June 22, 2018

Decoding The Poetry of Dreams

This week, I had two dream-related conversations on Twitter and Instagram, which led me to thinking more closely about dreams, dreaming, and my relationship with them. I have always dreamed vividly, intensely, often a series of dreams, one brilliant movie-vignette after another so much so that I wake up with a million images in my mind.

When I was growing up, I observed that while my father and I had vivid, detailed, technicolor dreams, my mother and brother on the other hand said that they never dreamed -  and even on the rare occasions that they did, the dream was certainly significant enough to warrant them remembering it. I wondered if it was rather a case of not being to recall dreams rather than not dreaming at all. Dreaming occurs during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) part of our sleep and it is interestingly enough similar to a state of wakefulness; in fact, it is considered to be a vital part of our sleep cycle so for those who saying that they never dream, it may well just be not remembering them.

 I certainly remembered all my dreams and would share them soon after I woke up in a bid to hold onto them; if I couldn't share them, I would write them down at the back of my personal journal, paragraphs after paragraphs of individual dreams. When I was in sixth grade, I obviously felt the volume of my dreams was demanding enough to require a separate journal. (I was an intense sixth grader: I remember asking my mother if I could convert to Buddhism after studying it in social studies and writing long impassioned poems about karma and fate!). I recall selecting a notebook with an adorable picture of kittens on the cover and filling it with dreams after dreams in pink, turquoise, and jade-colored ink. I stopped keeping the journal after a while but continued transcribing my dreams in my journals. Even now, after so many years, I still recall one of the most beautiful dreams I have had till date: I am standing on a beach, looking out on the sea at night only to see a full moon rise in the sky, scattering its pearl-white beams upon the water and the boats lying nearby. The sky is a deep soft blue mauve and

When I grew older, I was no longer interested in merely transcribing my dreams; I was interested in analysing them as to what they were trying to tell me. I understand that many scientists do feel that there is no meaning to dreams but I still stubbornly believed that dreams were a gateway to my subconscious, that unexplored, uncharted terrain, which saw and understood the bigger picture of things. Why was I constantly fighting with a girl who looked like me in a yellow dress? Why did I frequently find myself unable to run? I would consult a book of dream symbols and then later trawl through the myriad dream interpretation sites online to understand what my dreams could be telling me about myself. Was the fight an internal battle within myelf? Did the inability to run represent a lack of self confidence?

There is a diversity of modern scholarship and research done into the world of dreams along with the age-old Freudian and Jungian schools of dream interpretation.It is widely agreed upon that dreams are definitely important for one's emotional health (again, even if you do not recall dreams, it is assumed that your mind still dreams). What I have understood is that it is the mind's way of processing the vast amount of information it gathers from various stimuli throughout the day. I have often found it bizarre and amusing as to how I will find myself encountering persons or places that I have not thought of for months or years and suddenly will experience meeting or visiting them in my dreams. Our minds are these incredible libraries and repositories of all our memories, thoughts, associations, and yearnings and it is actually staggering to think that there are galaxies upon galaxies of narratives that the mind can fabricate from vast amount of material available to it.

Although I do occasionally consult dream symbol websites and their ilk, I have come to believe that the only person who can decode your dreams is - you. If dreams are poems that your mind writes, then only you will be able to mine the meanings from their words. Only you can make sense of what the subconscious via the medium of dreams is seeking to communicate to you. Only you can know and appreciate the meaning behind the layers of symbols and associations and jigsaw them together into something you will appreciate and understand.

I still dream intensely, lushly, profusely but the trouble is I cannot recall the majority of my dreams these days. The terrible habit of immediately reaching for the phone as soon as I wake up means that the series of images in my dreams are replaced by the ones I see on my phone. I can't even remember them a few hours later, let alone thinking of writing them down in my journal later that day.

I wish I did take the time out to remember them regularly because I feel that our subconscious mind is a storyteller, mentor, and therapist and more; it advises, it whispers messages, it soothes, it entertains. Sometimes, I see the core truths of my life so seamlessly weave into a pattern in my dreams and I find myself thinking as to why didn't I realise it before? My dreams are the only space where in fact these core truths can manifest. And then I wake up and find myself searching for those truths, those utter moments of clarity - but they have vanished and only traces of that truth linger in my mind, like brilliant shards of a vase found in ruins and which can no longer be reconstituted into what it once was.

May 7, 2018

Bangalore's Hebbal Lake: When Enchantment Came Calling

The beach at Lake Superior

I still remember the first time I was in awe of a lake. We had been driving around Upper Michigan for a few days back in 2014, cutting through vineyards, desolate pine-tree thick landscapes, icy, tumbling rivers, and of course, the Great Lakes. Up till then, for me, the Great Lakes earlier had simply been a famous cluster of distinctive blue shapes on a map and to imagine that we were travelling around - lakes - was difficult to grasp for they did not seem to me as much lakes as captive seas. And indeed, as we stood below a cirrus-streaked blue sky on the shores of Lake Superior, I realised that lakes too have beaches although they were not as distinct or prominent as those of the sea. I recall standing there, gazing into the hypnotic endless sea as it merged with that of the sky, realising that I would never again see lakes as I once used to do.

Hebbal Lake

Bangalore, of course, is the city of lakes: beautiful lakes, ghost lakes, dying lakes, lakes on fire. What was once home to over two hundred eight lakes have now dangerously dwindled to only fifteen healthy ones, the remaining ones sewage fed. It made me think more about the idea behind healthy lakes, what is it that makes a lake healthy. If the lakes are being pushed beyond their limits, ravaged beyond description, local citizenship initiatives here are taking the mantle of restoring and rejuvenating lakes to promising results. Afroz Shah's incredible clean-up operation at Versova Beach, Mumbai and the subsequent arrival of the Olive Ridley turtles to nest after over a decade is a testament to the difference a noticeable change in the environment makes to its inhabitants and how they respond to it. Given the hugely important role that lakes play in Bangalore's heritage, water supply, and indeed its very character since its inception, it is so imperative that every effort be taken to preserve them. The apocalyptic sight of the Bellandur lake on fire, breathing ugly white foam should be enough of a frightening deterrent.


After moving here to Bangalore, I have visited Ulsoor Lake several times as well as paid a trip to Sankey Tank. Yesterday, though, it being a Sunday and having been in a lackluster mood all week, I wished to venture out a little further to Hebbal Lake Park, which fringes the Hebbal Lake. The park itself is not very big but it was crammed nevertheless with visitors, couples mostly, enjoying their quiet time as they sat on stone benches overlooking the rippled waters. Families played tag and badminton on a rectangle of lawn while there were several those walking around with a camera undoubtedly there to capture the lake at sunset, much like me. I was sorry to see though that the visitors had no qualms in scattering their rubbish all across the place as well as towards the lake edges too despite the presence of rubbish bins. The sight of washed up plastic bottles, chip packets, discarded paper cups, and more was an eye sore and more.

Yet such was the beauty of the lake and its surroundings that I found myself lost in contemplating it. The seemingly embroidered dense thicket of leaves fringing its edges, I could only gaze in delight at  the still sleeping fuschia candle-buds of lotuses emerging from a city of lilypads in the middle of the lake. As we walked on the lake edge, hearing the lake and the birds, the copper-pods, gulmohur, jacaranda, and jarula showering bright yellow, red, purple, and pink blooms upon our heads, I was disappointed to reach the end. But there was a magical lush bougainvillea tunnel to console us, the paper bougainvillea carpet crunching below our soles. On the other side of the park, after navigating some ugly construction, we spotted a distant cluster of reed-covered shore and islands in which sat a pair of ducks.A shining black cormorant swam and hunted, briefly disappearing into the water before triumphantly emerging with its evening meal White egrets shimmied across the water and eventually into the sky only to join their brethren on a tree at some distance away; an elegantly long beaked bird emerged from the rushes and patiently waited on the shores, undoubtedly in hunt. Dragonflies looped in twos and threes over the thrumming water and I wondered which insect was making a buzzing, tinnitus-type sound while secreted away in the leaves. Suffice to say, I had come to be enchanted, to be spirited away from the world of urban chaos, noise, and drama - and I was well and truly enchanted.

Fishing, Fisherman

Before we said goodbye, we made our way to the pier; a father and son were taking turns to pose against the sun which lay low in the sky along with one lone ragged scrap of a cloud. The lotuses were now beginning to open; as I bent down to take their picture, I noticed a fuchsia bougainvillea slumbering on the lily-pad, like a fairy, eliciting a gasp of delight. There was a man sitting there, fishing ever since we had arrived at the park; I watched him putting dough as bait and hauling silvery palm-sized fishes within minutes, depositing them in a plastic sack. I gazed at the water as long as I could, the jade-greenness of it all, trying to mentally crop out the eyesore of the buildings sprouting in the distance.

Would this lake survive? The presence of wildlife despite the rubbish and the construction despoiling the area provided a glimmer of hope. And then, as if to further placate me, a clever coconut husk masquerading as a boat began to float on the water, a nature's toy dancing of its own accord. It appeared lost in its own private world, a world which would always be there, if I allowed it to be, if I did my part too. I watched it for a long time and then turned away, mouthing a goodbye.

