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. :) :)


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.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Listen, the Wind!

If you have wind chimes in all your balconies, you will always notice the slightest change in wind direction. You will catch the first signs of the season changing - you will hear the season changing before you see it. Especially if you have heavy chimes that require a real wind. In this part of the country, the South West winds come first, and then the North East one. And who knows what else, I will keep you posted. :)

When we moved into the new apartment mid-September I was disappointed that my favourite huge Buddhist-temple-gong-like chimes were not ringing at all. The ones facing North did, this faces East.

And then I return from travelling for a week in November and walk into my room early in the morning - and the chimes are ringing!! And they have been ringing all these days, on and off, even in the night. Gentle, deep, resonant, calming.

The wind, now, is blowing from the East, dear friends.

"Listen, the Wind!" - borrowed from

Sunday, October 30, 2016

14. What we need is here

It's been a while since you've come to the park alone. Everything rushes in to greet you. The rain trees with their canopy shyness, the drying grass, the tabebuia leaves turning yellow, the scraggly park stray dogs who respond to your smiles, the sweeper ladies who stop to chat. Your cloak of solitude still fits you so well, allowing space for the world to pass in and out. You smile as you walk into a grove resonating with barbet calls, content.

The first tabebuia impetiginosa has bloomed already! You wait for this all year. This brief blossoming that bursts into your life every Oct-Nov. You watch the flowers at your feet, flabbergasted that you are allowed yet another chance to see this miracle. What a privilege. You can never quite get over this.

Every time you are shown something new, in this space you have been visiting for years. Today is the day of the parakeets. All over the park you come across the rose-ringed parakeets. Lying down under the silk cotton tree, you look up and see one sitting on a broken branch, peaceful, watching the world below. As you walk  back, you see crowds of them on trees, sunning themselves, linking tree to tree with their constant flights up and down, their sweet shrill cries cutting through the stillness. A family sees you looking up and stops to stare too, "Hey, parrots!" :) 

And you wonder at how  you have taken these beautiful birds for granted, just because they are so common in this city. There are so many all around your house too, you wake up to their calls every morning. Any way you look at it, they are exotic, stunning. You wonder at how much you take for granted, just because you have it so easily, just because it is part of your every day, just because it has been given without being asked for.

You pray that you will always remember that you are rich beyond imagining....

Twice during your walk, park sweepers stop to chat with you, telling you of their woes, the struggles of their hard lives. You stop and listen to them, give them all very liberal Diwali tips, knowing how little difference you make to their suffering, sadly. You are always singled out for such encounters - in a group, you are always the one beggars will come to expecting kindness. Maybe you have "fool" written all over your face? :)

May you always be just as foolish, just as generous. May you go away empty-handed and happy.  May you never forget the unknown dervish.

The platform under the silk cotton tree is now covered with dry leaves. Soon, the bare branches - and then the blossoming in December. The wheel has turned a full circle. Here we are again, ready for renewal, yet another time.

Of late you have been noticing how everything you have read and experienced all your life is now a part of who you are, how so much has seeped into the very fabric of who you have become. You owe a debt you can never repay, to so many all over the world, alive and dead.

You have lit your candles at so many altars, each time the darkness descended. You have been pulled out of whirlpools by the most random glimpses of beauty, by the most ordinary of mornings, resplendent with squirrels and flowers sellers. 

You have been broken, nay re-arranged, until you have seen.

... And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.

Wendell Berry, 'The Wild Geese'

The full series here:

Parakeet picture from here

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

"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've been living on this street for 20 years 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.