Slipped into the woods this morning and it was empty save for the elderly couple who came to walk their beautiful German Shepherd and a couple of runners. I’ve been walking the western edge lately and it is a delight for there are more birds there. I saw two Indian thick knees today, last week it was just one bird in the same spot. Perhaps, there is a nest and little babies. They’re masters of camouflage, I didn’t realize how close it was until it took off to stand still at a little away. Walking off the regular track, one gets to see and hear much more not to mention the pleasures of being alone. I walk the same browns and never tire of it, it is rather like chipping away at the same asana and discovering something new every single time. I hear echoes of what my running mentor would say, “master the route”. I never really listened to his words until much time passed for back then I chased new roads. Perhaps it was loss of running and the subsequent fallowness as I spent hours in passivity on the mat that allowed to go deeper rather than wider, look through a microscopic lens rather than a telescopic one. Sometimes I think all the damage we inflicted on this beautiful planet is simply because of this tendency to look outwards and probe rather than being still and receiving when we are ready. We really should leave some things to their own mysteries, unknown and hidden but that probably will never happen. How much is our need to know, to get control over what is outside of us! Perhaps, it is to compensate for unruly thoughts and feelings that emerge, how does one stop them from arising anyway?
If the tree trunk were a clock, your human day would be the circumambulation of daylight waking and night time slumber
If you’re patient, it could be the circumambulation of a waxing moon and a dark fortnight
If you’re still willing to watch, it could be the circumambulation of a summer solstice and an autumn one
If you’ve stayed so long, perhaps, you could see the circumambulation of your entire life, an offering?
To see further, you have to be the tree
the lines of your life merging into its rings,
no longer an exchange
of an inhale and an exhale
just one breath, each an eternity
The day gets slotted into hour long blocks on a calendar, a quick drag and drop of exchanges blocking time between people on a screen.
Sometimes, the blocks get rearranged and I snatch an hour from work to soak in the green. So walks don’t fall into fixed timings and I get to see life around me at different hours.
This morning, I stood in a lush green space, under giant trees listening to parakeets and hornbills, kites and babblers. Watching the orchids grow around this tree trunk, it made me think of a dial. We live our days around a clock, marking time and wondered how might time be perceived from the lens of a tree’s being?
And so these words spilled, a tree’s whisperings.
More trees have fallen in the woods, the paths have shrunk and the ungulates have been busy here. There is beauty in the lushness but this particular corner of the world is also beautiful in its brown starkness. Bumped into the runner lad coaching two young girls. Always a happy sight, runners.
Sometimes I walk the nights as though I’m one with the shadows. The feet move to a steady rhythm past homeless men and strays sleeping under open skies. This warning signal has been smothered by the rain growth and made a pretty picture in the dark.This white spotted fantail was busy feeding three hungry young ones and pecking a cat that strolled too close for comfort. Managed to get a little more of their morning drama and also their cute little home. You can check it out here.Choco chip cookies with a sprinkle of sea salt made by hand, made with love. They have been an indulgence ever since a friend sent a bag of these.A morning out of the city, chasing stalks and watching birds, cruising winding ghats and picnics on the road. Comfort food, quick and easy. What you don’t see here is the nice big dollop of ghee that melted into the khichdi. At times, these meals happen alfresco.No sadhya or pookalam this year but an almost vintage kasavu to mark the day. The weave remains my absolute favourite for its elegant simplicity. This one’s a little worse for the wear but soft with multiple wears and washes.
What a beautiful world we inhabit!
Lately the walks have been sporadic considering the extremely wet weather. There have been the odd late night ambles and some highway tripping though. The latter was an absolute delight, long stretches of pitch dark and very little traffic. This evening, I went for a short walk and it was another one of those bursting with happy kind of days. Just at the sheer pleasure of being alive and being able to enjoy the lavish spread of nature. The green is lush and walking under their cover is incredibly rejuvenating.
Inspite of all that we’ve ravaged, there’s still so much magic in every step. From rot to ripe, a continuous cycle of rebirths. Seed to fruit and back, endlessly. The same in the animal kingdom with species continuing to keep themselves continuous. Endless procreation in their own image even as their lives get snuffed.
As I walk in the now, I’m conscious of the insignificant tiny blip of my existence against the long past of this universe as we know it today as well as the unknown length of the future. I look at the fallen leaves and imagine that hundreds or thousands of years from now, some one may unearth fossils from this ordinary piece of land and imagine how things would have been in 2020, the year of corona. What would a world in 3000 look like? What imprints would our species carry into that millenium?
Some sights from today as I walked with a skip in my step and music on my lips. It’s so easy to slip into a make-believe world. 🙂
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.
Today was a relatively dry day and the place was busy. On my way back, I stopped to watch the last few minutes of a cricket game in progress. 6 runs needed off 4 balls and the tensions were running high. That team didn’t make it. Bumped into Mr.C after long. Barring the crows and mynas and a few shrieking lapwings, there weren’t many feathered ones. Too many humans stomping about. Butterflies and dragonflies were in their usual strength and I spotted a blue moon butterfly, my first in there. I saw a young girl running and it made me very happy.
On my way back, I stopped to buy groceries and saw that the neighbourhood was being shut down. The pandemic has arrived at our doorstep and we’re a containment zone now. There has been a cluster of infections and one death a few blocks away. Time to brace for impact by the looks of it. The apartment complex I live in will most likely see cases considering that there is little to no social distancing here. Kids and adults are out in large numbers in the evenings and barring the odd senior member, no one wears a mask. I wonder if this household will also be a statistic in the pandemic.
There’s just so much happening all around but I find that my world has shrunk to a fullness with the outdoors, movement and words. It is enough.
The trail was wet today. We’ve had slow rain since yesterday and the mud has become soft, like a belly on which children like to rest their heads. This kind of rain is reminiscent of Pune monsoons until a few years ago. Lately, the weather patterns had changed to mimic Bombay rains, heavy and incessant which would make sludge of the trail and then dry into hard packed soil when the sun would get out. Slow, soft rain is gentle, teasing the soil to open up to receive footprints and leave clumps of soil on soles of feet or shoes, maybe with seeds that have flown from bursting pods?
Mynas, drongos, the crow pheasant and crows (both varieties) were out in much larger numbers than usual today, they’re noisy. The cicadas were also louder than usual and I heard 3 or 4 different sounds. The strays were missing today. I didn’t expect to see too many people considering the rains but there were a couple of boisterous groups. It means more litter inevitably. Another really sad sight is the broken branches. It’s the handiwork of those who come for firewood. There are plenty of dried twigs and branches on the forest floor but those are abandoned and live ones are butchered. I suppose it makes it easier to carry. Alongside this is also the happier sight of smaller trees, the neems in particular growing near larger ones. Small rebellions of life erupting amidst the glyricidia.
As I walked about, I thought about my day until then. It began with yoga as a shared and studied practice, cooking a meal, a few working hours, a talk on handicrafts and finally the trail. All of them have one thing in common, they are slow. Yoga for me has been an extremely slow progression through various stages of fitness, injury, rehabilitation and health. Cooking is always a simple affair and from scratch. My work involves changing attitudes in menstrual health and hygiene and is a long term project. Handicrafts and handlooms are slow arts and the woods take their time in the making.
All these various facets of my living have a longish horizon and in the short term there is a chipping away at them from different angles, sort of like sculpting. Most of the time, there is very little to see as progress until one fine day, there is a breakthrough and I step back to see a whole picture rather than a part of it. Working on the part, the whole is worked upon be it body or mind. It’s the same in the making of many handicrafts and the trail is a sum of many different parts, mobile and immobile. There is the passage of time implicit in their becoming and at any stage, the shape taken by these is a sum of many different parts.
In yoga poses, it begins with very gross actions of the muscular system and progresses to quieter, internal work. Artisans working with their craft spend years perfecting their skill, beginning with learning the different tasks of their art. The forest is a continuum of birth, growth, decay, destruction and regeneration. There’s also the element of individual effort be it on the mat or of the creatures that make the green spaces.
