Tag Archives: birds

The Missing Koel and a Quiet Dawn

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It was unusually quiet this morning. The koels have abandoned the treetops that encircled our building.  I miss their crazed, relentless cooing, their jugalbandis. I wait for them to return home. But, do they think it is? They are free birds. They have wings. And, the skies beckon them, as much as other climes and new, strange, faraway lands. Who can stop them? The kingfisher, with his striking turquoise feathers, his ever-watchful gaze, his wedge-shaped, eager beak, poised to hunt for the little fish swimming furiously about in the pond beneath the gazebo, is a silent operator. He perches on the wooden fence which encloses the pond, gazes at the water hopefully, and before you know it, flies off with a wriggling fry held firmly in its beak.

With the koel gone missing, the raucous seven sisters have begun to babble even more gregariously. Such attention-seeking birds they are! I greet them as I walk, and as they hop about. Even their boisterousness doesn’t make up for the vacuum the koel’s departure has created. The sun is shy, peeping out hesitantly, its rays warming up my skin, where the morning chill has settled and made it dry. As it rises, slowly, a glowing ball of fire, I’m on my little terrace, reading aloud from a copy of ‘Asvashtha Shatakaachi Kavita’ by Vasant Abaji Dahake. Rich, metaphorical verse, which I have discovered late. Hopefully, not too late. I could read these poems all morning, if I could, but chores beckon.

A new early morning chore is sweeping the inert bodies of scores of tiny black insects, who had come visiting last night, lured by the fluorescence of the night lamps. They have been arriving at dusk, swarms of tiny black specks, drawn magnetically to the luminosity. They offer their all to their passionate interlude with light, giving up their lives, as they make love to the glow, fall to the ground, and are reduced to dust. More arrive, unfazed, night after night, and are deceived by the very light whose seduction holds something irresistible. They find gaps in closed windows, tap their miniscule mouths on the glass, begging to be let in, and squeeze their bodies inside, to hover about the glowing bulbs, to collectively serenade their common lover. In vain. Or perhaps, it is their chosen way to depart. While in the throes of passion. From light to darkness, and towards light again. Who knows?

Today, the temple courtyard is quiet too. The ektari is silent. The chorus–its collective voice–has been hushed. No kirtans. No bhajans. I should welcome the silence. But, strange as it may seem, I actually missed the discordant morning notes. Chaos has its way of making one get used to it. So, when you get some reprieve, that too requires getting used to. Even as I write this, and I know I’m managing it because these words have come out of the peace that has descended, I’m already loving it.

A raven is croaking. Cr-r-ruck, it goes. It’s time this black, mysterious bird got a chance to make itself heard. Tomorrow, the koel may return…

Today’s #writing quote: “You see things; and say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?” GEORGE BERNARD SHAW

Breakfast: Saboodana Khichdi. Khichdi, yes. Not insipid, convalescent food this. The dish was hot, and soft, and had just the right spice. Seriously yummy. Ginger tea is a great accompaniment.

Today’s alphabet: S: In my encyclopaedia of household things, S stands for Steamer: A three-tier, steel utensil, that has halved my cooking time, as it helps me serve piping hot meals, and retains the crispness and flavour of the vegetables.

On my mind: Marie Kondo and her Kon Mari clean-up method. The wardrobe needs a massive overhaul. Long pending.

Books to read: The racy thriller I’m currently editing, another chapter from: Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, a chapter from Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, and I so look forward to choosing a new novel from my long wishlist.

Thought: I read the headlines today, as I ate my breakfast. The khichdi is my body now; the headlines–brutal, sad, euphoric–have settled somewhere deep inside. They will germinate someday. Some words bloom late. Or only in a particular season. I’ll wait.

 

 

 

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Cool Pune and An Amusing Ride

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We relocated to Pune this week. The moment I announced the shift, my WhatsApp groups saw a deluge of Puneri jokes. The groups had assumed that I had, by virtue of having made the move physically , shed my Mumbai hide overnight and grown prickly skin. They told me I would now be transformed into a benignly edgy, crotchety creature,  (the stereotype immortalised by many a writer), who would shut out the world between 1pm -4 pm, who would not take kindly to gatecrashers or unsolicited advice, put up signboards that act as mood indicators, outside my door, and not balk at calling a spade a spade or whatever I deemed fit. ‘How wonderful’, I thought, grinning from ear to ear, though  I had just about begun to breathe the fresh, cool air of Pune and it had yet to invade my cells and alter my character.

When we considered living in Undri, I was largely fascinated by its name. Undir, in Marathi, means mouse. Undri sounds similar, and in local dialect, means mice. I pictured a place swarming with mice, and needing the services of the Pied Piper. Later, I realised that my neighbouring village was Manjri, meaning ‘cats’, in Marathi. So, the cat and mouse game had probably been played many times over, with the cats from Manjri having chased the mice from Undri round the clock. How  many of the rodents escaped, only time will tell, as I haven’t lived here long enough to know if I’ll have murine visitors scurrying about.

As of now, it’s the birds that wake me up every morning, before the alarm goes off. Flocks of bright green squawking parrots swoop down on trees, black sunbirds rattle off rapidly, their purplish, glistening wings, shiny spots in the foliage, fan-tailed birds dance about, cuckoos  perform a jugalbandi and a gaggle of brownish grey seven sisters breaks the silence of the day with its incessant babble. It’s a concert that deserves an encore. The nip of the retreating winter makes sleeping in so compelling. But, the babblers are unrelenting. They remind you  to seize the day–the earlier, the better.

I was in an auto rickshaw a couple of days ago. The driver, an almost toothless man in his mid 60s, figured out from my phone conversation that I had shifted to Undri from Mumbai. Out of the blue, he said, ‘Tai, now that you are here, you will never even look at Mumbai, leave alone return to the city.’ Not that I had any immediate plans of returning but I felt rather offended by his uncalled for remark. He continued, ‘In the rains,  it’s so beautiful here, you won’t spit on Mumbai.’ Images of the paan-spitting population that has been painting Mumbai red flashed in front of my eyes. What had made the driver think I would join the gang of spit-sprayers, if only to prove my allegiance to and acceptance of my new abode, I have no idea. I was infuriated at his very suggestion but kept mum. Then, turning back, as the autorickshaw swerved dangerously, he asked, ‘Have you been to the temples here?’. I shook my head. ‘You must visit the KanifNath temple. It’s close by.’ I hadn’t heard of KanifNath. How does one keep track of all the 33 crore deities that Hindus worship or the countless spiritual masters they follow?

My ignorance did not go unnoticed. ‘You haven’t heard of KanifNath,’ the driver hissed, his shock evident in the way his body twisted and turned and the auto veered off the road. ‘I’m sorry,’ I muttered, sure that I had retribution waiting in the form of some broken bones, considering that both the driver and his vehicle were totally out of control. Only Lord KanifNath could save me now. He did. The driver regained composure and indicating that he had forgiven me for my crime, began filling me in with more details. ‘To go to the sanctum sanctorum, there is just a small opening, barely a foot wide. You have to creep through it, and creep out again, with your face towards the deity.’ I could feel my claustrophobia acting up.

I took a deep breath. ‘Tai, the opening is designed to ease the entry of even a man weighing one ton.’ I wondered where I would find such a gargantuan human being alive. I smiled. Realising that I wasn’t convinced, he continued, ‘Do you know how? Your thoughts have to be pure. Otherwise, you’ll get stuck.’ I thought of all the random wicked thoughts that invaded my mind at the most unexpected moments. I was sure I would never be able to pass through, especially if the deity was a mind reader too, and would be stuck in the tiny opening for life, fossilised in the most bizarre manner. I said so. He turned around once again, as my heart skipped several beats and a few two-wheelers speeding towards us almost collided with us. ‘You! You can’t go in.’ So, he knew about my inner life, I surmised. My thoughts, weird and wild. ‘Why not?’ I ventured. With the scorn deemed fit for the worthless, he spat, ‘Because you are a woman. Only men can go in, that too bare-chested.’ He was trying to intimidate me by adding the bit about disrobing.

I was about to tell him about Trupti Desai, the gender equality activist and temple gatecrasher. But, here, entry was not facilitated  by just your gender. It was the purity of thought at the moment of entry that mattered too. I couldn’t possibly vouch for Trupti on that count. Thoughts are such mischievous wisps. ‘You may try your best, but you will never be allowed,’ he emphasised. He had sensed my mental revolt. Lord KanifNath had blessed the guy with psychic powers. ‘It’s okay,’ I said, knowing that apart from my thoughts, all the extra pounds I had on my body would anyway bar my entry even if I played feminist. When I reached my destination in one piece, I thanked Lord KanifNath profusely. So what if I never got to meet him in his lair, I had managed to obtain his protection. As I thanked the driver for reasons unknown, he wagged a finger and warned, ‘Remember what I said. You will never return to Mumbai.’ Was it a prophecy? Only time will tell.

Today, I wrote my first signboard and hung it outside my door. ‘Do not deliver milk today’. It worked. I’ve already had my first encounter with a straightforward grocer. After placing an order on the phone and having it delivered home once, when I called again to place another, smaller order, he told me in an ice-cold voice, ‘We do not deliver twice. Call  only once.’ He’s put me in my place. I need to get more organised. Also, I love the 1pm-4pm time out. Puneites really know it all about ‘me time’ and ‘space’. I’m going to claim mine too. I am metamorphosing and loving it too.

But, there’s this one thing. The heart is still where the commotion is.

Birds, Walkers and Sun-gazing

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Today, I visited the garden in my locality. The sun was out in all its glory. My favourite wooden bench, that is right under a mango tree, was empty. The grass looked greener than ever, springy and lively, drunk as it was on the sweet early morning showers. The fragrance of wet red earth hung in the air. I sat on the bench and took a deep breath. Instant invigoration! Something moved on the tree above. I looked up to see a crow perched on a branch a little away from me, guarding its nest. A breeze blew, the branches shook and showered me with drops of water that the rain had soaked them with.

I tried looking into the sun’s eyes. Its resplendence blinded me, but only for a moment. Slowly, as I adjusted my eyes to its fiery brightness, the scorching rays seemed to recede and mellow and I was able to gaze at its core–a dull golden ball, with tiny concentric half circles around it–unblinkingly, for a few seconds. The dull grey cloud that cocooned it took on an orangish hue. My eyes began to water. This is ‘Sudoor Trataka’, a yogic shuddhi kriya, that works wonderfully for the cleansing of the eyes, while it centres and stills the practitioner. (Sudoor: in which the object the practitioner is gazing at, is at a distance; Trataka: ‘Ata’ means ‘to roam’ and ‘Trayate’ means ‘to protect’. So, ‘Trataka’ is an act, which protects the mind from roaming constantly.) This needs to be practised with caution, as sunlight is very powerful, and befriending the sun does not mean being under its glare at any odd time. It’s best done before 9 am in the morning and after 4 pm in the evening,  when the rays are friendly and mellower. Another way to gaze at the sun for a longer time is to look at it through a green leaf.

As I dabbed my eyes, the cloud covered the sun and it began to play hide and seek with me. A strong breeze blew and the dry leaves strewn across the green carpet started doing somersaults. Two mynahs and a baby squirrel hopped about on the grass, looking for food. One of the pair, chased the squirrel away, and took flight. The other ignored the squirrel completely and the two kept a safe distance between themselves as they continued with their individual searches. The crow began to caw menacingly on the branch above. I had done nothing to intimidate it or to be perceived as potential danger to its babies. I sent it a silent message that I meant no harm.

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It’s a calm and peaceful morning. Intermittently, the silence is broken by the pounding feet of the joggers. There are walkers too, with different rhythms. There are the strollers, who trudge aimlessly, staring into space, their arms limp, their legs reluctant. The talkers walk to talk. Their pace quickens or slackens according to the intensity of their conversations. They gesticulate wildly, their faces contorting, their heads nodding or shaking. The thinkers have their chins lowered, fixed inside their jugular notches, their eyes glued to the ground beneath their feet. They stay at the edge of the track, lost in their worlds, refusing to look up. The runners are an impatient lot. The sign saying ‘Keep Left’ tells them they have right of way, but the right side of the track is blocked by the strollers, who ignore the sign and couldn’t care less. To thwart these human hurdles, they make exaggerated thudding sounds with their feet and pant and puff loud enough for the strollers to warn them, to make way for them. They can’t do much about the watchers though, who visit the garden only to look around. They stare at the meditators, frown at the strollers, watch open-mouthed as the breath-catchers go through their Pranayama practices, watching their bellies expand and contract; laugh at and with members of the laughter club, whose raucous laughter shatters the silence; and glare at the runners, who push them aside to surge ahead.  Then, there are the couples, who refuse to ‘uncouple’ to make way. They are joined at their hips, their hands clasped tight, their fingers intertwined. They move as a unit. A good morning walk entails manoeuvring your body through the spaces between, knowing when to twist and turn or move aside and ahead.

The cloud has covered the sun completely. It gets darker. Monsoon showers, during the month of Shravan, have a peculiarity. There is this wonderful play of darkness and light. Now, you see the sun and the next moment, there is a downpour. By the time you open your umbrella, the sun is out again.

A cool breeze caresses my face. The squirrel and mynah are nowhere to be seen. A stray dog has sauntered in, escaping the watchman’s eye. It licks its brown coat. A yellow butterfly flits about on the grass. A large black ant runs about near my feet and disappears into the wet earth. It’s time to return home. I haven’t had my fill of the outdoors. Tomorrow holds great promise.