March 24, 2018

Of History Twitter, Imagined Delhi, and Bangalore's Many Pasts

Balabrooie Guest-House, Bangalore

I should have been a historian, or at the very least, studied history in university. I instead chose to study English Literature and Creative Writing, of which I only really enjoyed the creative writing part. I soon learned that it was one thing to read for pleasure, losing yourself in these imagined worlds but another thing altogether to study literature. I was loath to analyse and mine meanings from a book when in fact, I was more interested in writing a book myself. I didn't realise back then that being a historian would have been a perfectly viable career option or that I could have written a book and simultaneously been a historian: I could have written a historical novel, for god's sake! I now wonder whether I secretly perceived history as akin to a museum, full of glorious beauties to be admired and yet ultimately belonging to that alien planet, the past. Perhaps, my eighteen year old self also perceived historians as fusty individuals imprisoned in the past, constantly trying to achieve time-traveling when in fact, they could not? And yet, the truth was also that the courses I took in history during my undergraduate and graduate years were the ones I enjoyed the most.

I have been on Twitter for a while now, largely as an observer/eavesdropper on the incredible diversity of conversations taking place among those I follow. What has really fascinated me though in the last year or so has been my discovery of History Twitter, where I have stumbled upon the most  amazing treasure-troves of threads; historian and writer, Paul Cooper is one person that springs to my mind, whose threads are a wealth of information, his 'Ruin of the Day' thread masterfully knitting the past and present in form of the intriguing ruins across the world (fun fact: we are both alumni of the same course at our alma mater, University of Warwick!) I have also admired how yesterday and today come together, as in this piece by Sarover Zaidi on Chirag Dilli where she exquisitely wrote about love in Lodhi Gardens, "a map for lost lovers" in that wondrous green space in Delhi, where sprawling, iridescent bougainvillea trees rain flowers, the ancient tombs and mosques watch, as they have done for so many centuries.

Safdarjung Tomb, New Delhi

Looking up

When I lived in Delhi, Lodhi Gardens used to be one of my favorite places to visit in the city, aligning to my imagined notion of Delhi. For, before I moved there, I had honestly and excitedly thought I was moving to the City of Djinns, the Delhi which William Dalrymple so romantically describes and evokes in his book of the same name. I imagined myself wandering through the tombs at dusk, peeling away one historical palimpsest after another, immersing myself in the drama and beauty and pathos that was the city. However, I arrived in Delhi, fell sick on the first day, and developed respiratory issues which would greatly plague me during my two year stay - and realised  the stark difference between anticipation and reality. It's not as if I didn't explore the city at all, though. My husband and I loved visiting Hauz Khas Village: I recall the domes turning lavender at night to the beat of live music, the crumbling madrasa ruins crawling with lovers, families, and instagrammers. I spent a lovely winter afternoon at Humayun's Tomb (my favorite tomb of them all), taking around out of town visitors to Sadfarjung Tomb and the vibrant Lodhi Art District, listening to a concert one almost-winter redolent October evening at Purana Qila. Yet, as I recall these explorations, I find that all of them are underscored by feelings of melancholy or lassitude or plain physical unwellness. After a while, these tombs and buildings and histories simply did not matter because there were so many things to grapple with your today; the yesterday was subsequently of significance anymore. And we ultimately left the city, having no other choice.

I sometimes like to say that I came to Bangalore for the trees - and while that still largely remains true, I have to admit that it has encouraged me to start thinking about history more consciously than ever before. Even though the skyscrapers pile up and unattractive cuboid plastic-glass buildings spring up everywhere, I see tantalising glimpses of its recent colonial past in its bungalows, government buildings, and churches along with its much older ones in inscription stones, temples, and monuments, inviting me to unearth their stories. When I recently took a heritage walk in Avenue Road in central Bangalore, I learned about its beginnings, how KR Market used to be a pond and that the aftermath of a war saw it becoming a market, and how the founder of Bangalore, Kempegowda determined the the boundaries which once defined Bangalore. During the walk, we found ourselves inside a courtyard of Mohan Building, a building which once used to be a family home, a police station, a lodge, and now a commercial market housing silk and cotton shops; a collective of Bangalore-based artists, the Klatsch Collective subsequently decided to reinterpret its multiple layers of historical avatars through a multi-disciplinary art intervention by holding on-site installations, paintings, and dialogue last year. 

The Beauty of Space: Ambara, Bangalore
Balabrooie Guest-House

Over the years, I have come to appreciate more than ever at how heritage structures are finding new, alternative, exciting contexts in which to reincarnate. Bangalore has been no exception at this front and I am glad to see how beautifully restored and renovated mansions are enjoying a new avatar as hip boutiques and cafes and art spaces such as Cinnamon, Raintree, and Ambara and of course, the magnificent structure that is NGMA Bangalore. Yet, I am also painfully aware of the numerous heritage structures which are being demolished or under threat of demolition every day, the colonial bungalows springing to my mind, for instance. The other day, after I chanced upon and explored Balabrooie Guest-House, which was built in 19th century, I learned that it had been rescued from being destroyed thanks to the valiant efforts of local activists back in 2014. The demands for its demolition. had been made so that something more useful could spring up in its place. Does history always have to be useful? Can one not appreciate history for what it is: history?

