Thursday, April 30, 2015

These people, unaware, are saving the world

He lives far from the city, and rides long distances to work as a physical trainer at a clinic. In the evenings he helps out at his brother-in-law's snack shop at another end of the city. And reaches home late. He has little time and little sleep. All his youth is spent in trying to earn a living.

In the middle of all this, he tells you shyly, watching your delight at the Gulmohar blossoms outside the window, that he has planted flowers on the median of the big road in front of his house on the outskirts. He doesn't know their names, but they look nice. He waters them regularly in between his rushed day, and worries they may not survive. The neighbours think he's crazy. But he believes we must all plant flowers and trees in our little corners of the world, we must help green the earth. He is delighted you understand.

You look at his face in gratitude. You do not know how to explain to him that he is also saving the world, in his own quiet beautiful way.

 The Just

A man who cultivates his garden, as Voltaire wished.
He who is grateful for the existence of music.
He who takes pleasure in tracing an etymology.
Two workmen playing, in a café in the South, a silent game of chess.
The potter, contemplating a color and a form.
The typographer who sets his page well, though it may not please him.
A woman and a man, who read the last tercets of a certain canto.
He who strokes a sleeping animal.
He who justifies, or wishes to, a wrong done to him.
He who is grateful for the existence of Stevenson.
He who prefers others to be right.
These people, unaware, are saving the world.

Page 455. Jorge Luis Borges, Selected Poems
Translated from the Spanish

Sunday, April 26, 2015

4. The Cycle of Life

26th April 2015

And then you meet a dear friend, Saleem, with whom you volunteered at the Animal Rehabilitation Centre, some of the happiest days of your life. He tells you that you should start documenting bird sightings/hearings, the life you observe in and around the tree. That it is called Phenology, the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events. And that you can contribute to Seasonwatch. You are fascinated. You pick up a small notebook with wildlife illustrations by Sal, and you take it with you to the park.

Today is a perfect day. You walk into the park just when heaven is unfolding. You can barely breathe.

And all along the way to your tree, you notice that the parakeets are louder than usual, and so are the mynahs and the other birds. A regular orchestra. Such energy, such joy! It has rained heavily again the previous night, a hail storm. Birds sing after a storm, they say. Because they are happy for the warmth of the sun again?

The first thing you notice when you approach the tree is the kites flying around more than usual. One of them is collecting twigs. One of them is practising glides under the tree, and then sits in the sun, enjoying the warmth after a cold wet night. Probably a young one? This is also the first day that you hear the kites call out so much. Normally they are very quiet.

The second time you notice the big kite with a twig in its beak, you are intrigued. You follow where it goes. It flies out and then returns in a graceful curved arc, and settles on a branch high up there. And then you see it - it's building a nest! So that's the second kite nest! You are so excited. You cannot wait to return next week, watch this drama of new life unfold.

Afterwards, you go to your regular breakfast place, the second part of your ritual. And you notice that the people there are noisier than usual. Much conversation, much laughter. Are people also affected by storms, do they unleash something in us, release pent-up feelings, cause us to overflow? :) 

After the Storm: 

The full series here:

3. Seeing

17 April 2015

And then the unseasonal heavy summer rains begin. You reach earlier in the morning, on a Friday. You were to be out that weekend, and you didn’t want to miss your weekly ritual, so you wake up early and come to the park before the mad rush to work. If you really want to do something, you will find ways.

It had rained furiously in the night, a regular summer thunderstorm, and there were water-marks all over the tree.

You are mesmerized by the chorus of bird song, as always. Parakeets, mynahs, barbets, sunbirds, kites, other birds you don't know the names of.

You had reached early, and it was still fairly dark. But suddenly, between 7 and 7.15, the park is flooded with light, fingers of gold cutting through the mist between the trees. It is sheer magic.

And you notice things about the tree you hadn't seen before. That it has an elephant eye. That it has "rings of Saturn". That it has skirts frozen in mid-twirl. You, obviously, are in love. :) You have even begun to press your face to the tree and talk to it. You are content.

You are amazed that every time you return, you notice something you hadn't seen before. The tree is always the same, and eternally new.

The full series here:

2. Home

March 2015

Once the tree is covered with leaves, you are amazed at the life on it. The bird nests, the insect nests, bee hives, the squirrels. When you come lie down on the cement platform under it, there is always so much happening up there. Which you never noticed earlier whenever you walked past, in a hurry to get your exercise. The tree is home to so many.

This morning, it is very still. And suddenly a breeze. But strangely it passes only on one side of the tree. On the other side the leaves are still. A wind corridor. Wow.

There is a kite nest way up there. And there are always a couple of kites sitting around, preening, at that time of the morning. They are getting used to you now.

A squirrel comes down from the neighbouring tree and battles with a piece of bark. From the place you are lying down you cannot quite figure out what squirrel thing she is doing. And then she runs off with something in her mouth and disappears up the neighbouring tree. You are curious, you get up and go check. She’s torn the bark off a twig and pulled out strands of bark from the inside. For her nest probably. Which means there will be babies soon! You are so excited. Nest-making season. New life on its way.

With every passing week, the dry leaves under the tree are becoming more and more sparse. The summer dryness has begun. You look forward to the changes yet to come.

The full series here:

Thursday, April 2, 2015

1. The Teacher

"When the student is ready, the teacher arrives."

All aimless wanderings kept leading here. Again, and again. The first week, the leaves falling, the second, the bare branches, the third, the first green buds. And then the flowers, all around the slender wrists. Way up there in the sunlight, visible only through your zoom lens.

Every single week, the tree is different. The ritual the same, but the god at the altar, revealing new faces every time.

We step and not step into the same river. We never meet the same tree again. And we are never exactly the same people we were. "At every meeting we are meeting a stranger."*

And you know that in June the dry pods will break, and the ground below will be covered with silk cotton. Which you would like to think squirrels and birds take to line their nests with. That unbelievable softness.

So much change, and so much calmness. Strong, sturdy, sheltering. Beautiful in every single phase. You unravel, and then return to this healing, this lesson, again and again, every week. The silk cotton tree saves you every single time.

My soul counselled me and charged me
Lest I be exhalted because of overpraise
and lest I be distressed for fear of blame.

Until that day I doubted the worth
of my own handiwork;
But now I have learned this:

That the trees blossom in spring,
and bear fruit in summer
and drop their leaves in autumn
to become utterly naked in winter
Without exhaltation and without fear or shame.

Kahlil Gibran, Prose Poems

"He gazed at it for several minutes. A tree had never before been so soothing to him. As he admired it, he could feel the anger and distress draining from him."

"A stroll in a London park and an encounter with a beautiful tree at least taught him that useful lesson: if you are pitched into misery, remember that your days on this earth are counted and you might as well make the best of those you have left."

Yann Martel, in 'Beatrice and Virgil'

* T.S.Eliot

Later posts here: