Notes from a summer day

It is summer in the world outside, I catch glimpses of it as I cruise the Mumbai Pune expressway every week. It’s a familiar stretch, one I have seen being built over the last couple of decades. The cities it connects have spilled over at either end, shortening the bare open stretches. The trees on the verge are grown ones. I wonder if they were planted or they somehow crept into their tallness. They’re a mix, nothing planned about their arrangement, unlike the Satara- Kolhapur stretch which has neat lines of flowering trees. While driving back last afternoon, I wondered about what the person or team would have thought of as they decided on the landscaping of the road. What might have been my recommendation if I got to choose? I don’t know if we really ought to choose in the first place.

Over the last month, I watched jacaranda trees create lovely clouds and carpets, saw jackfruits ripening into sweet stickiness. Now, the copper pods mimic millions of suns as they smile between the leaves. In some places, the golden shower trees cannot wait and have begun to preen in dainty bunches. There are a few precocious Gulmohurs, early bloomers peeking through the green. Yesterday, I missed my leisurely ambles so much that I stopped on my way back home to say hello to my old tree friends. The ones that have been familiar are still waiting for their cue to burst into colour. I stopped by the old baobab tree on my way back home simply to see it before its season of flowering. There is something dramatic about trees in bloom, the entire run up to their flowering followed by their quiet retreat into anonymity. It’s beautiful how completely inconspicuous trees come alive in all their flamboyance and go back to being one among many. Tree time is slow time, perhaps the kind of time which we humans should also keep.

Physical Labour

I must confess that during lock down, I’ve wished (more than once) that I was an essential worker. That way, I wouldn’t have needed to wait for a supplies dash to roam the streets. Mostly, it’s the insatiable desire to drink in the sights of people, places and their intersection. Today was a legit supplies day but took the car out and went to meet a tree a fair distance away. The amaltas (golden shower trees) are gorgeous and I went to see one of them on a hidden running route. Sadly, the full burst was over and there were just a few flowers left. It is a sight to behold in full bloom. I did manage to see one a few days ago on another street.

From last week

A large chunk of my week would be physical, in class or then adjusting bodies as part of therapeutic yoga. Additionally, my professional work required me to spend time on field with health workers and then there were the long solitary walks. Zoom was restricted to one client and the screen mostly to consolidate thoughts and learning. I didn’t need to have it open all day. Now, it’s the other way around and I find myself impatient for more real world work rather than working via video/ voice.

It is also tiresome to see the endless prompts for addressing a ‘changed‘ world by experts. None of them have lived through a pandemic of this scale so it’s all estimation and conjecture anyway. Some of it will come to be and many will be off the mark but that’s been the nature of projections. But I still get in on some of them to keep myself somewhat professionally relevant and speak the same language. I’m looking forward to the lifting of the lock down and getting back to some of the old work although it seems unlikely to experience it the same way considering the necessary precautions one has to take now. The hit is especially hard in yoga considering that much of therapeutic yoga requires touch. But, it’s an ancient science that has reinvented itself over the ages. Infact, it has already pivoted to a new avatar online, it will be interesting to see how it evolves.

One bag full mostly plastic cups, bottles, empty pouches etc.

In the meanwhile, I managed to get some large trash bags and sturdy rubber gloves so decided to tackle the rubbish on the trail. It was satisfying to get rid of whatever I could manage to collect from the interiors of the woods today. Much of the debris is scattered around trees which have a wide clearing around them, they’re the perfect picnic spots and so make the worst sites to clean.

All in all, it was good to labour under blue skies, a bright sun and music in my heart. Nothing like a good sweat, summers are meant for it.

An unusual birthday

Today was an eclectic day. Myth and Science, a pleasurable walk in the woods and an unexpected visit to a temple. That last kind of underscores a personal notion that temples beckon. I had no thought of going there but somehow landed outside the orange gates. It’s been nearly two years since I visited this place and the last visit I remember was on a Saturday morning. The pundit had given me a red rose as prasad and I put it in my hair. Those days, I had long tresses and would frequently wear a hibiscus from my garden. I don’t miss the hair but the flowers, occasionally. Later that day, the petals of that rose went into one of my books and remained pressed between its pages.

The trail was a pleasure today unlike the last visit with its drunken visitors. I couldn’t take off my shoes though until I got quite deep into it since the path as well as the interiors were trashed badly. Beer bottles, broken glass, lot of plastic rubbish and so on. It makes me despair for us as a people, this disregard for open spaces, green spaces. But, the woods are special and often lovers of the place clean up after those who wantonly rubbish it. There are a few regulars who love the brown as much.

