Saturday, October 15, 2016

My name is Richard. And I am lonely.

Dancing in Zhongshan Park, Shanghai, Sep 2016

A brilliant documentary on loneliness in the UK, very sensitively made. But it could be anywhere. There are lonely people all around us everywhere, do we notice?

Perhaps the antidote to this is this vibrant community life I see in parks every time I go to China - people of all ages, but especially the old, meeting up in parks in the mornings and evenings everyday and spending time dancing to music, singing together, playing cards, practising Tai Chi and Kung Fu, talking, laughing, interacting with younger people.

Such an amazing way to connect, to not feel lonely! Blows me away every single time. Some of my colleagues' parents do these things, and I believe it helps them keep fit and remain cheerful. Here's an album of my photos, you'll see what I mean.

Don't miss the short videos of the dancing and singing [the videos have a small Play icon at the top right-hand corner]. They let strangers join them too, I've always felt welcomed. :)  Don't miss the lady in blue dancing, so much joy.

Keeping Loneliness Away:

Documentary: Age of Loneliness [59 mins]
John Richards

...My name is Richard. And I am lonely.

...I even talk to the cashier. I won't go to the self-service things...just to get some conversation.

...I've donated my body to medical science.If I am very honest about this - this is quite difficult to say - one of the reasons is because, I don't want to have a funeral, and have nobody turn up. Because I think that would be the loneliest thing.

...As soon as I thought of ending my life, my thoughts calmed down. Completely calmed.

...I want to be able to give. And you can't give unless you got somebody to give to.

...I can't bring myself to believe that this is it. What if it doesn't change? What if this - is - it?

...It can't carry on like this, it can't be like this, all the time. And then you start thinking...maybe it will.

...What's the longest you have been in this room and not seen anyone? Two weeks.

...I think I only need maybe for someone to come and see me. Maybe for a couple of hours. Maybe once or twice a week.

...One of the reasons that I am so pleased to be doing this [interview] is because of the company. It's nice to have people here.

From here:

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


"Oh, the Rudrapalaash is back! Which means September is here!!"

"So if the Rudrapalaash doesn't come, will there be no September?"

"Oh ya.....we may go directly to October!"

:) :) :)

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.


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:

* Teddy Macker, poem here.

Saturday, February 27, 2016


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)

​Centrolobium (a pic of how the seed looks when green): ​

Thursday, February 18, 2016


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,

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: