Sunday, May 17, 2015

7. To be porous, opened


16 May 2015

The park looks different today, as you enter from the rain tree avenue. The grass has been trimmed, and the fallen leaves taken away for compost perhaps. The kites are shrill above the silk cotton tree, they are flying around in circles. You notice that strangely there is very little cotton under the tree today, though it had just begun to fall last week. The unseasonal rains have probably played havoc with the summer cycle of the tree.

Right next to the silk cotton is this small tree that people worship, probably the sacred Banni tree. There is always a garland of flowers around its trunk, arranged inside a string someone has tied. People walk around it as if around a temple, hands folded in prayer. Someone or the other keeps adding new flowers. It is amazing that circumambulation is a ritual that cuts across all religions. Did we learn it from the earth, the sun, this going around, this centering ritual of wonder and worship?

There are more mosquitoes today, and you have forgotten the repellant, darn. You need to keep moving around, if you want to stay un-bitten. :) The barbet is very active, going inside its hollow frequently, and the calls are loud, there are others on neighbouring trees. The kites are seated at their favourite perches up there, the squirrels running around as usual, as if their tails are on fire. :)

You discover a new bird today, which you earlier thought was the sun bird. It is small, has gray and black stripes, and its chirping is lovely, lilting, joyful. You follow its path from tree to tree and then you notice that it goes into a hollow in the Copper Pod today. The same one where the mynhas and the squirrels live. Such an ordinary-looking tree that no one gives a second glance to, perhaps you alone know that so many birds and animals live inside it, it is a universe by itself. You manage to get a shaky picture, and a bird-watcher friend identifies it for you, the Cinereous tit, Parus cinereous.

The small and the big, the tiny fragile bird and the powerful raptor, all living around a single tree, in perfect harmony.

You notice a mynah bird walking around in the grass. And twice it comes very close to you, without fear. It picks up insects fairly close to your feet. You are so moved. This is the trust you were hoping for.

Your favourite saint has always been St. Francis of Assissi, the patron saint of animals. If anything makes you feel honoured, it is the trust of animals and birds, a trust you usually win easily. They know you without words. With them, you just have to be.

Jane Hirshfield

I think it was from the animals
that St.Francis learned
it is possible to cast yourself
on the earth's good mercy and live.

From the wolf who cast off
the deep fierceness of her first heart
and crept into the circle of sunlight
wagging her newly-shy tail
in full wariness and wolf-hunger,
and was fed, and lived;

From the birds
who came fearless to him until he
had no choice but return that courage.

Even the least amoeba touched on all sides
by the opulent Other, even the baleened
plankton fully immersed in  their fate -

For what else might happiness be
than to be porous, opened, rinsed through
by the beings and things?

Nor could he forget those other companions,
the shifting, ethereal, shapeless:
Hopelessness, Desperateness, Loneliness,
even the fire-tongued Anger -

For they too waited with the patient Lion,
the glossy Rooster, the drowsy Mule, to step
out of the trees' protection and come in.

Page 45, 'The October Palace'

The full series here:

Saturday, May 16, 2015

6. Skin

10 May 2015

Of late you have been observing how the bark of each tree is so different. The striations, the texture, the design, the various methods of protection. The feel of them against your cheek. How they look dry, dead, tough, but hold so much life inside them - ever-growing, ever-changing life.

Skin. How it envelops everything we are. How we hope it will protect us. How we say we have no skin, when we feel vulnerable. How on our stronger days, we are tough-skinned, and nothing can hurt us.

How the skin shields us, but at the same time is also our biggest means of contact, connection. How we crave touch, its reassurance that we are real, we exist. How suicides experience un-real-ness in their increasing isolation. How babies that haven't been held enough never recover from the feeling of un-wanted-ness, all their lives.

And how we struggle to get the balance right, of openness and safety.


To be a giant and keep quiet about it,
To stay in one's own place;
To stand for the constant presence of process
And always to seem the same;

To be steady as a rock and always trembling,
Having the hard appearance of death
With the soft, fluent nature of growth,

One's Being deceptively armored,
One's Becoming deceptively vulnerable...

Howard Nemerov
Today when you approach the silk cotton tree, the first thing you notice is that there's cotton on the ground! And small tufts of fluffiness floating down from far up above, passing through shafts of morning light. You imagine the bird and squirrel nests lined with silk.

The kites are fairly quiet today. Though you follow the one with the twig and discover the second nest. You notice how they never come directly to the nest, but fly out in a graceful arc, return, sometimes to another tree, and then finally to the nest. Their guard is never down.

The barbet is busy, going in and out of its tree hollow. You wonder whether there are babies inside, or whether it is still building its nest. It is amazing how it goes into the small hollow with its head first and then flies out again - the hollow must be big inside for it to turn around so easily.

The kites are being chases by the crows. You wonder why.

There are mosquitoes now, you never noticed them before. You must remember to bring mosquito repellent, if you want to watch birds and squirrels. :) You must be still and merge with the background of their small beautiful world. And hope to be blessed by their approach, the reciprocity of trust.

The full series here:

Sunday, May 3, 2015

5. The end of all our exploring

3 May 2015

All these unseasonal evening showers have resulted in a burst of green on the park floor, new life germinating all over. Today you notice that the tamarind trees are arrayed in their tiny pale green new leaves, one of your most favourite sights. And under them, the seeds have started to sprout into small tree-lings.

The green barbet's kutur kutur call has been very prominent of late, you have been noticing it on your morning walks. The park is also full of them. Very difficult to see these birds that merge with the foliage and move around quickly, but their loud call is unmistakable.

The path to the silk cotton tree is now lush green, the grass has grown.

The first thing you notice when you arrive at the tree is that the foliage is much thicker. You cannot see the new kite nest being built. But there are more kites today, more twigs being collected. New nests are probably being made up there, you struggle to see through the leaves.

And then you notice a barbet going inside a hole in the tree on the side, its nest. And a parakeet going into another tree on the left. And while walking down to look at the parakeet, you notice a mynah nest!

The birds have a home only during the breeding season, and then they abandon them. Unlike us, for whom home arouses strong emotion, whether home be a place, a person, or a state of mind. Millions are forced to leave their homes and their countries every year fleeing war, torture, poverty. So many die on the way, like those on the many overloaded boats that so often sink in the Mediterranean. Others try to recreate home in a new place where they have no history, no known smells, sounds, tastes. Our nest, a basic need, our only sanctuary amidst change, flux, impermanence, all that characterizes our emotional and social lives.

The squirrels are up and about as always, in constant movement, preening their fluffy tails in the sun, jumping across the grass in that funny way, sending high-pitched signals to their mates. There is no joy like the joy squirrels bring you. You are very reluctant to go home. You want to stay here all day, with all this life milling around you, these tiny creatures with whom you belong. You do not ever remember feeling alone under the silk cotton tree.

You were always known for your love of travel, your eagerness to discover new places. You were the official organizer of trips, the guide for people who wanted to explore. All that has stopped. You have been discovering the city you have lived in for twenty three years, all over again. Noticing things you never noticed earlier. Seeing, like you never saw before.

There are calluses on your knees for having knelt down in gratitude, again and again.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S.Eliot, 'Little Gidding'

The full series here: