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.

Time and the Tree

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.

It’s a beautiful world

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. 🙂



A balcony view

One of the criteria in choosing a house to stay has been a decent sized balcony or two or three, mostly for the plants that come along with me. I’ve been in this location for nearly 9 months beginning 29th November. By the time everything was unloaded and dumped in the house, it was late evening and one of the first things I did then was sit with a cup of coffee in the balcony. Since then, it has been my favourite space. Yoga, reading, working, movies, chats, birding, day dreaming, sun bathing and pretty much anything that doesn’t need me tied to a place, all find space here. Lock down days were probably not too difficult simply because the balcony provided a sense of the wide open world.

The woods in front are part of the Forest Colony and home to about 20-25 species of birds as far as my untrained self has gathered. Mornings begin with birdsong and continues through the day. Sometimes late nights also with the lapwings screeching. It is home to a family of peafowls and I’ve been waiting to see them in their splendour but the camouflage now makes it hard to spot them. All the wild greens have attracted a herd of buffaloes and they are led by a man into its dark sumptuousness for a feasting every morning.

Pune homes usually have balconies and I look up at them when I walk on city streets. During the early days of lock down, I would look out at the few people walking on the streets and have an irresistible urge to wave out. Later, as I started going out for walks, I’d wave from the ground to an old man in one of the buildings. He would give me the most beautiful, toothless grin and it would make me incredibly happy. To truly connect, one doesn’t need a name or conversation. A smile is enough. Enough to reassure someone, enjoy a joke, set a heart aflutter, appreciate something or just plain acknowledge another.

Besides the trees and birds, the cloudscapes have been an endless fascination. They lend themselves naturally to reflection and in their shapes and shape shifting, there is a loosening of the knots in the mind. And these days are days of clouds and rain. While the skies are mostly grey, above the continents of clouds overhead are brilliant blue skies. Hope. There’s a lovely song, Both Sides, Now by Joni Mitchell which reflects on love as seen through the metaphor of clouds. Her closing refrain, ‘It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all’ is probably what says it best. If you fancy a listen, it’s here 

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Wanderings

The last three days were wanderings in the cantonment. I’m not entirely sure if I am supposed to be on those roads but no one has stopped me yet. The trees there are elder ones, tall and wide. They would have been planted by people who may or may not have seen them grow to their adulthood. An act of paying forward.

Still chasing gulmohurs

The gulmohurs are still raging crimson and with the recent rains, their foliage is a refreshing green. The peepals stand grand and many of them have a shock of pale tender leaves which will turn green in a few days and the banyan’s hanging roots have also sprouted shoots. The neem fruits are ripe and there are patches of them quietly rotting on the ground. This season sees a spurt in growth of trees and I’ve often felt as though they creep to the verge. But that seems to also be their undoing as tree cutters come and chop off their branches. Many lanes are strewn with these hacked parts and they release a beautiful tree fragrance even as they bleed. These gentle beings have been around much before us and yet they’re the ones that have to be tamed into order for our convenience.

swaying roots beginning to shoot

One of the trees I mourn is a babool. There used to be one outside my office window and it was the tree I looked at as I worked things out in my head. Tricky work issues, impossible personal ones but I found an anchor for the restless mind in that tree. It’s not a flamboyant species but there is a tenacity about their hardiness and usefulness. It was a problematic one for vehicles though, too close for the comfort of crazy traffic. A couple of Novembers ago that the tree fell in a storm and I mourned its loss for a long time. No one else seemed to care much but I missed the Babool every day. Every time I pass by, I see an unmarked grave, unknown to anyone except me. If you never knew the existence of that tree with a thousand tiny, yellow suns, you would never guess that it stood there for many seasons, long before there was a street.

bael

The cantonment area is old, over 150 years and many of the trees there would be almost as old. Most of the trees in my neighbourhood are young ones in comparison. Pune loves her trees and plants, atleast most of the Puneris who have lived here for generations do. There are many groups of nature lovers and eco-friendly living has many takers. One of the houses I passed by had a hen roaming in the grounds and it was such a delightful sight. It reminded me of the tharavad in Kerala where hens would range free and suddenly there was a desire to go to the land of my foremothers. Work is remote and managed via screens. And I find myself thinking, why not move to God’s own country? Lockdown flights of fancy. We all need our escapes, I suppose.

green wheels! this cheerful man supplies tiffins to houses in the area

The day’s ambling was a steady walk in the cantonment, it was a sunny day and I enjoyed the light and mild heat. Out in the streets, I look to the skies. Often there is a kite or two flying in spirals, effortlessly riding wind streams and as always, I find myself mesmerized by their elegant flight. If I were to be isolated, I think I would be able to tolerate it as long as I had a patch of sky to look at. As against this, the woods make me look to the earth and see life on ground. There is space for both. As I walked under ageless trees, I thought of age and ageing, how it is relative to the state and stages of our lives. In a strange way, the older I grow in chronological years, the lighter I feel, more childlike without the weight of tomorrow and a forgetfulness of the past. Maybe it’s the magic of the outdoors, be it in the woods or on city streets.

