A pandemic afternoon

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.

Slipping into the woods

Slipped into the woods this morning and it was empty save for the elderly couple who came to walk their beautiful German Shepherd and a couple of runners. I’ve been walking the western edge lately and it is a delight for there are more birds there. I saw two Indian thick knees today, last week it was just one bird in the same spot. Perhaps, there is a nest and little babies. They’re masters of camouflage, I didn’t realize how close it was until it took off to stand still at a little away.

In plain sight
Walking off the regular track, one gets to see and hear much more not to mention the pleasures of being alone. I walk the same browns and never tire of it, it is rather like chipping away at the same asana and discovering something new every single time. I hear echoes of what my running mentor would say, “master the route”. I never really listened to his words until much time passed for back then I chased new roads. Perhaps it was loss of running and the subsequent fallowness as I spent hours in passivity on the mat that allowed to go deeper rather than wider, look through a microscopic lens rather than a telescopic one.
The floor of the woods points me to the skies
Sometimes I think all the damage we inflicted on this beautiful planet is simply because of this tendency to look outwards and probe rather than being still and receiving when we are ready. We really should leave some things to their own mysteries, unknown and hidden but that probably will never happen. How much is our need to know, to get control over what is outside of us! Perhaps, it is to compensate for unruly thoughts and feelings that emerge, how does one stop them from arising anyway?

Walking through Pandemia

We’re back in a kind of lockdown again with nothing but essential goods and services. It’s been this way for a while now and the rest of the state joined in last night. But this time around, the announcement was like bracing for that sharp cold of the first lap in a pool rather than an unexpected shove into it. Pune has been under similar conditions over a week so this new set of restrictions hasn’t really changed anything. Quite a few people I know, including some dear friends tested positive and some even took quite ill but thankfully, they are recovering.

Life’s been meandering along highways and my beloved woods almost equally. But looks like there’ll be a pause in all that long distance driving for a couple of weeks. The woods may still be a possibility in the wee hours or early afternoon but that is to be seen. Yesterday, the youngling and I went to a hill at a distance. The sky was overcast and we got some rain on the way. The amaltas made a beautiful contrast against a grey background and the trail itself was mostly empty. We sat down and watched three men fish in the quarry below although I’m not sure they would’ve caught anything. Much of the water has dried up and it looks a little naked.

While walking on the soft earth with the youngling, I thought about how walking in nature with another person is such an intimate act. There is something about wooded spaces that naturally lowers the need for control and conversation unfolds from a place of vulnerability, like the soft underbelly of animals. It is a period when the whole and the particular, the distant and the near are both available in their fullness. Time too takes its rightful measure outside of the human constrictions of minutes and years. During the last couple of years, the woods near my place have been where I spent many delightful hours. That place taught me many things, continues to teach me much still and I go like a wild child into its calm, to wander and become one with it.

Lately, all the pandemic panic I see around me has been a bit fatiguing and it also feels like a regression into last year’s bubble. The kid has a pandemic playlist and while we listened to it on our way to the trail, we reminisced about our routine in 2020. She’d paint late into the night to the same playlist and I could hear the music waft through my balcony. We were a fuller household then but more withdrawn. Mother lived with us then. These days we have Speedy, a rescued turtle who is a temporary guest. He’s absolutely adorable and has a terrible foot fetish which makes him quite the speed demon. Luckily, he likes to just look and not snap.

Today, I had a surprise delivery from someone I got to know virtually. She sent a saree for ghadi modane (you could read an earlier post about it here) along with a most delightful book, The Living Mountain. Needless to say, I sat down to gulp the pages greedily. Nan Shepherd writes about the Cairngorm mountains what I feel about the woods in my neighbourhood. Her words make me want to skip in joy, withdraw into the quietest silence within and dissolve into all that I love. The book is on the immediate re-read list.

Throughout pandemia, I received many gifts, most of all the gift of connection from those I’ve barely known, those I’ve known intimately and absolute strangers. It echoes what my teacher mentioned this morning, about the necessity to connect with others as well as with oneself. That latter one comes easy through time outdoors or on the mat or then simply watching the sky from my floor. The former though is a navigation and one I probably still have to learn from my beloved woods.

On Being

Ever since going bald early on in the pandemic, I’ve maintained a short buzz, about half a cm at best. It’s convenient, fuss free and I don’t need to depend on anyone for a haircut. The funny thing about going bald is how it has made me feel more feminine than before while confusing some people in the world outside. Errands and walks tend to see me in pants and a tee which mean I could very easily pass off for a man. I rarely wear earrings now because of the mask and it’s no surprise that there is confusion. Inevitably, the gaze moves from my head to the chest to verify that I am a woman. I wonder if it should bother me and I realize it doesn’t simply because I don’t feel naked.

It made me think about what does it mean to be a woman? A younger me would have a different answer, one of rebellion perhaps. As an older person, I don’t consider myself as being limited to the identity of a woman. I just happen to be female among the many other things I am and do. There is no neat box that contains a person, we are so much more than our limited identities.