There is no singular past just as there is no such thing as history; our many pasts are full of both his-stories and herstories. Last November, I greatly enjoyed participating in a mapping walk led by Aliyeh Rizvi of Native Place. As we walked from Cubbon Park to MG Road (the boundaries which once marked that of the erstwhile British Cantonment), we heard stories about what it once was, what it was now, and what it could become; we participated in constructing new stories about the city while reinterpreting the old, mapping a new atlas upon that of the old. And it struck me that I too was doing the same in a sense through my daily documentation of my experiences in the city on Instagram, a city which I was now starting to call home. With the exception of Muscat, I had never stayed long enough in all the other cities I had lived in to call them home - and if I forever remained a migratory bird of sorts, how could I invest myself in the city and its stories, let alone begin to narrate them?

Yet, in Bangalore, I have found myself wanting to narrate its stories of its past and people and architecture - and realise that there lies the making of a historian somewhere anyway. I place my ears against these ancient walls, like one does with shells, conjuring up the sound of the crashing waves and wind. And I try to hear what once happened inside those walls, what secrets I can persuade the matrix of stone and cement and design to reveal to me if I am patient enough - and how they will color in the blanks of a city which is only just beginning to take shape for me.

February 17, 2018

A year later on: Notes on Bangalore trees and me

I can't believe it's been over a year since I last posted here. Where to begin? How to begin? Perhaps, where I ended last year: the trees, the trees of Bangalore, which have given me so much life and inspiration and beauty that I often quite can't encompass it all.

The tabubeia are now beginning to lose their flowers and I will have to wait for another year to see them bloom, lushly coloring the Bangalore skies. But this is the thing that a year of Bangalore trees have taught me, gifted me, rather: there will always be a tree leafing, flowering, fruiting somewhere whatever the season.

The rain tree outside my apartment is bursting into the brightest of life-affirming green; all last month, I saw the old leaves fall in a rain of yellow, one by one, until the branches were entirely shorn of them and I could clearly see the eagles which came to rest on the bare tree limbs. A green-throated woodpecker has made its homes in one of the trunks: perfect black holes of nests. One of the three avocado trees is filled with upside-down Christmas trees of flowers, the bees and butterflies giddily orbiting around them. The imli tree hangs heavy with deep brown pods, home to several birds including a owl couple; it now splits its time between the imli tree and an enormous peepal tree metres away. A tree I discovered only last year, the lipstick tree offers spiky chocolate brown fruit to the sky; once, when I picked up a cracked open fruit, the red seeds spilled out and I rubbed them on my palm skin, seeing a cloud of red form. And it occurs to me that all trees are not the same, responding to seasons as they please: if one avocado tree is ready to flower, the other is patently not.

One of the fig trees is plump with fruit, a few hardly making it to the ground without being bitten or tasted. Last year, I learned about the flowers inside its fruit, the wasps who make it their universe, their dance manifesting into a theatre production which I was proud to be associated with.

I participated in a human chain last July where we protested the proposing felling of trees on Old Airport Road, Bangalore. The trees had already been daubed and marked with bright red paint, much like branded cattle, in my eyes. The protests worked as in those trees were saved from senseless destruction; yet I hear today that there is yet another protest for 600 trees that could be purportedly axed elsewhere in Bangalore. I hope and hope that these trees too will have the opportunity to grow and spread their wings of branches for many more years. What price, development in face of these venerable creatures who give you shade, water, filter the sunlight, and illuminate the otherwise drab urban landscape with their leaves and flowers?

There was a rain tree which I made friends with soon after moving to my neighborhood; I would see it every day, its branches in conversation with that of its neighbors, the massive peepal tree and the jacaranda. Last summer, it was cut down in order to make space for an Indira Canteen. The process to uproot and destroy its existence took days: the stump lingering for days before giving way to the messy sight of the massacred leaves and branches and those once indomitable roots. The Canteen was built, the space where the tree once stood unused. Do trees have ghosts? Do their ghosts haunt the spaces which they once called home? The peepal tree leaves look lonelier, the jacaranda when it flowers seems less purple in its absence.

The other night, as my husband and I sat in our apartment balcony listening to Chopin's Nocturne, it was as if the surrounding trees' leaves too had ceased to rustle, the trees as absorbed as in drinking these slow, languid, gorgeous musical notes. Moments later, once the music stopped, I could hear the trees rustling again, in response to the music that they had just heard. I went to sleep, lulled by this most sweet lullaby of them all, thinking how fortunate I have been to live in homes overlooked by trees. They are my guardians, my protectors, emblems of spirit and strength and defiance.

I would be so very different in the absence of trees.