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.


January 16, 2017

What Happened When 2016 Became 2017: Notes


The last post I wrote was about burning autumn trees. The last post I tried to write was about trees with pink flowers which I saw on a warm November morning in Delhi. It remained incomplete. But the tree and pink flowers have followed me here to Bangalore, which incidentally is my new home. The gorgeous, joy-making pink tabuleia plume the tops of trees, reminding me of cherry blossoms that I used to see during spring in the United States. I see the pink flowers silhouetted against the blue sky, carpeting the dusty sidewalks below, or simply spiralling in the air - and I smile.

It's spring in my heart.

What have I been up to in the last few months? I moved, I travelled, I did a road trip in Rajasthan (birds, mirror lakes, sunsets, haunted ruins, dogs), I stood on top of a mountain in Oman (smelling ghost roses), I climbed trees, and photographed a lot.

I didn't write much.

I visited Blossoms bookshop one cool Sunday morning and bought ten books. The first book I am reading is Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole, inhaling his words, as if I am afraid that they will evanescence into air and I will never ever know what it was like to read them, experience them.

Delhi is a blurred, hot, uncomfortable memory.

Bangalore is trees with pink blooms, trees that deserve odes written to them, rust soil, colorful kolam patterns, fresh flowers, sugarcane stalks, ice-cream hued homes, the smell of old books, streets of art, and snacks wrapped in banana leaves.

I know there is much more to it. And I am waiting to explore.

But for now, I leave you with this. Happy 2017 everyone.






September 20, 2016

Of Autumn Nostalgia, September, and The Blank Spaces Between Chapters

 

I remember the first time I saw trees in fiery autumn finery. It was late September; I was a newly arrived undergraduate at the university that I was attending in West Midlands, United Kingdom. As I battled all-consuming homesickness, cultural disorientation, and other newbie university student challenges, I nevertheless did occasionally emerge from my fog of bewilderment to briefly appreciate the brilliant theatre that these trees were putting up on display. They were in decay, true, but they appeared no less magnificent than in their glorious summer plumage. But I didn't take any pictures of them. All the photographs that I took of those initial months on my analogue camera depicted my university, my friends and the exciting memories I was making and accumulating. I experienced three more autumns during the time I lived and studied in United Kingdom but apart from a handful of pictures taken in my Oxford college's garden where bright yellow and orange autumn trees provide an arresting backdrop, it never occurred me to photograph the autumnscape for posterity.

 

 

How times have changed! Or, perhaps, more significantly, the way and how I look at nature. I made up for my earlier lack of autumn appreciation when I lived in Pittsburgh for a year and half, savoring how autumn unfurled over the months. I learned to love its nuances: the toast-crisp air, the sharp, invigorating, buttery sunshine, and a certain headiness that belongs to only autumn. I remembered exclaiming in surprised delight when the massive tree just outside my apartment window seemingly turned scarlet overnight. Yes, the summer was over, we were approaching winter - and yet, there was a promise in the air that was autumn's alone. That I could not photograph. What still vividly remains in my memories is the pleasure of walking out on a cool autumn morning, bundled up just so, literally drinking in the autumn air, the leaves crunching below your feet, so thickly, densely carpeting the path ahead that you could scarcely see the gray concrete or the viridian grass below. If no one was looking, I would take a childish pleasure in running through the leaves, seeing them swirl in the air,  like birds agitated into flight. 

 

The other day, while glimpsing these orange gulmohurs dotting the soil, I couldn't help but remember similarly hued orange leaves, as they must once more densely fall on the ground in various parts of the world while the season transits from summer to autumn. There is no autumn here, of course. The monsoons have concluded in Delhi, at least...but still, something feels different. It gets darker a tad earlier each day and the cool morning breeze makes me smile in anticipation for the mellower, delicious days of between late October-early December

Perhaps, the season reflects my current state of mind (or is it vice versa?) I  must admit that I too am in transit, immersed in a limbo. I feel that I currently inhabit the blank spaces in between chapters of a novel. The hectic summer flew past and I wonder what beckons in the newly forming season ahead. So I hibernate in the den of my words, the short stories that I am trying to write, characters who are slowly beginning to form and take shape on my pages. I don't know them and they don't know me - yet. And so we are both in - there's that word again - limbo. But I persevere, writing and writing, persuading them to reveal themselves. And perhaps, by doing so, I will migrate to my next chapter, writing myself into what is going to happen next. 

September is not over yet.

 Inspired by this Instagram post of mine

September 14, 2016

The Story of a Lotus Bud





I found it at my flower-wallah on Sunday night. This flower-wallah was the one whom I had been buying my flowers from ever since I had moved to Delhi. In all these months, I had previously never seen lotuses there; I was instead accustomed to choosing from a library of roses, carnations, gladioli, marigolds, mogra, chrysanthemums, and rajnigandha, becoming blase about their beauty in the process. The lotuses were a pleasant surprise to encounter. A few days ago, I had seen them featured in pink bloom on someone's Instagram feed. A month ago, my family had sent me pictures after pictures of pink, white, and ivory-hued lotuses while holidaying in Sri-Lanka, where the blooms lay luxuriously massed upon the tables as temple offerings or sold in street-side shops. I remembered the first time I had seen devotees offer lotuses at temples in Bangkok; they resembled pale gray green candles from the distance until I peered closer and realised that they were in fact lotus buds. I tried to recall where I had last seen a lotus; I could not remember. I thought of the Buddhist mantra I frequently chanted these days, the lotus a powerful symbol and component of its spiritual structure.

I did not have to think twice about buying the lotus buds. I don't know why I bought just one though. The first lotus that I saw was greying, its outer almond-shaped petals the color of an ageing flamingo. Please give me a new, fresher one, I imperiously declared. The flower-seller picked one out from the many buds nestling together in their current home, a greying green bucket and began to swaddle it in a newspaper sheet for me. The lotus exuded no fragrance though. For fragrance, I bought my mogras, whose scent I forever associated with summer, smelling of rain when there was none. How long will it take to bloom, I asked, after he finished wrapping the lotus bud for me. Not much time, he replied. Not much time: that was hardly any time at all! I was prepared to wait. 

I posted a portrait of it on Instagram the next day, murmuring about the multiple beautiful truths that resided within its delicately striated pink bud. I talked about the delicious anticipation of waiting to see it bloom. I was in oblivion until Subhashini gently reminded me that lotuses usually do not bloom outside of water. But of course! How could I have forgotten? Was mine a magical lotus that would bloom in air? She instead asked me to carefully open the petals to discover what lay inside. I felt as if I was being asked to go on a treasure-hunt. Our conversation took place during the night. I waited until the next morning to perform this pleasurable task. But alas! I thought I was being careful but I was not. As I coaxed the bud to open, the petals swiftly and disintegrated, detaching themselves from the stalk like the pages of a dying antique book fleeing from its spine. I was left with the denuded heart and the petals scattered around me. The lotus was no more. I touched its heart. I wished I had been more gentle, more thoughtful, I said. But there will be a next time: a new lotus, a new heart to love, new petals to read. Until then, I will content myself with a memory of eternal longing, the longing of waiting for it to bloom.