As expected, the virus struck close, we have three positive cases in the compound. Luckily, they haven’t sealed the place as yet. I’d miss the daily meanderings. Today’s highlight was this handsome fellow. Isn’t he gorgeous?

Oriental Garden Lizard

Raindrops keep falling on my head…

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.

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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.

 

Joy

Sometime last month, life nudged and I rearranged my days to include more physical activity and slowly it has settled into a nice rhythm of work and play. This morning I spent close to 3 hours on my mat, first with an hour of class with my teacher and then self-practice. Large chunks of asana time like this don’t happen always and when it does, it leaves me feeling really good.

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the post office is open!

There were errands to run today and the teen decided to accompany me. We both enjoy a decent ‘chakkar’ around the cantonment and she handles the music when we’re out. Often, we sing along and at times she gets mildly embarrassed when I get carried away. A bigger consternation is when I sing made up lyrics rather than the original one and it gets stuck in her head. A mild annoyance now but maybe she’ll remember it with a smile when she’s much older and I’m no longer around.

There’s almost always something playing while I drive, music or then tracts of chants I wish to memorize or podcasts. These days the drives are pleasure trips and so it is  music, the volume usually a tad higher than what it should be and I sing along without a care. Today’s highlight was What’s Up from the 90’s and a favourite as a teen. Something the youngling was playing reminded me of this song and I asked her to play it. I found myself singing along and caught in its sound so much so that I parked under a gulmohur tree to belt the rest of it out without any distraction. It felt like a concert right there and the kid was shocked that I could let go like that. Just for those few minutes, there was nothing except the song, the singing and pure abandon. I felt wildly happy for no reason.

And then the next thought was that I shouldn’t be feeling good when there is unhappiness and pain in the world. A guilt that crept in saying, how can you be so full of life when there’s so much distress and chaos in the world? Truth is even before the pandemic, there was much suffering. Just that in the lockdown there was more time to notice it. Homebound and ready access to news in real time just made it more visible and loud. If the planet is noisy with our voices, imagine what it might sound like if every byte had sound too. It would be positively deafening! It’s ironic that I add to the same strange online world that I look at in amazement. Much of the noise has a very short shelf life, the feed feeds on itself and never pauses. There’s also the fastest finger first syndrome which shouts first and then checks on veracity, sometimes costing lives but there seems to be a shrugging it off as acceptable loss. I watch the parrying between opposite sides of whatever is the discussion and its the intolerance that strikes me every time. For all the viciousness that is exchanged, there’s a new fire that rages even before the current one has died down. I see fear and rage feeding into a frenzy of anxiety, making it a vicious cycle and negating the possibility of reasonable disagreement.

So, what can I do? I don’t know. A few thoughts from some of the media I consumed play in circles, a sportsman’s statement of not being an activist but focusing on his craft, a Jesuit writer speaking about finding one’s calling and a French Tibetan monk who speaks of happiness as encompassing sadness. All these different thoughts resonated and reinforced the idea of individual action within the limited universe I inhabit, small acts of full presence. And it begins with taking care of myself so I can serve however I am called.

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The Sausage Tree is fruiting. I first got acquainted with this tree a few years ago through a fruit that fell in front of me when I was running.

 

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The flowers remind me of diyas

This care takes the form of nature, slow words, art and movement to feed the mind, heart and body, all of which have a longevity and stability, pandemic or not. Simple food that the body, mind and heart need for its well-being. I find time spent outdoors, on the mat, creative pursuit and in books that stand the test of time most rewarding in their expansive silences and ability to remain energetic. Most of all, they allow happiness as a way of being.

After the rains

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.

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managed to get one picture of one of these fast flitting beauties

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.

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white shirish flower

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.

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the good life 🙂

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.

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Being barefoot, one develops a keen eye for the ground and its stories and there’s always interesting things to notice. Barefoot heightens all senses for some reason.

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…

Slow

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?

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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.