planted although it took a while before I ditched the shoes.

Yesterday, I watched Lorena and it took me back to that book and the heady days of running. The film reminded me of the silence that would come after a long run. Before I learned to quiet the mind in less exhausting ways, running long and far was a way of emptying it. On the ground, there is nothing but one foot in front of the other and the swing of arms and a head full of chatter which settles into calm as the body and breath finds its rhythm. Walking is different, it slows thoughts to pick them at leisure, atleast the kind of ambling I indulge in.

The film speaks in the whispers of silence. As a composition, the movie is in the nature of an observation or contemplation, a looking from the outside into the quiet of an ultra-marathoner. The landscapes speak more than the individuals and give a glimpse into their stoicism, Resilience and quiet certainty of their lives. They make the threads of the 30 minutes and the rare smiles that the ultra runner flashes light up the screen as brightly as her yellow skirt. Running strips one of all that is unnecessary and some days the longing for it is almost unbearable.

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image courtesy: Wikipedia

There’s one place where she impishly comments on her clothing during runs, “I wouldn’t be Lorena without my skirt.” In one section, she lifts her skirt and runs while swinging it in rhythm, an unconscious action but such a fluid one. Her footwear is a pair of humble sandals that remind me of the rain shoes we use to wear to school during the monsoons in Bombay. It was an aberration in the uniformity that was the norm otherwise in the school. We could wear any rain shoes as long as it was black but every other element of the school uniform was the same for all the kids. The pandemic has put a halt to walking barefoot outside considering that our roads are not the most hygienic of spaces.

The days have been full and incidentally work has been about a film as well. We were meant to shoot in the last week of March and then the lock down happened. Finally, we shoot today and I’m looking forward to watching some young talent do their magic. It didn’t strike me until today that it is a Saturday and a national holiday. These days have blurred the separation lines between work and home but strangely, I find the work-life balance better now.

Form & Substance

Some days the world is too much with us and the centre cannot hold. Appropriating Mr. Yeats here. Why waste words when someone has already said it so beautifully?

The pandemic has not only unleashed a virus but a lethal cocktail of fear and fatigue. Its manifestation ranges from cruelty, intolerance, anxiety, grief, confusion and a plethora of other states of being, often a flux. At times, it can get too much even for incorrigible optimists. Silence is relief then. I’d read somewhere that silence is not the absence of words but the absence of thoughts. How difficult it is to be truly silent!

And so, the news has been silenced and life has been lived slowly. The frequent and sometimes long power outages have been helpful to keep the expanse of quiet and slowness of analog life moored. The woods aid that sense of anchoring. I’ve been enjoying its green heart in the rains, especially since it is almost devoid of people. No two days in there are the same, it is always fresh and new. The ground is teeming with life now so I stick to the tracks rather than stomp down on some creature. It’s messy with thin soled shoes so got a pair of wellies. Hopefully, ambling will be a little easier over the next few wet months.

A few days ago, I wrote a letter to a little boy who turns 11 later this month. Usually, letters are easy to write, it’s like speaking but occasionally I want them to be a little extra special, like this birthday special for a young man I have never met. So, I let it remain unwritten for a couple of weeks. Finally, it came to me as I lay down on the floor after practice. There was music wafting from the kid’s balcony studio. Perhaps, it was the state of mind after practice, maybe it was the music, maybe it was the morning reading or perhaps it all coalesced into a question. What is the form and substance of our lives, our living? And in that thought, I found my letter for R. Of course, not in quite so serious a manner but hopefully he will pause to consider it.

As much as it was a focal point for the letter, it became a question to myself too. I found articulation of the answer in Maudie, a movie I saw today. It is a dramatized account of Maud Lewis’ life, a folk artist from Canada. Brilliant essaying of roles by the lead actors, a gorgeous Nova Scotian landscape and beautifully restrained dialogue. There is harshness, hardship and pain yet the entire movie flows in love- quiet, slow and content. “The whole of life, framed.”

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found this on the youngling’s table a few days ago and it reminded me of Maud’s home. Water colour on paper

Converge

A few days ago, I ended up reading bits and pieces from different books at various points during the day and there were three themes that sprang up. Dying, Forgiving and Love. I found the three again soon after in an endearing movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood.

A cynical, jaded journalist who is known for ripping people apart is disarmed by the kindness and love of a stranger. Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers brings the gift of his complete presence to his interactions and invites people into his mindscapes of difficult emotions. He does this through the weathered puppets who have accompanied him on his journey as a host for a children’s show. The movie revolves around difficult parent-child relationships through the lens of death and abandonment. A dying father finds it necessary to make peace with his estranged son. Ultimately, an autumn funeral is one of love that finds redemption in the character of Mathew Rhys wanting to be a better dad.

Dying

About 8-9 years ago, I became interested in Indian philosophy and since then dying has had fascination as a thought for reflection. B.K.S. Iyengar’s words probably express it best, “Live Happily, Die Majestically”. It is considered inauspicious to talk about death and dying but that’s what we are heading towards the minute we are born. I’ve found being aware of mortality, my own and that of loved ones has been a way to live more intensely and joyously in the present. Now more than ever it seems urgent to reflect on what it means to die and therefore how one should live. In the context of yogasana, I remember Geeta Iyengar asking if one is willing to die in the pose? Change happens in that moment and space of a breaking point. Stick around, walk into the pain and you cross over into an unimaginable freedom.

Forgiving

Forgiving has always been a contentious word for me. Who am I to forgive anyone? But while sitting with the thought, it automatically split into ‘for’ and ‘giving’ and that made sense. Service. Giving like the flower gives, giving like the bird sings, giving like the sun shines. Giving wholly of oneself is its own reward. Often, it means just sharing our stories as they are. At the end of a life, the holding back of their ability to connect and heal don’t matter and just make for a dead weight kind of living in isolation. Vulnerability is like having the shell ripped off a soft body and the fear of being crushed is very real but it is also a taking one’s place under the sun in one’s fullness. That’s a brilliance which touches everything around it.

Yehudi Menuhin’s foreword in Light on Yoga is one of my favourite passages and a sentence in there expresses it best. “Whoever has had the privilege of receiving Mr. Iyengar’s attention, or of witnessing the precision, refinement and beauty of his art, is introduced to that vision of perfection and innocence which is man as first created- unarmed, unashamed, son of God, lord of creation- in the garden of Eden.” I’ve experienced this sense of innocence in my yoga teachers too. It’s a clarity of a clear stream in which they allow all to enter, the good, the bad and the ugly without any discrimination and with compassionate detachment. So, the stream remains unsullied even while allowing all who enter it to wash away the accumulated dust of tendencies.

Love

Love was the first theme I had encountered during the course of that reading day but while reflecting on all three, it made sense to see it as the last and encompassing the other two. My reading was from The Prophet and one of my favourite lines from that prose poem is, ‘All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart’. Recently, I got a lovely note from my daughter where she spoke of a state of flow, desire, abundance, detachment all aligning themselves with one’s destiny. She ended with I love you. Three simple words and I was grateful to be the recipient of those beautiful words while also keenly aware that I haven’t been able to say it to my parents.

There’s one point in the movie where Tom Hanks asks Rhys to hold a moment for those who loved us into being. It’s a moment where the other patrons in the restaurant also pause and I found myself pausing. But, that was a hard minute. One that also flowed into thinking about who do we really know as our parents. My mother reminisces about her childhood and youth and I listen. I also listen to my daughter about her young life impressions and switch between the roles of child and parent even as the individual me relates to my family members as individuals. As I listen to my mother, it is easier to understand how a young person was shaped through life experiences and inherent attitudes to meeting them. And my daughter’s words allow me to see that process as it is unfolding.

Kindness as a mirror

In the movie, Tom Hanks becomes the kind mirror we need to see ourselves and our frailties. The puppets in his bag are a poignant reminder of our lives alluding to the way we are played by the strings of our hurts, anger, fears, victories, loves, losses and a gamut of memories and inabilities. Often, they are patterns so firmly entrenched that it seems nigh impossible to even consider the possibility of another way of expression. Tom Hanks seems too good to be true and when Mathew Rhys likens him to a living saint, his wife points out that that would make what he has seem unattainable for people! She goes on to say, “he works at it all the time, it’s a practice. He’s not a perfect person, he has a temper. He chooses how he responds to that anger. He does things every day that help to ground him… reads scripture, swims laps, prays for people, writes letters, hundreds of them.” Letters really jumped out, I find them almost a meditation that can be shared with another and they have been a constant especially in the last few months.

Lately, I’ve found that all my loves converge and compartmentalizing them into neat little web notebooks is becoming harder. They seem to spill into each other and perhaps it is time to bring them all as a singular offering. Call it the yoga of words perhaps or sound. Writing is really speaking on paper or a screen, a silent sound if you please.And I find yoga in every moment of living, in music, musings and movement. It makes for a rich living even in the bleakest of times, providing an anchor to meet whatever comes or goes with a light heart and steady gaze filled with love.

I wish you love.
I wish you light.
I wish you life.

The many moods of Water

I saw a short film yesterday, The Swimmer  and it set into play so many flashes. The poetry of Derek Mahon (he’s a discovery), the beautiful capturing of the moods of open waters and Redmond’s moment 20 miles off shore.  Just like the slashes of Mahon’s poetry, my memories of running, swimming and the sea coalesced into a private film. The lines read by the poet in the movie reminded me of a few lines I wrote to myself a couple of months back, mesmerized by the sea. 

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The water was just right, like the temperature of breast milk or maybe the fluid in the womb. Warm, alive as though it had a heartbeat. Walking through that was such a sensory immersion, the smell of salty air, the sand shifting below my feet, the touch of moisture in the air and the incredible expanse of sky and water. What if one walked into the sea to die? What would that moment feel like- the one of no return as water burns into lungs?

And one from 2017

In the meanwhile, I found pleasure in swimming while also discovering deep silences under water. The breath has started to become a friend as I let go and surrender to the flow. It is a different experience to be suspended in a medium which can either support or swallow you. As an element, it’s an interesting one to explore through its different aspects. Benign, malevolent, neutral. Three different states- ice, water and steam, all with different gunas. Water in the womb, water in our bodies and on our planet. Universally used by all that lives…  Quite like the secrets of water under open skies. They invite you to dive deep and dissolve. After all, isn’t life really a preparation for dissolution? A bit like all asana being preparation for savasana…

And another one

Winter is melting into summer, rapidly. The water in my matka is just the right degree of cool to quench my thirst. The pool waters provide buoyancy and resistance as I swim. My thoughts flow one into another until they bear no link to the original thought. I feel water everywhere…

Free flowing and stagnant.

Life sustaining and suffocating.

Terrifying deluge and gurgling brook. 

Thundering waterfall and the silence of a mother’s womb. 

Meandering rivers and gigantic waves. 

Baptism waters and bearer of ashes.

Finally, I was reminded of the movie, The Shape of Water and it’s mute beauty. But that one is a separate post.

In the meanwhile, I wait for a pandemic to spend itself so I may find my way to the ocean and submit to its incredible silence.

 

Trashed Beauty

I woke up this morning and found myself on the floor, glasses askew, mugs and bowls, books and papers all around, earplugs entangled around my arms and a trailing saree. After an initial moment of bewilderment, I put on my glasses and remembered a longish night, laughing to Forrest Gump, nostalgic wanderings to a trail in Auroville, a midnight snack and some beautiful sketching by the youngling. There was music too that wafted to the accompaniment of moonlight and jasmine scents of a summer night.

Magic

The trashed room was actually a lovely reminder of the fullness of yesterday and its incompleteness too. It’s always the longing for what lies just a little beyond even as you go about the business of living. It’s been a very long time since my room grew wild on me like that. In the midst of a night space shared by the resident young artist and this scatterer of words, both of us acknowledged the chaos of our craft.

an artist sees herself

We produce a fair bit and then go on to produce more, scattering our babies across tables and books where we cannot quite find them. Last night I was searching for a line I had written earlier in the day and had to hunt across 2 screens, a notebook and a notepad before finding it tucked away in a blue cursive hand in a letter yet to be mailed!

Daylight comes and lifts the veil of night’s magic and last night was pure enchantment. Right from the moon peeking behind clouds, the intoxication of night blossoms in my balcony garden and a shared space of music, art and words to the delight of a favourite film on my screen. I could have died then and it would have been a lovely celebration of living.

Yesterday’s blog rumination prompted a repeat of the movie and it was just as sentimentally sweet now as it was the first time I saw it. It almost seems blasphemous to savour the days of slow living and helpless creating when a pandemic has wreaked havoc. In the midst of this island of companionable silence, there’s also the din of volunteering which brings up stark realities of hunger, abuse and opportunistic tendencies. Inevitable. As my friend AJ says, it is what it is.
And so I straddle two worlds of completeness and endeavour.

Remembering Forrest

The last couple of days have been a bit of a whirlwind as I got swept into some volunteering work. It got me musing about the ways in which I’ve navigated the decades. Perhaps, the decades have navigated my life instead. I’ve picked up jobs, skills and interests along the way and mostly been a bit of a rolling stone. Today, in between long calls, I found myself wondering how I came to be immersed with a group of people I have never met before and I saw Forrest flash before my eyes.

My first job was probably around the time the movie was released and since then, I’ve seen how living changed for an entire generation. Work, relationships, entertainment, health and through all of it the inevitable thread of technology that now connects all of our lives, individually and collectively. Under the isolation of lock down, there are strangers seeing each other and hearing each other over a screen trying to help other strangers. 25 years ago, we didn’t have mobile phones and now it is possible to conduct business on one. While I ride on its convenience, sometimes there is a desire to unplug and go back to a simpler way of being, one of real breathing connections. You know, the kind where you break bread and share a coffee and drink in the scents and textures of the day.

Forrest Gump has been a beloved movie since the first viewing and not just for Tom Hanks. It’s mostly for an almost unbearable sense of lightness in the quiet stillness of his character. I think he possibly epitomizes maitri, karuna, mudita and upeksha in his simpleton self. Not a mean bone in his body and always the hint of a smile although that seems more like a Tom Hanks trait rather than just that of his character in the film. But maybe I’m biased. 🙂  He runs through the years inevitably in the middle of all the key shifts of the different ages while being removed from it. In the world but not quite of it. Detachment at its best perhaps? Maybe one needs to be a child at heart always for that kind of being.

I love the gentle kindness in the way he relates with the people who weave in and out of his life, the way he cares for the troubled and vulnerable Jenny who finds it so hard to bear the incredible lightness of his love and her own returning love. Theirs is an unlikely friendship and love story, less a juxtaposition of simple and complex and more one of a shared childlike blossoming. The weight of her brokenness is a shard that repeatedly makes her run away until near the end. Love is unequal, I suppose, the lover always loving a little more than the beloved. And Forrest is all the more richer for it in his uncomplicated wholeness.

The movie invariably brings a whiff of nostalgia for my running days, especially the latter ones where the feet were bare and the runs were long. It’s an occasional sweet ache now, the memory of that runner and the road as the seasons rose and fell.  “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get” remains a delightful reminder about the randomness of life and a certain curiosity for its various tastes. Maybe it is time to unwind into the delights of an old favourite as light as the feather that opens and closes the film.

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Barely have any running pictures but think Forrest and it seemed fitting to find one of the rare few that some stranger clicked…