Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The measure of your life






















For my friend Kamlesh

"The measure of your life is the amount of beauty and happiness of which you are aware."
Agnes Martin


You have been exhausted, pulling through trying times. But on your morning walks, along the same road you have walked for 4 years, you suddenly notice these beautifully patterned Bauhinia leaves under a particular tree. Only under this one. You stop every morning, unable to take your eyes off, each discovery filling you with amazement and wonder. Every year, something new in the same old streets, in the same old people...

A few days ago a gentleman out for his walk stops and asks, "Have you lost something?" You realize you have been bent over, looking down at the ground. You show him the leaves. You haven't lost, you have found. You tell him about the Bauhinia Purpurea lining the entire street, alongside so many other species. That it is called the Camel Foot tree because of the shape of its leaves. How the street has at least 3 shades of pink and purple Bauhinia flowers. And the leaves. How only this tree has these beautiful spots on its fallen leaves, each one a different pattern. Maybe it is entering Autumn earlier than the others?

You get carried away, as usual. This is just your thing - unexpected interactions with strangers, random connections that make the world a less lonely place. You would like to believe that there is still warmth despite all the distrust, and kindness despite all the cruelty. Every positive interaction a renewal of this faith.

He looks at you in amazement. "I live on this street and I never noticed any of this!" The tree is right in front of his house. He asks me whether I am in some field connected to the environment. No, I say, laughing - I am just in the field of looking, of taking photos of trees and leaves, for no particular reason. :)

And then he made my day. He started looking down and pointing out leaves for me - "Look at that one, so beautiful!" I take pictures of all of them. We are in this together now, strangers who have chanced upon jewels on the street. That don't have to be possessed to be enjoyed.

And then you part ways, getting on with your busy day where you drown yourself in work while the world outside breaks down, heals, renews itself, again and again.

And every day, the tree continues to strew down its paintings, carelessly, all over the ordinary street.

Album: https://goo.gl/photos/qhbsPFefH65VA7jk9

Sunday, March 13, 2016

13. Sarvam Annam




















At the end of December, you arrive one morning to find that the silk cotton tree has started blooming. Far up above in the canopy, small orange flowers against the blue sky. Which means it's been a year since you first started visiting this tree. What a year it has been. And what a ritual this has been. The only constant that has grounded you through upheavals, shocks, surges of delight, joy, lightness, heaviness... and as always an endless return to humility.

A thread of visits running through the calendar, linking month to month, preserving what remained constant within you through it all. Or did it? Are you the same person?

The next time you visit the tree, the cement platform is full of dry flowers, beautiful even in their death. The leaves are also drying up and the tree more and more bare. It's January, and time for the annual ritual of the rain trees revealing the water-like flow of their bare branches into the blue blue sky. You wait for it all year and never fail to be moved every single time. You stand looking up and weep for the sheer beauty of it all.    




















Having spent countless hours at the eye doctor's and hospitals since November, you are more grateful than ever for vision. For being allowed to see all this. You were destroyed, beaten down to your knees. And born again, from the sudden overwhelming submerging fear of blindness to everyday gratitude for the light.

Your visits to the silk cotton tree have an urgency that you have never known before. Every moment of beauty is to be taken with devotion, as holy sacrament, on your knees. As for the rest, you just have to get on with it. You work with the clay you are given. You play with the cards you are dealt. You get a grip and move on. You must go with the flow, like the silent trees with their fluid changes, adapting quietly to the unexpected. You repeat this to yourself, again and again. You know you will forget, your fallibility your only certainty.

February and the pink tabebuias burst into bloom, one month early.The kite nests are clearly visible across the bare branches of the silk cotton tree. You can now see them circling above against the sky, minus the thick canopy of leaves. A barbet couple once allows you to lie down and watch them, while they feed their young in a small hole on a branch very close to you. The trust of living creatures.

You have started drawing in a small notebook during your visits. As an act of meditation. Attention is meditation, and also an opening of the eyes. You are amazed at how much more you notice when you try to draw. Every single curve of a leaf, every serrated edge, every turn of colour, every spot, every vein. And for the first time you notice the wrinkles at every single place where the branches join the trunk on the silk cotton tree. Why hadn't you noticed it before, after looking at it for one year?


























One more person you know succumbs to cancer. A young life. You remember sitting by the remains of a young cousin brother, the first time unnatural death came to your family.

"...And in Sanskrit there is a phrase,
a phrase to carry with you
wherever you go:

sarvam annam:
everything is food.

Every last thing." *

You do not believe that everything happens for the best. Losing a child cannot be for the best. But yes, everything is food for our transformation. We are never the same again.




















All around you nature is changing on a daily basis, this season just takes your breath away. The yellow tabebuias bursting into bloom. The mahogany losing its leaves, its pods bursting open to allow its winged seeds to twirl to the ground. The copper pod laying out its yellow carpets, melting your frowns into smiles. All night the trees are working hard, and are changed by the next morning. Every morning you meet a new tree. Spring, at every corner.

And then the ordinary commonplace Hongai starts its annual transformation into the most breathtaking thing in the city, with its translucent red and pale green leaves, letting the light through, every vein revealed with an aching clarity that wounds you while it fills you with joy.  The sheer vulnerability of it, so like our own. You watch the short-lived magic while it lasts, and while you last.

That you are allowed such beauty. That so much has been taken away from you. And so much given.

Sarvam Annam. Everything is food. Every last thing.

The full series here: http://whiletheworldisgoingplaces.blogspot.in/search/label/Notes_from_a_Ritual

* Teddy Macker, poem here.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Seeing



















For Abhi

​On the ​usual path I have walked a hundred times before, to my Silk Cotton tree in Cubbon park, I come across a very strange-looking seed. With a huge wing for dispersion. I am fascinated. I send the picture to my friend Abhi. She makes the most beautiful sketches of nature, birds, and animals. She notices so much and she cares enough to know the names of things. She searches and tells me it has to "pterocarpus" something. A great tip to get me started on my research.

The Google search takes a while as there are so many kinds of seeds under this family. None of the pics look like this. But the curiosity will not let me stop, I need to know who this is. :)

And then I manage to find a beautiful drawing from this 1924 German book, where I finally identify it! Centrolobium Robustum. A Brazilian tree, also known a Zebrawood. I am thrilled to bits!!

A friend asks me how I see these things, this is not my first discovery. :)  I just look down and walk. The park floor is a treasure house. You find seeds you never noticed before and then you go around looking for the tree. And oh, the excitement of finally locating the tree! Trees from all over the world, now home to our squirrels and barbets and parakeets.

If you look, there are always new things to see in the same place you have seen a hundred times before. Nature doesn't sit still. Forever changing, forever new, forever the same at every return of the season. How is boredom even possible?

Seeing, the reward for looking. The most simple of things to do.
























  

Papilionaceae seed pods—Handbuch der Systematischen Botanik (1924)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Papilionaceae_seed_pods%E2%80%94Handbuch_der_Systematischen_Botanik_%281924%29.jpg

​Centrolobium (a pic of how the seed looks when green): ​https://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centrolobium

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Sudama

























For some reason the tabebuia roseas make me cry more than the others, I don't know why. Maybe it is their sheer abundance, the lush thickness of their  inflorescence, their reckless overflowing generosity. The photo is from last year, but they are getting ready for a repeat. Stood at the bus stop and cried again this morning.

Or maybe it is because they make me feel like Sudama returning home after visiting his old childhood friend Krishna, and standing dumbfounded at the sight that greets him. His poor hut has been transformed into a palace, and his happy wife and children come running to greet him, filled with wonder, their rags replaced by beautiful robes.

He had asked for nothing, and was given everything.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

12. Receiving























Blue skies
And dragonflies,
October.

A haiku you wrote many years ago. This October did not disappoint either. Many mornings lying down in the park, looking up at the sky, watching kites, swallows, dragonflies, all who know lightness. You return from a week in a cold dark gray country and spend a whole day riding around in the light, walking around, soaking in the sun like you'd nearly lost it forever, delirious with gratitude.

You come across this band of musicians who meet to jam under a beautiful gnarled Gulmohar tree every weekend, and you listen to their beautiful singing. They call themselves Folk Tree. Strangers come to listen to them at times. They invite requests. People suggest songs. This is what parks should be for. For the making of music and happiness.



You have been noticing how the park floor has been drying up little by little, post the south-west monsoon. The grass has been cut and left to dry, spongy beneath your feet. One morning you follow a squirrel carrying a big piece of dried grass, you know it must be going to its nest. You watch it jump from tree to tree, up there, to finally reach the hollow in which it is building a nest. You realize with a smile that you know the names of the entire squirrel path - the Aakaasha Mallige, the Gulmohar, the Rudrapalaash, the Cassia Javanica. :)  You know everyone's names, you must belong here.

The silk cotton tree has started yellowing in patches - you are surprised, you didn't know it has an autumn, this tropical tree. The leaves are more sparse, the ground below drying up. One day you come across a rat snake along the edge of the cement platform. You notice that you haven't heard the barbets in a month now. You wonder where they have gone.

You come in early one morning, before daybreak, to see how the park feels in the dark. The moon, seen between the rain tree canopies, beautiful. A few people already walking, jogging. You catch the first rays of light on the upper branches of the silk cotton tree. You stand still and watch a squirrel move slowly, sucking on Aakaasha Mallige flowers. It has just come down from the trees, and is feeding, not yet sprightly, not yet doing the crazy squirrel stuff they always seem to do, chasing each other up and down trees. You have been standing still and it comes close to you, not minding.

You wonder at its simple life, coming down from the tree every morning, taking what nature offers that day.




















You have been also waiting for the blooming of the tabebuia impetignosas every week, the pink fist-bunches of lightness. They are blooming, in small patches, but the leaves are yet to fall fully, it is slow this year. Last year was so stunning, so breathtaking, you cannot possibly ask for more. You will wait, and take what is offered too. You will not complain.

More dry leaves under the silk cotton tree. More browns everywhere. The leaves fall down on you in the wind occasionally as you lie down and watch the kites. You notice how smoothly the dark rainy wet months have transitioned into this light dryness. How so much has changed. You notice that you have been learning to live in the present, in the Now, more than ever before. More than ever you know that your imagination is limited, you have no way to predict what will come your way, good or bad.

Maybe this ritual has played a part in preparing you for that? This regular seeing, this receiving, this documenting of the Now. Your moments of happiness are less clouded by the future, the whatifs, your usual paranoia of loss, your perennial preparation for the worst, the conditioning of the past. Perhaps this ritual has synced you with the rhythm of the universe, the many comings and goings of things, all beyond your control. The only surety, what you have now, in this moment.

You receive each drop of Joy like holy water, your head bent.




















As the sun moves towards Uttaraayan, as yet another year catapults towards its end, you walk under falling leaves, grateful.  

The full series here: http://whiletheworldisgoingplaces.blogspot.in/search/label/Notes_from_a_Ritual

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Forever




















For Simone

A friend once tells you that you are the official Keeper of Seasons in this city. Maybe that is where you got your habit of looking for signs. The smallest signs of change. Of transformation. In trees. In the wind. In people. Like the solitary man in one of Henning Mankell's novels whose job was to measure ocean depths. He could only notice the distances between him and others, because that is what he was tuned to measure.

Today morning you walk around the circle of Tabebuia Impetignosas in the park, your annual check. The leaves have started to yellow and brown. They must fall, for the riot of pink to blossom in November. You notice that all the trees are not yellowing at the same pace. But you know that, the order in which they bloom. The first one that always bursts into a pink cloud has more brown leaves than the others.

You are thrilled to see that they have planted new tabebuias all along the edges, pink and yellow. So there will be new ones to reconstruct the circle of colour, whenever the old ones die. You are immensely grateful to the vision of the park caretakers.

The park is covered in dew. Crystals of light. The mornings are becoming cooler.






































All is well. So far. So much environmental damage, so many aberrations, there is no guarantee that anything will go according to the annual cycle. The trees are often confused. Like the rain trees forgot to lose their leaves in January this year because the cold lasted longer than usual.

So every single thing you receive is precious. Your expectations are set very low. Every joy a jewel saved from the wreckage of the world. The uncertainty of our futures. And sometimes the rubble of our lives.

















 



The dragonflies are going crazy in the sun. Sept-Oct-Nov. That is their season. They came in with the bright orange Rudrapalaash. And will leave after the tabebuias die, their short 3-week life. You wait for them all year. Some part of your soul must be in them.

You lie down on the grass and watch them fly around, glittering. White clouds move in from the west, it is windy. A brown dog is sleeping nearby, keeping silent company. Swallows and kites way up in the sky, doing their crazy somersaults and glides. Soon you are so still the dragonflies nearly touch your face flying so low. They are coming closer and closer. You are ecstatic. The trust of dragonflies. What more could you ask for?

This Morning

Oh, this life,
the now,
this morning,

which I
can turn
into forever

by simply
loving
what is here,

is gone
by noon.

David Budbill

Sunday, September 13, 2015

11. The Light of September




















Today you decide to spend some time in the less crowded, less "pretty" part of the park. Where things grow wild and the bats hang from the giant trees like dark fruits, their screeches cutting through the early morning stillness. There are a few runners you see along the edges, but otherwise you have the space to yourself. You slip on solitude with ease, your well-worn cloak.

And you notice that the light has returned. The light of September that you wait for all year. The crystal-clearness of it, after months of monsoon darkness. Under the giant canopies up there, you are in a house of dappled speckled light coming in from the East, slanted liquid rays.

September arrives in orange. In the bright lush burning orange of the Rudrapalaash that lines the streets of your beloved city. Spathodea Campanulata. Family Bignoniaceae. Poetry rolling off your tongue. You know these names by-heart. You know every one of these trees in the park, and some have names on them.





















When you walk back into the sunlight from under the tree cover, you see  them - the dragonflies you have been waiting for all year! The dragonflies always follow the Rudrapalaash - as you learned from observing their connection for years. They will be here for three months and then disappear. They bring you unending joy. Their lightness, their translucence, their dance of delight against the blue.

As your start the long walk to your silk cotton tree, the day brightens. The patterns of shadow and light under the trees turn even more magical. Under your favourite gulmohar-tamarind grove, the light is to die for. You feel your quota of happiness is over. Can so much be given to a mere mortal?




















At the silk cotton tree, it is pure heaven. The wind. The wind in the leaves, the sound of water. You are hungry, but you cannot leave for breakfast. The perfect light, the perfect coolness in the air. You want to stay here forever. You watch people stopping to admire your tree. You notice yet another old gentleman folding his hands in prayer, approaching the tree. You know that feeling.

And then a young girl and her mother come to the cement platform where you sit. Your overhear the girl excitedly telling her mother that this is her favourite tree, her best friend. And you smile, and start a conversation. A delightful time, listening to their stories, their love for history, for the city, for the trees. Such beautiful people.

The previous Sunday another stranger had come up to speak to you, another lover of trees, a foreigner. Who taught you how the age of trees can be measured, by arms spread across the girth, and how this one must be at least 150 years old.

Two new people in your email contacts. Funny. You have always been known to be a connector. And now the silk cotton tree is connecting you to people. :)




















With great reluctance, you finally decide to leave. It is 11, and though you had missed dinner the previous night, and breakfast, you don't feel very hungry anymore. You feel satiated, in this ocean of light you are walking through. Your contentment is complete.

As you get on to your bike at the closed gate, you cannot help looking back into the park, into your favourite rain tree boulevard. You get off and go back to the gate, and look in to the dappled luminous corridor, just one more time. You cannot tear yourself away.

Home. This is home. This house of light.




















Album: https://goo.gl/photos/P2j28cczGSvgkQaY8

The full series here: http://whiletheworldisgoingplaces.blogspot.in/search/label/Notes_from_a_Ritual