Saturday, March 4, 2017

Samsara



“If you walk down a street full of hongai trees every day you’ll never fall ill – the air is so good, you know? They protect you, like a mother’s womb.” Says the old park sweeper, the friend of my mornings.


*

All those years of reading various philosophies, so much poetry, wandering alone, observing. Maybe they prepared me to be this person walking down the entire length of a street looking up and smiling, following a squirrel as it moves from one hongai treetop to the next, not worried about anyone watching.

Yes, I am an idiot. But I am prone to ecstasy.  :)

I am slowly beginning to understand the swirling dervishes....

*




















Coming across a small tree full of red small clustered blooms in the park, literally quivering with hundreds of birds chirping and jumping from branch to branch, I stop in surprise. Who are they? What is this tree? Then I see an old man also watching this miracle along with me, and ask him if he knows. [I have decided I will not hesitate to talk to strangers anymore. We share the same planet – isn’t that introduction enough?]

And he tells me this amazing thing, lapsing into the local language – these birds come every year only when this tree blooms. He doesn’t know the name of the tree or the birds – but he knows that there are three of these trees in this park, and a couple in Lal Bagh. And he picks up a flower and shows me how it is filled with water, literally.

We watch this amazing sight for a while, standing together under a canopy of bird chirping, and then go our separate ways, hoping to be around next year to see this again.[With the help of friends, I find out that the tree is Schotia brachypetala and the birds the migratory gray-headed starling, or chestnut-tailed starling. They pass through Bangalore every year in this season.]

Twenty-six years of familiarity, and yet a city can still hold so much magic, revealing new sides, new wonders. Just like all the people I think I know since years ......


*

The season is changing, so visibly. The dry leaves of the mahogany and the hongai fill up the streets. And the new leaves are budding, opening, resplendent in the perfect light. The rain trees are already filled with fresh green oily leaves shining in the sun, their delicate pink filament-like flowers nearly lost among the green. The yellow tabebuias are going crazy lining our streets with gold, and the pink ones have just begun.

To think I am still here, yet another year, to see all this. How did I get so lucky? So many did not make it.

"How terribly sad it was that people are made in such a way that they get used to something as extraordinary as living." 

Jostein Gaarde

 *





















All around I see people dreaming of leaving the city and living peacefully in a quiet place far away, away from all this madness. But I seem to revel in it. I don't want to go away. I am peaceful right here.

I walk among crowds, listening to barbets and random bits of conversations, rubbing shoulders with strangers, aching for their loneliness, their myriad hopes for a better life, their thirst for connection and belonging, doing what I can to help make the journey a little bit easier, and feel like a drop of water returned to its ocean*.

I find my Zen in the middle of the market place.

*

"How can one prevent a drop of water from ever drying up?*
By throwing it back into the sea."

from the film Samsara by Pan Nalin

Saturday, February 18, 2017

You give, you take

























For you, Patrick

However loud the sounds around, you can always tune into your own station. Try it. Like I am always tuned into barbet station. :) :) Wherever I am in Bangalore, above the loud traffic sounds, I can still identify a barbet. You can always hear what you want to hear. I hear birds. I hear barbets. The city is still a magical place for me.

Listen/see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6IpU_dLropY

The white-cheeked barbets live only in the green area in the map above, in the entire world. Imagine! They are frugivorous, and can be found all over Bangalore. Proof that we still have so many fruit-bearing trees.

*
 



















Patrick used to talk to me non-stop, in French, during my monthly haircut. Stories about the South of France, his high-spirited mother and her many sayings, his grandfather who could predict the Mistral by the colour of the sky, his own wanderings alone, life lessons. And he used to teach me Tai Chi in the mornings in the park, the ancient martial art. Explaining so beautifully, in French, how everything about Tai Chi was about balance. You open, you close. You rise, you descend. You give, you take. And you repeat, again and again and again. You stand with your feet firm on the ground, and move slowly, gracefully, barely displacing the air.

The day before he died after a brief vertiginous fight with cancer, I gave him water. A small offering for all the warmth and generosity he never failed to show.

His daughter brought him the smells of his hometown, from the Southern coast of France.  Lavender oil, Marseilles soap made of olives, traditional sweets. He left with the smells of his childhood, half-conscious. Maybe that was closure in one way. You go out into the world, you return.

Au revoir, Patrick. I still practise Tai Chi every morning, without shoes, feeling the earth, like you taught me to. The barbets, the koels, the squirrels, and my Brahminy kite, they keep me company.

*




















The Hongai trees are turning yellow and brown, rapidly losing their leaves. In preparation for that most stunning event of the year, the budding and blooming of their tender green oily-shiny leaves that let the light through, each vein standing out in its perfect glory. That time when I go berserk, run late for appointments because I am standing by the roadside, looking up, smiling, risking death by suddenly stopping my bike whenever I come upon a new tree. :)

I can barely breathe. This in-between time between seasons, the expectation in the air everywhere.

The old sweeper at the park says that he comes in at 5 am every day and sweeps once, but in a few hours it already looks like he’s not done any work. :)

*

























I am doing my favourite thing again. Sitting alone in coffee shops, occasionally catching random bits of  stories going on around me. “That was SO not me!!!”, she says, her eyebrows and hands raised in total surprise. 

 "At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been.

...The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless."

from 'Four Quartets', T.S.Eliot

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Today




















I wake up and have no pain anywhere in my body. I can get up and walk freely. I can see. Thousands, nay, millions, wake up and can't say the same.

I am giddy just thinking of my good fortune today. And I know I will not always have it.

I am going to smile like a fool all day.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Moving through the Universe

 For S, who chose to leave us on a cold dark February, four years ago.

In the pond in the centre of the park, the tall white egret moves, quietly, without disturbing the water. I am fascinated. I stand and stare every single time I visit. His reflection is unbroken, not even shaken, but he's traversed the pond, feeding. I barely breathe, watching him.

Ah. To move through the universe like that, not disturbing anything …

*
The old fish-man who’s been coming to my parents’ house, for over 30 years. I ask him about how fishing is done these days, my usual search for stories. He tells me about men who go into the mid-sea for 3-4 days to find fish. 30 men cooped up on a boat with ice storage boxes, cutting across choppy waters. As soon as they catch the big ones, they sell them on Whatsapp to vendors back on land. But he says, I’d never be able to do that, such a scary thing, accidents happen, these are not the best boats.

That was a few months ago. But the picture remains imprinted in my mind. I keep imagining 30 men crowded on a small boat, ordinary fisherman for whom this is survival, not adventure. Lifted up and dropped down by giant waves, again and again, watching the light and the darkness come and go, surrounded by a million stars at night, and hoping to survive the journey, not knowing. I wonder what goes on in their minds…

*
“I don’t watch films about bad things or social inequality. Makes me frustrated that I cannot make any difference. So I just focus on my family and my hobbies.”

You can make a difference. Just by being kind, to anyone you meet. Every little thing counts.

And sometimes it takes only a smile.

“I’m walking to the bridge,” begins a Golden Gate Bridge suicide note he cites. “If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.”

I am walking to the bridge

Smile.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

To make broken things whole again

The Dalai Lama rocks. Literally, I mean. When he sits and talks, he rocks gently from left to right, right to left. I had read that it is a habit acquired from decades of long hours of meditation, often in the cold. (Though it felt to me like he was listening to some gentle swaying music of the universe, with internal headphones.)

The best-behaved thousands-strong crowd I have ever seen, the Tibetans listened in respectful silence to their leader telling them to aim for a victory for both sides, and to always remain warm-hearted in the face of all injustice. [This was a Tibetan gathering at Bangalore many many years ago]

This man, who every time he leaves a room, tries to switch off the light, hoping to teach by example, continues to tell his homeless wronged people to have compassion above all, to forgive wrongs one cannot bear to even read.     

As Pico Iyer says: "If the Dalai Lama were a dreamer, it would be easy to write him off. In fact, he's an attentive, grounded, empirical soul whose optimism has only been bolstered by the breakthroughs achieved by his friends Desmond Tutu and Vaclav Havel. Havel indeed, who became the first head of state to recognize the Dalai Lama, within thirteen hours of coming to power, has been a powerful spokesman for his new kind of statesmanship. The politician of conscience, the Czech leader writes, need not have a graduate degree in political science, or years of training in duplicity. Instead, he may rely on "qualities like fellow-feeling, the ability to talk to others, insight, the capacity to grasp quickly not only problems but also human character, the ability to make contact, a sense of moderation."

In all those respects, the Czech president may well have been thinking of a canny Tibetan scientist with a surprsing gift for repairing old watches, tending to sick parrots, and,as it happens, making broken things whole once again."*

There was no grandeur, no striking stride, no heroic gestures. But strangely, on the stage, the giant painting of the Potala palace with the huge snowcapped mountains behind did not appear to dwarf this smiling old man sitting in front of it, and talking about kindness being more fundamental than belief....        
                                                                                                                              
*from the essay:"Making Kindness Stand to Reason". 1998.
'Sun after Dark. Flights into the Foreign'
Pico Iyer

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Change of Guard




















Every day, dramatic events happen in the natural world all around us, unnoticed by us for the most part. There's magic everywhere. You just have to stand in its path.

Every evening, at dusk, there is a silent yet beautiful change of guard that happens between the kites and the bats at Cubbon park entrance. After knowing about the bats for nearly 25 years, today I stood and waited at the signal and watched it actually happen. The first bat coming out. And the second. And then hundreds and thousands, in waves and waves!

Before that, I watched the kites for an hour, while having coffee on MG road. Drawing majestic concentric circles in the blue, the setting sun lighting up their undersides in gold. Each of their marks standing out so clearly as they flew closer to the metro rails once in a while. Kite meditation, that's what it is. Accessible to us all day. As I lose myself in their gliding, I realize that this is the slow, effortless, fluid, unthinking way of moving my Tai Chi teacher keeps trying to teach me. And this endless repetition, the only way to mastery.

And then I walked towards the Victoria statue entrance of Cubbon park, and stood at the St.Marks Cathedral signal, and waited for an hour. The kites continued to glide even after 6, when the light had dimmed, but they were flying lower and lower, you can actually see them in the photos. Around 6.15 I see them settling on trees one by one. The Central Business District, and Cubbon park, has enough trees for thousands of kites to live, I realize.

And then I see a couple of tiny baby bats flitting across, but no big ones. Just when I was wondering whether the bats had decided to go to the West instead, the first big bat flies out, at 6.24! And from the Chinnaswamy stadium side, strangely. And as if on cue, one by one, bats start to fly out in waves from Cubbon park, from the left of Victoria statue, in the direction of Sivaji Nagar. Their flapping in stark contrast to the stillness of the kites' wings. Where do they go? To Ulsoor lake?

I know the place they live in the park, beyond the rose garden. What a tumult that grove must be going through, with thousands of upside-down hanging bats waking up and flying!

The time between the kites and the bats is just a few minutes, barely 10. Do the bats watch the kites come down, and then start flying? Is there a cue? "Here, the city is all yours, we are going to sleep. Take over."

I did it! I stood in the path of magic! I am batty, but I have star dust on me. :) :)

Photos: https://goo.gl/photos/t1GCDpqaqSKXPw5v9

Friday, November 25, 2016

Morning Ride :)




















Riding along the streets with a crazy vegetable seller sitting behind me, both of us cackling away like a bunch of wild cuckoos​, nearly falling off the bike with laughter - what  a perfect way to start the day! :) :)

Meena is this crazy spirited funny vegetable seller on my street, I buy all my vegetables from her. She is loud, speaks her mind, is extremely witty and sharp, and everyone on the street is afraid of her -  her nickname in the locality is Lady Rajinikanth. [Rajinikanth is a Tamil film legend] I once heard her call some random guy "Eh Kottathalaya!" [you basket head!] because he sniggered at her hero pose while passing by. And he fled, he instinctively knew it was better to not stop and argue.

But she adores me, for some reason. I get hugs and free vegetables and hilarious Vijaykanth imitations. She talks to me in Tamil and I reply in Kannada, and we understand each other perfectly. She sometimes tries to speak English and keels over laughing - "Ya ya!" I rarely ask for change, and she often refuses to take money - we keep no accounts. Our huge difference in class and economic status doesn't bother her at all. She introduces me to random people as: "There are only two Ammas I respect in this world - one is Jayalalitha, and the other is this lady here." :)

This morning she asked me if I could give her a lift to this place on the other side of the main road, she needed to pick up vegetables from another seller.  I was returning home after my gymming, but of course I said Yes. Breakfast could wait. So we career down the street, with her shouting and waving to all the street-side vendors and everyone laughing and cheering at this strange spectacle.

She has no helmet but she is confident she can "take care" of any policeman who dares to stop us for her not wearing a "chatti" on her head. [Helmet. Chatti is an earthernware cooking pot.] And I believe her. She is totally fearless. During the bandh [shut-down protest] a while ago I have seen her standing with her vegetable cart when dangerous-looking men rode down the empty street with flags, getting people to shut down the few remaining open shops. No one came to her cart or asked her anything.

We cross over and go through some narrow lanes. She keeps saying "Right!" for "Straight", so I have to take some drastic sudden turns, and nearly lose balance - but we laugh and laugh at how funny that is. :)

On the way she makes a mocking comment about a woman sitting at her doorway and making yellow flower garlands. Turns out it's her sister. :)  She doesn't talk to her - "She's so stingy!' I get that. Both of us are united by our belief in generosity. We don't wait for another life to give ourselves away. We know life is too short to be petty.

We come to her fellow vegetable seller parked in front of one of the many temples in this area, and pick up the bag of beans. Meena's got them sent from her hometown in Tiruvannamalai. Because of the money crunch, she doesn't have much cash and is now trying to get vegetables this way. But I have never seen Meena pity herself - ever. She takes it all in her stride, is always full of life and fight, and always has a joke for everyone. Even after she was hospitalized for a month once. She is my role model and hero, though I will always fall way short of her levels - there is no comparison between my problems and hers.

I learn along the way that she has only two meals a day, though she gets up at 3.30 every morning to go to the big market to pick up vegetables. Rice at 10 AM and then dinner. At the traffic signal we admire the golden statue of Raj Kumar, the legendary late actor. "Poor man, remember how he was caught by Veerappan?" I had totally forgotten that incident.

We are back near her cart. I stop a random passer-by and ask him if he could take a picture of us. He looks terrified, not sure whether he should run away or stay - I can only imagine Meena staring at the poor man from behind my back - and finally succumbs and takes a pic of this very unlikely pair of riders. Meena does her serious nonchalant film hero imitation. And then nearly falls off the bike cackling. :)

We walk back to her cart. A small flock of pigeons have descended on the footpath where her mother is sorting leafy vegetables, and she exclaims in delight. We both get excited over silly things. We pay attention. We don't need a lot to be happy. We are blessed.

I have no complaints against a life that includes such mornings.