In these times of a pandemic, it again boils down to the individual. We see it as people question their lives and choices. In today’s talk, Laila Tyabji touched upon Swadesi and it’s a word that is a separate post in itself. While there is a collective or community aspect to all of the above, it is a sum of many individuals too, be it arms and legs working together in an asana or a wood carver and block printer or then the stones and birds, insects and plants in the woods.
There is much that is terrible in the world right now both man made and nature designed. In the face of nature’s fury, one has to acquiesce and brace for impact. As to human inflicted violence, I don’t have an answer. Neither shows any sign of abating. Literally and metaphorically, this year has been stormy to say the least. But in the midst of the wildly careening world, my days are quieter. I’ve had time to rearrange my routine to have an increased component of the physical rather than just the cerebral, both in work and play. And that makes me glad to work with what I can experience with all my senses.
This outing has been too close on the heels of the previous one. Much as I welcome the opportunity to walk on quiet roads, it is also a reminder of a bleak reality. I’m early and it seems pointless to go back home and come out again. So, I sit on the pavement under a gulmohar tree and look at another which has already started its summer dance.
Perhaps if I were not responsible for other lives that depend on me, I might have just remained outdoors. It is beautiful without the debris of human activity. Crisp mornings, azure skies, sounds of unseen creatures and beloved tree friends make it a world that is more than enough.
The cops are out in good measure, a wall of containment in a city that is contained within containment. An ambulance careens through the opening in the barricade, siren wailing and suited bodies in the windows. A motorbike escapes in its wake and there’s a dash to catch the errant biker but he’s gone. The momentary excitement lapses into silence and all I can hear are insect sounds. There’s a tantalizing whiff of jasmines although I can’t see it anywhere. Perhaps, it is coming from the compound of the reserve forces. The masked policemen sit on plastic chairs, swatting flies and chatting at a distance.
At a little distance is the spot where I used to commence my runs. It used to be a pause, the setting of the watch or app before the propelling into a distance, never knowing how it might turn out. Some days would be effortless, a few days were written off. Mostly, they were an endeavour. I want to go back, injury be damned. I want the taste of that sweat and the exhaustion of brutal runs. Maybe it’s an empty that is missing.
The wind changes direction and I can smell cowdung, it’s probably coming from the compound where the families of the forces live. In another time, I’d walk through the almost village with its idyllic scenes played under old trees. Children playing, women sweeping the yards, old men sitting on verandahs, rookies working the land. It would be a suspension from city busyness to dip into a slower pace of life.
I could spend the day here, on a pavement, below a tree. But…
I met a dog on the trail today, a bounding bundle of joy who demanded love and gave it abundantly in wet doggy licks. Just the pick me up I needed. It was a bleak day and a walk seemed to be the only way to salvage something out of it. There’s no one at the time save a bunch of cricket crazy young men in a couple of clearings. So, I had the whole trail pretty much to myself.
It feels like a precious gift, this access to a patch of wild where the city fades away just a couple of hundred metres into the woods. Once I’m in the heart of this land, my life outside of it disappears and I don’t think much. It’s a sensorial experience of intoxicating wood smells, bird song, stray dog sightings and so on. In such a setting, there is no urgency of deadlines or meetings. Just a full sense of presence. I’m looking forward to getting to know the trail and its whimsies over the next few months.
Today, I hung on a branch and swung like a child, picked up a dried stick and swished it around and finally threw it as far as I could. Childlike thrills. Why do we stop playing as adults? Anyway, I walked for an hour and tentatively ran a few hundred metres in installments and the voice in my head automatically kicked in about the cadence, arms yada yada even as the rational part of my being told me to not mess up the knee. If I got hurt or couldn’t walk, it wouldn’t be easy to get back.
Long story short, the woman who entered the woods wasn’t the one who came out. I felt rejuvenated and had a spring in my step. On my way back home, I also found a coconut seller and quenched my thirst with sweet tasting coconut water. Sometimes, all you need to do is wander in the woods.