“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.

A Baobab

Last night, the youngling and I were talking about the lockdown and she mentioned that all her friends who had some kind of hobby or interest seemed to have been very productive and relatively ok compared to those who didn’t have any special interests.  She’s been prolific with her art through these days across different media and has also 1made album covers for her friends who have composed music. A couple of days ago, I got her some art supplies and she got to dabble in oil colours for the first time and it’s a messy affair as she learned the hard way.

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if it’s possible for the woods to be even more beautiful!

The woods always manage to bring more time to my days. This evening I didn’t feel like collecting the trash and decided to walk or then just sit under a tree and maybe read a book. The place was empty as usual and I stood watching the birds for a long while. There’s a thicket where they make a merry racket. There are butterflies too but they are further inside the trail. I saw a couple of green bee eaters, robin magpies, fantails and mynas and heard the saat bhai (jungle babblers) not too far away but didn’t see them. After a while, I settled down with a book that I had left half unread a while ago.

On the way back, there was an old man with 5 young children picnicking. The kids had steel dabbas with poha and it was an idyllic sight, didn’t feel like we were in the middle of a pandemic at all. Also, bumped into the young man who wants to become a police officer and we walked together for a good distance. He’s quite the badass runner, does a full marathon in 3 hours and change. So, we got talking about running, his training and elite athletes etc. His training consisted of running up and down the hill in circular loops and he said he could do it nonstop for 10 loops. No need for any other training after that!  There was a time when I was obsessed about all things running, now they’re packed in forgotten boxes of nostalgia, opened only when something prompts it.

 

It’s almost a given now that I drive around for a while after the woods chasing gulmohurs and today I found my way to a stranger’s house to admire a grand old baobab. The security guard there was kind enough to indulge my desire to see the elder one in person. The tree had such a presence, an energy which is quite inexplicable. It needs to be experienced. The tree had shed sticky flowers on the pavement outside the compound wall and was fruiting which is what made me stop. I’ve never seen the flowers until today and it was the highlight of my day!

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gulmohurs in the evening

Pune has never been this gorgeous in recent history. The current Covid crisis has crippled much and it seems selfish to take pleasure in enjoying the beauty in nature, urban and wild when so many suffer. But, I go anyway. There’s an urgency to pack in all I can before the rains set in. And then I wonder am I the only one who cruises like this, solely for soaking in fading summer sights? Most drivers and riders seem intent on a destination and hurry towards the residential areas while I go in the opposite direction. It’s a different viewing of the trees in the evening light, somewhere between silhouette and colour. I return as night wakes up, that too is a deep pleasure this season. Fragrant, cool inky nights with stars that come alive when you look into the dark.

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Even stones speak to those who listen…

The couple of hours out every afternoon/evening are a long meditation in a manner of speaking. Sometimes I think if I keep this long enough, I may become mute. Actually, speech has reduced significantly even as the written word has become more voluminous. Perhaps it is time to pause for a while and learn a mutism of the written word too. That’s a restraint I am yet to embrace.

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.

Homeless in a Pandemic

These days when I see open spaces, there’s a sudden desire to run and disappear into its expanses for a long time, perhaps for good. And if I give that fantasy some wings, I imagine that I’d make a leap for it and somehow magically the world will close behind me as though I jumped through a portal. But that’s just the mind running riot.
Much as I love using the excuse of supplies for a long meander, it is also an ache to see a world of masked people, barricaded streets and downed shutters. Last evening, I drove out about 6km, the furthest since lock down just to get a sense of the outside world. Traffic was sparse, both human and vehicular. Cop patrols were quite visible with their loudspeakers warning the few open establishments to close for the day. An entire species is living indoors. Mostly. But there are those who fall through the cracks of having homes or even walking miles towards homes. These are the unwanted, unseen wanderers of the streets like B, the homeless man on my 10k route.
He loved crosswords and I’d see him with a pen and newspaper in the mornings. It’s still not clear how he got a newspaper every single day but he’d be busy. We’d smile at each other, sometimes I’d wave out and he became one of my visual milestones. His smile had a warmth to it. His assortment of a footpath home varied slightly with the change in seasons. Rainy days, there was a makeshift tent of sorts. Winter mornings, he would lean against a wall with a blanket around him. Towards the end of my running days, he even managed a mattress. I remember thinking he seemed truly happy. There was a certain lightness in his face and being. I was fairly certain that he could have had a different life if he chose to.
His eyes were sharp, intelligent and always had a twinkle. Although I wanted to hear his story, I never ended up stopping because I was inevitably in a rush to return home in time to get the kid up for school. And then it was too late. He died a few years ago, someone broke a bottle on his head. Wrong place, wrong time. I got to know his story from a lady who used to run a Tuesday kitchen for the homeless. She’s got quite a few stories of the streets and is someone I admire deeply. But P’s story is for another day. B used to be in the armed forces but a nasty temper ensured he was discharged. A few years later, his family threw him out. Anger has that effect, left unchecked, it ravages lives.

Yesterday, I was reminded of him when I saw another homeless man not too far from where B used to hang out. This old man wore similar dirty white pajamas and a kurta and was busy feeding the birds. It was a joyous action, his scattering feed for the birds. A little ahead, there was a man who had probably lost his mind a long time back. Barely clothed and with his hands stuck down the front of his pants, he swayed and walked as though drunk. There are many such fringe dwellers and people see through them.

One that is still very vivid is a thin, bare chested man asleep on the road with maggots in an open wound. Another recent image is of a woman with bare breasts picking off something from her saree which lay around her as I walked along a busy road one evening after class. And then this morning, amidst the beautiful trees and flowers, I saw a man wasted on the pavement, probably blacked out after a drunken spree. Addiction, homelessness, insanity make them invisible to the world, often even the cops leave them alone.

The overwhelming feeling is tenderness at such times, a desire to cover them if only to protect their selves from not being seen. And in the times of a pandemic, where do these destitute children of a tortured planet go?

Another outing

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…

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…