I’ve missed my daily walks in their magic and music and was glad to get a pocket of time to indulge in ambling and couldn’t resist a little jog too. Today, the wind was from the North West and sounded like the ocean in the treetops. Waves upon waves rising and falling while the branches of the glyricidia rubbed against each other and creaked like old boats. A fragment of a creaky boat ride off the Konkan coast rose in my mind. Added to this mix was the sound of birds and the crunch of my feet on dried leaves. Again memory and its recall, I was reminded of a Canadian autumn many, many months ago and the warm spicy smells of maple and oak leaves. The Eucalyptus trees against the blue skies reminded me of the birches I had seen then.

The woods are peaceful, the people who pass through it, sometimes not so but I like to think that the trees and their whispers leave some of their magic on all those who walk under their shade. On my way back, I drove around to enjoy the sights of the pretty gulmohurs in the neighbourhood. Soon the rains will come and the crimson petals will lie destroyed on the ground, making the prettiest carpets. There was no destination and I cruised along until I found myself outside the temple. I’ve always been an outsider in places of worship, not knowing what is expected in terms of rituals. Hence, the preference for odd hours when they are empty and quiet. There wasn’t anyone else except D who said I should hang on as the pundit was on his way. Tulsi, the dog who loiters around the place was happy to see the old poojari as he unlocked the place and nuzzled against him.

I didn’t have anything with me as an offering but went in anyway and looked at the orange drenched idol of Hanuman. Legend goes that the son of the Wind God asked Sita why she wore vermillion in the parting of her hair and she replied for the love of Ram. So, he emptied a whole load of it on his entire body for that’s how much he adored the avatar of Vishnu. The pundit marked my forehead with the orange tilak and I received a flower as prasad which now sits pressed in a book.

I suppose it was an auspicious visit as today is also Shani’s birthday, Saturn for those who are not familiar. The lame planet is feared but somehow, I’ve never felt the dread that people associate with it. Perhaps, it is ignorance of the complicated Vedic astrology that warns of terrible settling of karmic debts or maybe it is having nothing to lose. While tradition is to offer flowers, fruits, leaves, nuts, seeds, oil etc. in worship, I have often wondered how can one offer things that are not ours to offer. We assume ownership of what grows freely and over the centuries have staked claim to mountains and seas as belonging to people or nations when they existed without title deeds for aeons!

Somehow, it already feels too late for change to really make a difference. It seems like time, Shani’s time is marching us to pay the price for rubbishing our planet, beginning with the current reality of isolation and distancing. Like the renaissance philosopher and astrologer Masilio Ficinno says, “We are subjected to Saturn through leisure, solitude and sickness; through theology, secret philosophy, superstition, magic farming, and through mourning.” In pandemia, people haven’t had the luxury of choosing solitude.

The girl in the red plaid dress

Another morning out. I should give up the pretense of shopping for supplies and see it for what it is, the need to walk. In the absence of ambles in the woods or jaunts around the neighbourhood, I found myself picking threads from little vignettes that played out on the street or the voices and noises from households, some of it, violent. Some threads were ripped from an unruly heart, some from cold waters of reason and much unravelled in letters that remain piled on my desk. But, this is about today and a walk under a summer sun with my beautiful bald pate, a half masked face and skin that drank sunshine.

It’s been a couple of days since the hair came off and with it, everything that weighed this old head down. I suddenly feel ageless and in a manner of speaking, outside of the limitations of gender. It’s liberating in such a primal way as though the rules of convention don’t apply anymore. Perhaps, this is what monks and nuns feel? Them of the beatific smiles and melodious voices.

I’m out in a running singlet and find that my feet want to let go and break into a jog. It’s that kind of a day when the body feels its sinewy strength and there is pleasure to be taken in being alive and strong. I feel the ripple of energy in my back and legs as I move. It reminds me of long walks on the beach with the sun on my face and water lapping against my feet and I wander into memories of the sea and it’s incredible silence. The next face I see reminds me that we’re in the middle of a pandemic and all those images of sunkissed shores are a long way off.

