It’s incongruous, the panic of people at large and the absolute assurance of nature in all her glory. 200 metres into the trail, the city fades off and there’s nothing but dry browns and fresh greens of an Indian summer.
I walked a while until I came to a rocky patch a little off the trail. While bright, the sun was not hot so I lay down on the rock and watched the kites riding the thermals against the moon.
And right there, the world was perfect and I was a butterfly basking in the sun.
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.
And some days are purely of the body… Most days, I begin with a yoga class that I attend at 6 am. On a Wednesday, the mat remains open for another 2 odd hours at the end of which, I feel like I’ve finished a rather long run. I suppose it is also endurance of a kind, to work with the limitations of injury, degeneration and the likes and sculpt body shapes that have integrity and beauty.
I had two outings yesterday, one in the morning after wrapping up yoga to pick up supplies and another in the evening. Morning drives are on quiet roads to visit tree friends and watch old houses or ruins of old houses. At one time, I’d imagine homes complete with people and stories but now I see just the houses, in and of themselves. The street cruising is usually to step back into the world from being immersed in the body but today was a restless day. I let an algorithm decide the music and it turned my day into a contemplative dusk.
Some part of the afternoon was spent trying to tame a document but it just kept growing wild on me so decided to head to the woods and maybe tackle the trash. That is uncomplicated. It’s amazing how a few minutes into the trail, the mind clears up as I look at the ground and tree tops, a child in wonder. Nothing exists then except what is around me and it is all green, mostly a wilderness of weeds and bugs that clamour around the trees.
In the woods, the restlessness that I enter with disappears as I walk in between the trees. It usually begins by feeling a filling up and overflowing of something akin to love or thirst. Perhaps, they both are the same thing. Or maybe it is the call of the sap that makes this bubbling over that I don’t feel for humans. It is wordless, thoughtless, without language. After all, language only speaks of attributes and connections. It can only feebly express or rather attempt to express, it does not experience. In the case of trees, their expression is their existence. I suppose it is a good example to show what dharma might mean.
The sun was out and the skyscapes were gorgeous so I sat on a stone and basked in its light as though I were a butterfly. Elsewhere I saw a man sleeping peacefully in the shade of a tree. Dragonflies were all over the place as usual and I watched them idly, got a reasonably clear picture of one. Post walk, I still didn’t feel like I had my fill of the skies so did a quick trip to the race course and was treated to some spectacular views.
While I prefer the vaster spaces, empty roads mostly, I also enjoy the city streets and its moments, ordinary moments like the man feeding the strays, a mother tying the shoelaces of her child, a young couple snuggling on a bike on a secluded road, an old man with baggy pants and a beret waiting for a bus, perhaps? The frames are endless and exist only as a photograph in my mind. Being a human is mostly about doing and less about being for the vast majority of us. Never a still moment. Maybe it is this trait that makes all our stories possible, real and imagined.
This morning, I was awakened by the fragrance of the parijat in the balcony. Maybe it peaks in the wee hours of the morning, I don’t know. But, smell pervaded the day in all its textures. Mother cooking food, junglee roses in the garden, paints, the woods and piping hot medu vadas.
The woods smell different at different times, the air in there varies too. Sometimes there is a viscosity, at others a lightness. The breeze can be loud like the ocean or then imperceptible and ranges from warm to cool. Often, there are little swirls of wind currents that don’t match the general direction of the larger flow. I’d feel it really strongly when barefoot.
The trail was devoid of any walkers as expected. Pune rains though generally mild, make it easy to sit at home and watch the grey pitter-patter. Out in the woods, the rain has a soothing sound as the drops hit the ground, the tones depending on what surface they meet.
There is more green now, different kinds of grasses and little plants or weeds depending on how one sees them. It’s always fascinating how plants and trees lie dormant until it is time for them to wake up. Right now, there are a few hundred thousand seeds that have burst open from the pods in the woods. Many have been stamped into the pathways and across the length and breadth of the little urban wild. Perhaps a few will take root and go on to survive into adulthood. Most will not. I find thoughts like that too, dormant until woken up and like the innumerable seeds, they too remain scattered in a continuous churn far below the surface, coming up only when the moment calls. The mind truly is a wonderful instrument but it can also be thoroughly unreliable.
An interesting sensation was the rain on my head, first time on a bald pate and the soundtrack that was on repeat loop on my lips was Raindrops keep falling on my head…
Time out in the open provides a much needed balance to the weight of the screen. I got to know about Covid deaths of family members of some people I worked with recently. And terribly tragic too, one of them a woman who delivered a baby about week ago. At such times, the statistics come closer and start to feel more personal. In another case, a young man, the son of an acquaintance took his life because living became unbearable in isolation. I can’t even begin to imagine how terribly lonely he might have been. How do parents cope with the loss of a child?
How much transpires in a day? Highs, lows, joys, sorrows, terrible news and exquisite beauty. And all transient, none permanent.
S is one of my young friends and I enjoy her company immensely. Actually her mother is my friend and over the years, S and I discovered that we liked hanging out too. We’ve been meaning to go to the trail together for a long while and were waiting for the end of lock down to do so. Finally, we made it this afternoon and she was excited to see parts of it that she had never seen before. I was equally chuffed to show my favourite spots and sights too. Soon after we entered the woods, it started to rain, a passing shower against a sunny sky. And we were treated to a rainbow so close that we could almost walk through the light! By the time we thought to take a picture, it disappeared but it was such a delight. It was an even greater thrill to see her enjoy the greens and stones and gambol like a free animal.
We walked through the rain, got a little drenched and it soon passed away. The sun dried us quickly enough and we continued walking. We sighted this poser who stayed like that for the longest time, he was so well camouflaged that we almost missed him. Much of the teeming life in the woods is hidden in plain sight and unless you are aware, they can be invisible. This one seems to be a fan throated lizard of some kind but I’m not sure. Happy to know more if anyone can identify this one.
We continued towards the tree I like to sit by and she got to listen to ocean sounds in the tree tops and the creaking of their branches. I enjoy solitary walks but these jaunts with the young ones are special too in the opportunity they provide to share my love for the outdoors. In a natural way, it also becomes a kind of teaching experience when I can pass on what I’ve learned from the flora and fauna around. I’m no expert on the species in there and am learning as I go. It’s nice to pass on the sense of curiosity and I hope they retain the magic of not knowing and wanting to find out as they grow into adults.
We were on our way back with a bag full of trash and saw a police van with a few of the force carrying a couple of large bags. They had come to release a couple of snakes that were caught in their compound and so we got to see a beautiful yellow rat snake, dhamin as it is called in Marathi. We weren’t allowed to take pictures as one of them was holding it for security reasons but S got to touch a live snake! We watched it being released into the wild and then one of the cops asked if we wanted to see a scorpion which was captured as well and we got to see that one too up close. Here’s a picture.
Just as we thought we had a good day on the trail, we got to see one more infrequent visitor, the black ibis. S was thrilled beyond measure and now wants to come as often as I can pick her up. I was caught up in her excitement too, it’s heartening when these kids discover the pleasure of the open. All my life, I’ve considered myself a perpetual student, needing to understand more, know more but somewhere along the way I discovered that I have learned enough to share too. In the woods, it is a natural activity that unfolds quite organically, making the exchange very relaxed and pleasurable. The sensory inputs also make for more vivid recollection where it’s not just a new piece of information which has been gathered but also an emotional memory which has been made. More than them, I am rewarded as I become a child again.
Today, it was bugs day out! And predictably a lot of birds were having a field day. I saw a black ibis, lots of green bee eaters, four or five smaller birds that I couldn’t identify at a distance besides the regulars. Ants were busy everywhere, on the ground, on trees and crickets were leaping all over the place. There were a few butterflies too and gorgeous dragonflies, spotted about 4 different varieties, a lovely crimson one, a couple of blues, a few amber ones and some goldenish green ones. The first creepy crawly that I laid my eyes on though was a red velvet mite as it moved on the ground.
There was just so much life in the woods today and it was a symphony of different sounds. There were hardly any people save for a group of young men playing cricket and a couple of bikers. Most days, I am the only woman in the woods for a long time until a few of them come in twos or threes. But in there, I become genderless, one with the ground and wind. Ever since I went bald, I feel outside of the limitations of gender as though along with the hair, something else also was freed. In this country few women choose to go bald and it is associated with widows, renunciates, those undergoing treatment for cancer or then those with a non-heterosexual orientation. Going bald for was a spontaneous decision and I found I like it. It’s non-fussy and looks like it might remain this way for some time to come.
The only thing that stopped me before was meetings outside but with work calls coming into homes, there is a diluting of the work persona. I found that professional relationships have become a little more personal. An interesting work call was one where there were four of us and three were bald! One of my yoga teachers and his entire family (wife and two kids) also turned bare headed and it was the sweetest picture I saw during the lock down. I suppose this encounter with uncertainty and mortality has allowed people to let go of many fixed ideas about life and work.
I roam the woods as though it’s my playground and I catch myself appropriating the wild as mine even if it is in my thoughts. It’s so easy to slip into this sense of feeling at home in a place that is free. I think of a tree as ‘my tree’ even though it is not mine and am reminded of the concept of aparigraha. Sometimes possessiveness is not things but beliefs and thoughts and these are as binding as actual things. As I reflected on the thought, a spill over from yesterday’s reading, I ambled to the southern end of the woods and saw the most delightful sight, a dog sitting in the shade of a tree. There was also a shirish with some flowers still on it, they have a lovely mild fragrance. In full bloom, they scent many streets of Pune. The strong winds had broken quite a few neem branches and I picked some fruits off the ground. The grass has already started to sprout and soon it will become tall as the rains set in completely. I do hope to see it through the season, hopefully there will be enough days that are not too wet. And the next time, I should remember to carry a pair of binoculars.
It’s a blessing to have this patch of green to disappear into, to become a child again, full of amazement. Some days, poetry erupts while there and I have no choice but to note it down as it writes itself. These walks have never been for fitness but an escape into wonder and a suspension from life as a city dweller. And so there’s no thought of time and it ends whenever I feel like it. In fact, over the last couple of weeks three hours have been set aside expressly for this purpose and it is sacrosanct even if I don’t go out. Today was a little over a couple of hours and I didn’t realize it until I got back home. At one time, I’d have covered about 4 times the distance in that time but now I don’t even think of distance. It’s time, elastic time unbound by anything except having my fill of a space that is special.
After long, the thought of my father’s ancestral lands came unbidden, fertile green acres in a forgotten corner of a tiny sliver called God’s own country, which now belong to some stranger. And I found myself thinking it may be nice to have a patch of wild to slip into right in one’s backyard. Perhaps the sea nearby and undulating rolling greens as far as the eye can see…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.