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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
And just like that June is one week old! Today was a complete rest day but I was up at an insanely early hour thanks to an impossibly early night. So, a morning walk seemed like a good idea and the youngling decided to accompany me. We caught a sunrise out in the open after months. I saw the teen at a little distance and realized with a start that she’s grown quite tall! She suddenly seems more older and I think I must be too. It’s funny how the mind and body perceive age, sometimes very differently. We spoke about many things, mostly art and music, running, religion and she had questions about my life as a teenager. It’s interesting how memories lie below the surface ready to come up, quite like the dormant life that has been sprouting green all across the forest floor.
She mentioned some song and I remembered RSJ, a music magazine founded by the artiste’s father. It was one that I would pore over with a friend. Back then, the publication was novel and we would share a single copy but it was a short lived shared pleasure as life took us both different ways. The 90’s were a wild, interesting time to be a teenager; actually maybe it’s the teenage years that are wild. Thankfully, there were no mobile phones then and all that is remembered remains as sepia tinted memories rather than inerasable photographic evidence.
Since the rains, the trail has been teeming with life and it’s always in motion. All life is movement, every breath, an inhale and an exhale. Stop that movement and you cease to be, plant or animal. And yet, there is stillness in motion. I found it while running or swimming, I find it in asana as also in writing by hand or doing the dishes. It’s a different inhabiting of the body and mind, one that is not quite finite.
I almost went for a walk in the neighbourhood in the evening but changed my mind when I saw the crowds as also the disregard for social distancing and masks by many, especially the young. While it was heart warming to see them in their robustness of youth, it was also worrisome as it appeared as though they had let down their guard completely. I suppose it is inevitable after such an extended lock down and we’ll just have to brace for a new wave of infections.
This year has pretty much been written off in terms of old routine. The child’s school has nothing planned yet for the new academic year and she’s not complaining. Neither am I. Recently she pointed out that all her friends who had something that they liked doing seemed to have done ok during the lockdown. She has her art and found ways to adapt when art supplies were low. A lovely young doctor friend who was stuck in Pune began a podcast , check out Dr. Gypsy here on Gloves Off (Real doctors, undoctored opinions). A passionate doctor since the time I’ve known Dr. G and it comes through even now. We’ve shared a few runs and many coffees together.
As for me, I have spaces like this where I think aloud besides walks and yoga. Volunteering and a little work wrapped up the remaining time. While the head and heart remained steady, sleep got disrupted but that seemed more a function of packing too much in a day. I also found it difficult to watch any movies or shows, perhaps because the eyes were tired. Sometimes, it would take 3 days to watch one movie in installments! The last couple of weeks have been easier as I consciously rearranged my day to increase leisure time. And the woods have helped, as always.
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?
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.
Last night, the youngling and I were talking about the lockdown and she mentioned that all her friends who had some kind of hobby or interest seemed to have been very productive and relatively ok compared to those who didn’t have any special interests. She’s been prolific with her art through these days across different media and has also 1made album covers for her friends who have composed music. A couple of days ago, I got her some art supplies and she got to dabble in oil colours for the first time and it’s a messy affair as she learned the hard way.
The woods always manage to bring more time to my days. This evening I didn’t feel like collecting the trash and decided to walk or then just sit under a tree and maybe read a book. The place was empty as usual and I stood watching the birds for a long while. There’s a thicket where they make a merry racket. There are butterflies too but they are further inside the trail. I saw a couple of green bee eaters, robin magpies, fantails and mynas and heard the saat bhai (jungle babblers) not too far away but didn’t see them. After a while, I settled down with a book that I had left half unread a while ago.
On the way back, there was an old man with 5 young children picnicking. The kids had steel dabbas with poha and it was an idyllic sight, didn’t feel like we were in the middle of a pandemic at all. Also, bumped into the young man who wants to become a police officer and we walked together for a good distance. He’s quite the badass runner, does a full marathon in 3 hours and change. So, we got talking about running, his training and elite athletes etc. His training consisted of running up and down the hill in circular loops and he said he could do it nonstop for 10 loops. No need for any other training after that! There was a time when I was obsessed about all things running, now they’re packed in forgotten boxes of nostalgia, opened only when something prompts it.
It’s almost a given now that I drive around for a while after the woods chasing gulmohurs and today I found my way to a stranger’s house to admire a grand old baobab. The security guard there was kind enough to indulge my desire to see the elder one in person. The tree had such a presence, an energy which is quite inexplicable. It needs to be experienced. The tree had shed sticky flowers on the pavement outside the compound wall and was fruiting which is what made me stop. I’ve never seen the flowers until today and it was the highlight of my day!
Pune has never been this gorgeous in recent history. The current Covid crisis has crippled much and it seems selfish to take pleasure in enjoying the beauty in nature, urban and wild when so many suffer. But, I go anyway. There’s an urgency to pack in all I can before the rains set in. And then I wonder am I the only one who cruises like this, solely for soaking in fading summer sights? Most drivers and riders seem intent on a destination and hurry towards the residential areas while I go in the opposite direction. It’s a different viewing of the trees in the evening light, somewhere between silhouette and colour. I return as night wakes up, that too is a deep pleasure this season. Fragrant, cool inky nights with stars that come alive when you look into the dark.
The couple of hours out every afternoon/evening are a long meditation in a manner of speaking. Sometimes I think if I keep this long enough, I may become mute. Actually, speech has reduced significantly even as the written word has become more voluminous. Perhaps it is time to pause for a while and learn a mutism of the written word too. That’s a restraint I am yet to embrace.
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.
The trail was empty for the longest time and then one guy strayed on my path, he clapped his hands and said good job. What people don’t realize is that I’m selfish in cleaning the place up. It gives me satisfaction to see an expanse of brown and I can walk without having to watch out for broken glass and other trash. Today, I managed to clear only a small section, the bag got full and heavy as there were many glass bottles. There is so much rubbish, this is going to take a while.
The gloves make my palms hot, sweaty and smelly. Thankfully, there was sanitizer which sort of masked the horrid smell but it still lingered. And I thought of all the medical personnel with the PPE suits who spend hours together soaked in perspiration while treating those afflicted with Covid. Drinking a glass of water, using the washroom and other such tasks that one takes for granted would be such a challenge in those suits. I thought of the discomfort of all the women in healthcare who faced the additional burden of dealing with their periods, often bleeding onto their clothes. And I thought of millions of migrant women walking back with little to no access to privacy to deal with childbirth or menstruation. The ickiness with the smelly hands was no longer bothersome.
The trail makes me think of others, it is time away from the screen and in the quiet of its heart, I sift through the unknown faces I see or read about during the day. These days with the added movement of picking up trash, I find a different quality to the thoughts. Physical work always does to me, it simplifies things to their bare essentials. The mind automatically kicks into a kind of efficiency mode and I watched the constant stream of chatter in the head.
“Another bag full of trash collected. I shall keep the tiny blue bottle from the trash as a reminder of today. Make it a planter. There are many intact bottles, it would be nice to upcycle those. But how to manage the logistics and who will upcycle? Also the sanitizing and storing. Maybe the child can paint those bottles and we can put plants in them and give them to people? I need to put a little thought to make this more meaningful.”
Mr.C is usually there around the same time and we exchange hellos and pleasantries, he reminds me to be careful and I defer to his mop of white hair. He’s planted a banyan sapling near the peepals. It makes me very happy, the thought of a giant tree that will grow there. And years from now, there will be other people who come seeking the open and quiet and they will look at that tree. Maybe they’ll wonder how a lone banyan tree grew on a hillock. What they will not know is that it was an old man who planted a tree knowing fully well that he would not live to sit under it’s shade. Many are the lessons these walks teach.