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So I walk, soaking in sights of a changed world. I walk past a school with one hundred windows- all shut, cross a much dead cat with dried skin and ashen ribs that have no takers, watch winding lines outside liquor shops and cops who have given up trying to tame the crowds. The trees are in bloom and I hug one of the Indian Cork ones. They’ll sway in monsoon winds in a few months and their lovely blossoms will make beautiful scents. Again memories, of night time walks in my invisibility cloak. There are people out and about as though it is time to shop for Diwali, most in masks but else in thick groups. Mostly men, some women and no children except the little masked girl in a red plaid dress, walking with her father.

It was a stark reminder of the missing children of a pandemic. And I wanted to mourn for the ones with loving families and those with hateful ones, the ones with food aplenty and those who go hungry, the ones with lovely homes and those who hustle on streets, the ones with friends and those friendless, the ones who dream in colour and those who live nightmares, the ones with pretty smiles and those with haunted eyes, the ones with grand plans and those without, the ones who get cuddles and those who get beaten. I wanted to grieve for all the little children and the unborn who’ve inherited a blighted planet.

Sometimes, the need for a mourning as such is to mourn the fragility of human lives and a poem springs-

I feel the urge to keen

lament in beautiful tongues

that I don’t understand

I want to partake

the bewilderment

Of a species as it mourns

I want to

share their grief and

walk to distanced funerals

And along with all this

I want to keen

for losses of another kind

That of little children

and a lost summer of

urchins and the home schooled

The little masked girl haunts my today. She was the only child I have seen outside in all these days of lockdown. Perhaps it is also a feeble hope after 40 days of suspension that a little girl appears in a red plaid dress.

Aprils

Aprils are
light hearted months
mangoes and melons

Aprils are
days by the sea
nights under stars

Aprils are
sun dressed bathers
bare chested surfers

Aprils are
long summer holidays

and road tripping

Aprils are
lovers on sand
and sleeping puppies

Aprils are
all this and more
just not this year


can’t wait to sink my teeth into those delicious fruits of summer…

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…

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.

A perfect Thursday in January

One fine day, she rose early. The kitchen woke up under her fingers and she cooked for the day, simple nourishing food for two. Much later, she wrapped herself in cotton sunshine and went to an enchanted garden of old trees and pretty flowers. She found a pretty yellow shevanthi to call her own, a burst of happiness in a happy day.

She drank deeply of nature’s beauty and slowly found her way home. Along the way, a young friend joined her and they watched a movie they had begun a long time ago. They didn’t finish it and have made a date for Monday afternoon, away from the bustle of the city. They’ll sit below a sturdy old tree and finish what should have long been finished.

She went to say good bye and on her way back, stumbled on a delightful little patisserie. She got herself an indulgence, a perfect lemon tart with just the zing to celebrate the coming of spring. It was a perfect Thursday in January.

Kitchen windows

Recently, I sat at a kitchen table of a woman I had never met before. My mother’s friend, let’s call her V, is her walking companion most mornings. They go shopping together and have an easy camaraderie which reminds me of the friendship of little girls. Now V aunty (since aunty is the necessary blanket suffix used for all the parents’ women friends and acquaintances) expressed a desire to see me and so I accompanied my mom to her place. A younger me would have wriggled out of the situation but as I get older, I find that I wish to humour my mother’s wishes and do what makes her happy.

V aunty kept a spic and span home. A mildly obsessive compulsive husband helped with weekend deep cleaning so it was a joint effort. The entire house was done in dull shades of brown that kept temperatures cool and somehow had a very calming effect. At one time she was a working mother but now she’s an empty nester who carries the ache of a silent house in tired eyes. The energy she exudes though is another force altogether, one of sheer enthusiasm.

It was a hot morning when we reached her place and my mom made her way to the kitchen, a familiar practice for the two. I followed and sat at the table from where the window on the other wall was a living screen. A brilliant copper pod tree stood right outside it and the grills held a neat napkin and a basket to dry dishes. The window remained my muse through their chatter and I watched a crow come to the window for a drink of water.

Aunty V set out three glasses of the most refreshing buttermilk spiced with ginger, curry leaves and shallots for us to drink. The two of them exchanged notes about their common friends and I was content to listen to their voices wash over my mind. These women had their share of life’s struggles and at this stage still giggled like teenagers. How does age shape thoughts and actions? Would I have the lightness these women brought or would a current spell of darkness be a permanent night? The buttermilk was just the necessary distraction and aunty V was delighted to give me a refill. Something about feeding people that makes my mom and others of her generation happy.

The table brought back memories of a scarred dining table in a home I left behind, one that was an equal participant in similar conversations with a friend. That walnut table looked across the kitchen to an old silver oak which was home to a pair of crows. Maybe they were a much married avian couple quite like us humans with one doing the talking while the other sat stoically. Kitchen windows have an odd comfort, a sense of slow time that is gentle and forgiving. Writing about it, I can see myself at my usual chair looking out of that window and straying into thoughts of my dad. His presence is an unassuming one on days when I wander in quicksands of the mind.

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Looking out of that old kitchen window

There wasn’t much time to linger in fragments of the past as the two women decided to move to the living room. The windows there looked out at a beautiful mango tree. A thoughtfully designed ledge along the window sill was a cool spot to sight squirrels scampering in the compound and sparrows carrying little twigs. Maybe it is nesting season for those tiny birds. A lazy cat ambled atop the compound wall with typical feline elegance. I didn’t realize summer days as an adult child of my mother also has its pleasures.

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And saree of the day was no. 75/2019 which is the only one I haven’t managed to document for myself this year. Dug out an old picture and incidentally this one has that scarred table.

Forgotten summers

There’s still a summer from long ago in my forgotten lane. It finds a voice in the golawala’s bell that rings loud around noon, the proverbial pied piper’s music and children tumble out from buildings, helpless to the sweet-sour tastes of his golas.

His bottles line one end of the cart, a tantalising world of possibilities of colour and taste and the little humans fall under the spell of the array. Sometimes, they sneak out and at other times, they pester their folks no end till it’s just easier for the hot and bothered adults to say “go”.

My daughter is the same age as his, 11 and she asks if she can go and get a gola. Her need is so great and her suffering so huge that I smile and say ‘Yes’. The little mite gets me one too and we spend a summer afternoon in secret pleasure, our mouths stained the colours of wine and hearts filled with happiness. It’s a pleasure unlike any and brings back memories of sweet summers as a child. The heat doesn’t bother children, it’s just the adults who sweat and swear while the mercury rises. The kids just enjoy the season and make merry with crushed ice.

The other day, I asked the youngling about the golawala and her only important piece of information was that he gave free golas once a year to all the kids. It piqued my interest enough to want to know more about this man who so obviously seemed to love his job. I succumbed to the bell and ran down to catch him and find out who was this magical man. His name is Kailash like the mountain and I thought he couldn’t have had a more appropriate name.

Now, Kailash has been selling golas in the neighbourhood for 18 years. He plans to retire in a couple of years since he says, a man pushing a cart should work for only 20 years. If only, retiring was that easy for the rest of us. He came to the city from Jalgaon and joined his sister-in-law who had a cart. A few years later he branched out on his own. Perhaps, the birth of his son might have necessitated the need for independence and a little more money in the pocket. His son is 18 now and a college dropout. He works in a mall though and Kailash is a little sad that the boy hasn’t chosen to complete his degree. He has high hopes for his little girl and proudly says that he will educate her. “Main tho use padaoonga (I’ll educate her)”.

It’s a harsh life, selling golas in the punishing heat of Pune. There is also the added hardship of having his cart impounded by the municipality and the loss of business until he manages to release it or get another one. He sells anywhere between 50–100 golas a day and has no fixed income. He nets about 200–300 rupees a day and the family’s income is supplemented by his wife who also works. He used to work in a restaurant but prefers the freedom to be his own boss.

He sells golas for 10 months of the year. In the monsoons, he takes a break and sells butta (roasted corn) instead. He makes his own syrup and is proud to say that his concentrate stays as is for a year without getting spoilt. It’s basically a sugar concentrate which is cooked and left to cool before the fruit extract is added and mixed. The crushed ice is packed onto an ice-cream stick and swirled in the liquid before it is served.

I wonder if anyone else was interested in his life and day. He was happy to chat and had a smile even when not smiling. Perhaps, it was the honesty in his heart that shone through. I wonder if he went back home and told his family about a tall, lady in a saree who was mad enough to want to know about Kailash the golawala.

These are the magic people of our lives, the unsung heroes to our little children, the ones who make memories for them that they can turn to as adults. I know many mothers will be aghast at the thought of the unhygienic conditions etc. but none of the kids have fallen sick eating his colourful golas. Not yet.

Summer is gone and the rains are going. He’ll come again with his magical bottles and sunshine smile to create magic with ice and colour and you’ll be helpless and say, “bhaiyya, ek gola de do (Brother, please give me one gola)”