A few days ago, I saw a delightful little film, Dancing with the birds. Such elaborate courtship rituals with the ladies needing to be impressed and their almost ruthless practicality when it comes to choosing a mate. The male and the female of the species have their place and tasks to accomplish, neither more necessary than the other. While we lament the disparity between men and women, there have always been the free spirits who have sung their own tune, taken off on their own flights. Nothing could hold back the force of their freedom. I suppose it boils down to one’s own sense of personhood and how much can be tolerated. When the pain of remaining in a situation is greater than the pain of the unknown, there is the possibility of change. I’m inclined to think of it as being mostly personal. Change begins in the singular; its fruits though are collective.  Quite like a seed that grows into a tree, a gift to the future. The trail blazers have forged ahead, mostly solitary and with their sights on moving to a song only they hear. In the process, they also cut a path for those yet to come.

Another packed work day but managed to carve out an hour at lunch time to go on a walk around the neighbourhood. It never fails to energize and refresh thinking after long hours staring at a screen. Besides the urban wild, there were cricket games, a drum seller, some delicious masala dosa and  wafting music.

The week that was

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.

Common Hawk Cuckoo

This desperate cry reminds me of high pitched voices that teeter dangerously on the verge of madness. Not surprisingly it is also known as Brain Fever Bird, the frenzied sounds quite capable of rousing anxiety. While I’ve heard them often, yesterday was the first time I spotted one in the woods.

Watching me stand below the tree, a man came up to see what I was looking at. And in an ordinary moment, two strangers stood below a tree, listening to a bird before it flew away.

Date: 24th July 2020

Location: Wanowrie Forest Area

Getting ready for lock down

We’re in for another lockdown, this time a ‘strict’ one, starting 14th July for ten days. This time, it’s supposed to be even more stringent than Lockdown 1.0. So, the streets were chaos, the market place already out of stock and people in panic mode.

While the city got busy shopping, I went out into the woods and favourite streets to soak in some sights before being confined again. Some pictures got shot on the phone, the others remain stored in memory.

1
munias come by in the mornings

2
two of us reading ‘It’s like this, Cat’, a lovely book about a boy and a cat

3
tunnel vision?

4
the woods have given quite a few neem twigs as disposable toothbrushes.

5
even rot feeds

6
“we’re watching you”

7
sandalwood tree tucked away in a lane

8
Gods by the wayside

9
fast fading gulmohurs now pressed in a book

10
Maneck Hall is one of two houses which still has the ancient TV antennae.

11
zooming in from the balcony

Days of the body

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.

All things wild and wonderful

The last few walks were out in the cantonment but they have cordoned off sections now, seems to be a surge in infections. It’s a common enough pattern to open and close off areas as the number of cases fall and rise. Another change is in the number of ambulances I see in a day. Earlier, I’d average sighting to once a day, these days it is 3 to 4. I don’t know if they are related to Covid 19 or not but sometimes a screeching siren insists that the virus is the culprit. People are out and about but mostly masked now. The young crowd though tends to hang out close to each other and some of them are without masks.

Lantana flowers are all over the trail now.

The youngling chooses to accompany me now and then. I must confess I sneakily nudge her in the direction of trees, hoping to see her paint the lovely peeling barks of Eucalyptus trees. Another image I’d like to see on canvas is brown earth, darkened by rains and patterned with faded leaves. Our conversations outside home end up touching various topics and it is a relief that she has a commonsensical approach to some of the burning topics of discussion right now. She’s been dabbling in a little skateboarding and its been another learning opportunity to discover the physics of it as well as understand the biomechanics of balance. She’s a bit of an autodidact so these moments are good to plant seeds for further exploration. I’m not surprised that she enjoys learning via online school as compared to classroom lessons.

Some companions today

Thanks to her and other kids, I learn how her generation views the world. It’s strange how most of my friends and acquaintances have been significantly older people or then much younger ones. I enjoy seeing life from their viewpoints, one set for stories of a time gone by and the other for how they navigate a world that is changing so rapidly. Middle age is a good mean I guess, straddling nostalgia and curiosity about the future. It’s also a time where the transition into becoming an elder begins in a way.

I found myself on the other side of a presentation by 5 teams of young people. Listening to their work, evaluating it and providing feedback they could use made me realize I’ve gotten older and am viewed as such. As a parent to a grown up and a teenager, I am reminded twice over that there comes a time you have to gracefully accept that the young have gone further than you can go and allow them to lead the way
while you celebrate their successes.

Classes opened up for the next couple of months and I think I may have bitten off more than I can chew. Despite the virtual nature, they are intense and perhaps I should have stuck to just the ones I have been attending. I’ll just have to treat it as a two month intensive. There’s been more hours in my day lately and I’ve managed to include new pursuits which also help flex those old grey cells in different ways. Personally, the pandemic has rearranged my life in a good way, simpler and more fulfilling.

And the fig begins another fruiting

The balcony garden is quite happy with the season and there are fruits getting ready. Some of the flowering plants are in bloom – raatrani, parijat, jui, ixora, marigolds and rain lilies. One of the adeniums also strayed into a bloom.

A day in pictures

Morning visitor says my garden is a happy place

Propping up with bricks and books

Wore jewellery after months!

All bets off.

Green grave for bikes

Sometimes the resident artist approves of picture take-outing 😁

She sings and I ride on her words and the clouds, half a century away…