Saturday, December 16, 2017

Into Another World:

It was heady. Unabashedly. Unapologetically. Heady.

This indescribable sensory blend of freedom, space and tranquility. Something which I have never experienced before. Anywhere. This ability to walk into an almost empty park, lie down under a tree full of yellow autumn leaves and just watch them flutter down one by one whenever a hint of a breeze passed through. This ability to just be there at that present moment and experience the magic of autumn unfolding, without having to constantly look around to see who is approaching, or that the angled golden rays filtering through the trees meant that it would soon be time to head towards safer places. This ability to just be me, outside in the open world, which in India can only be done in the confines of your home if you are privileged enough to stay on your own.  

I travelled through Netherland, Germany and Slovenia for almost a month, visiting friends and family, and trying to experience the life of a local. The weather became my friend; for wherever I went, it pushed away the grey clouds and brought out the sun. Even in a stubbornly grey and rainy Berlin. Nature played out its part gorgeously, but in a languid and teasing sort of way, turning yellow and red and brown and barren in bits and parts.  Sitting on a bench besides one of the narrow canals in Amsterdam and reading, experiencing the silence around a crystal clear lake in Slovenia, running after a tram in an empty street late at night in Dresden, and walking along the river Neckar in Heidelberg on a chilly afternoon, life seemed perfect. Almost dream-like.

Along the way, I understood that these countries (even ‘poorer’ Slovenia) have achieved a quality of life that we can only dream of here, which values human life and dignity. A standard of life where the goal of earning money, which has driven our nation literally batty, has lost its importance. Because everything else is taken care of: from super-efficient idiot proof public transport systems, fresh food (now also vegan) on the go, strict waste segregation, flexible work hours, carriage for babies which can be attached to a cycle for mothers to freely move around, pet friendly restaurants and public transport, to even plastic-bag-pickup-points for collecting dog poop in case you forgot to carry your own.

Along the way, I also understood that much of these privileges came at the cost of destruction of natural resources, first theirs and then ours, struggles of the previous generations, and a largely welfare-state approach. That many, especially the current generation, do not realize just how privileged they are. That the immense importance given to personal space and individualism has resulted in people fearing overstepping boundaries creating a rather formal and lonely community where even friendships can be more of a duty (Slovenia still has its rough edges and hence more easy-going people). That the warmth of community living of the East with its crazy informality amongst friends and families, is something which the West has probably lost forever.  

Yes, despite all this, life seemed perfect and dream-like. Well, almost. Because how can life be real if there are no birdsongs, when the mornings are eerily silent, where woods are devoid of nature’s noises. Even in this chaotic city of Mumbai, I wake up every day to a cacophony of birdcalls. Even now, when I wake up in the dark and I hear the single eight-note song of the fantail, I know that dawn is about to break. Nature it seems, like people and the systems there, is just as manicured. Even in a more ‘rural’ Slovenia. Forests, constantly cut down in the name of its management, have little hope of home for undergrowth or wildlife.   

But in all the days of my travel, these aspects of life were blurred, registering somewhere only in the back of my mind. Because throughout the journey, I was busy filling my senses with this exhilarating feeling of being able to breathe. Because I didn’t know if I will ever get to experience it again.   



Monday, May 01, 2017

Illusions:

Night fell even as I was taking down notes of the stories of a few amazing women from a forest-fringe village in Chhattisgarh. Hundreds of stars sparkled against the silhouettes of the massive trees; and I gazed and gazed till I couldn’t strain my neck anymore. The outside temperature fell suddenly.

The talks moved invariably to ghost stories over piping hot dinner served in the verandah of the house. I wasn’t afraid listening to them here like I usually do in the cities. Here I felt attuned to nature and thought that most of these ‘stories’ could relate to nature spirits.

An almost full moon had come up bright and sharp by the time we were ready to go. The entire forest was suffused with its cool incandescent light. The silvery mud-tracks going off into the deep jungles beckoned me, promising more mysteries. The moonlight was so dazzling and the air so nippy that I was almost convinced of moondrops instead of dewdrops at night.

The tarot card ‘Moon’ speaks of a world of illusions – a world which is not what it might seem. But standing there in the middle of a dark forest illuminated by a shimmering silver light, a night sky full of brilliant stars, a chill which made you aware of your senses, and a deep quiet that surrounded everything, this world was more magical than anything I had seen in the sunlit world. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

From the Heart of the Mountains:

He asked me: if I were to recall one key moment or experience from our trip, what would that be.

It was early morning and we were sitting beside the Trisuli River; the clouds hung low over the mountains and there was a sharp chill in the morning air. Being in the heart of the Himalayas and captivated by its power yet again, could I really think of just one moment or experience?

Lying in the sun after a sumptuous breakfast, on the upper deck of a local eating place situated on the far side of the lake at Pokhara, our conversation turned slow and warm, just like the autumn day there. The sky above the hills to the north was filled with para-gliders, who came down one by one soaring over the lake, dipping and catching the current again, whoops of joy filling up the silent, lazy air. The sun shone behind them creating tiny halos as they glided past. The vast lake sparkled like million diamonds.

The long enchanting trek through the forest of ancient, gnarled immense trees covered with moss and ferns. The silence was calming and meditative; our voices seemed too loud and harsh. The forest was dense and dark in parts and when the sun filtered in through the gaps, the light amongst the trees was magical.  

As we climbed up the ridge, the snow peaks of the Annapurna range opened up before us. It was a brilliantly clear morning with cloudless cerulean sky, cold breeze and a bright sun warming our backs. We stood for a while there, listening. Over the sound of the wind, we could hear the murmurs of the river flowing deep below.

The many conversations we had over millet chang at a local joint in Pokhara, the childlike fights over trust and control, the warm fuzzy high, and huddling close as we walked the long way back to our lodge late at night.

A day spent just lying among the overgrown grass in the local park with dragonflies and butterflies fluttering around, and gazing at the blue sky and the leaves of the trees as they danced with the wind. The surrounding mountains, warm golden sun, distant sound of people passing by, and no soul to disturb you, it was a day that required no conversations.

Sitting by the riverside on a cold night under a star-filled sky, smoking up joints that kept us warm, and having even warmer conversations about life and future.  As the night stretched, the bond between us got stronger.  

The dreamlike Diwali night at Patan Durbar Square where history merged with the present, age-old traditions blended with the enthusiasm of the youth; that moment when he held me tightly, protectively, as masked dancers passed by blowing fire in the air.

These were some of the moments where I felt that time had stood still, where I wanted time to stretch forever. Because somewhere in all those moments, I was reminded once again of the true essence of friendship, trust, warmth, and caring – the meanings of which I had somehow lost in the cities. I was reminded once again of letting go and being free. 

And somewhere in all those moments, I finally understood love.


Monday, September 05, 2016

I Am the Feminine:

I am the force in the wind that blows through the trees and grass,
That lifts the birds, butterflies and take them high

I am the heat in the fire that creates and destroys life,
That which has kept the Earth alive

I am that energy which impels a seed to become a tree,
That which allows humans to live their true destiny

I am the mystery in the cold depths of these vast oceans,
That reflects the wisdom of the universe in itself

I am the intensity behind the loftiness of the snow peaks
That knows the strength of a human heart

I am Nature
I am the Earth
I am the essence of the Universe
I am omnipresent
I am in myself
And I am in you
I am the Feminine



Sunday, July 31, 2016

One Rainy Day:

At first I thought it was a new bird in the mango tree. The tree was thick with new young-green leaves and I had to peer through the rain to spot the source of the call. In some time I saw that it was just the Fantail happily twirling and hopping about amongst the branches of the mango tree. Once in a while, it let go of its clipped calls and burst into its actual melodious eight-note tune.


The strong breeze shook the wind-chime hanging outside my window. Once in a while, the enchanting strain of the wind-chime floated out. For a while, these were the only sounds outside. Against the backdrop of pouring rain.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Evanescence:

As we traversed the Eastern Freeway, numerous grey buildings in various stages of construction could be seen lined across Mumbai’s grey skyline. Intermittent rain and dark clouds played tricks with the mind, because at one point in time it looked like a ghost city – devoid of greenery or life like that in the movie Inception.  A few birds flying indicated it was not.

In the two years that I have stayed here, five tall buildings have come up around my rather short seven-storied building. The sixth one is coming up and it will block my last view of the open skies. It will effectively block the summer morning sun from streaming into my bedroom. And even the moon which I can now see only when it moves above the tall buildings. Two years ago, I often watched the misty orange moon rise above the horizon. The distant view of the hills which made me dream especially on rainy days, is long gone – blocked by another construction.

It seems like years now since I have experienced the euphoria of a nature-perfect day uncompromised by the restrictions of a city life. Now these have faded into just moments, to quickly grasp before they vanished into the chaos of an urban life. Whether it’s this city or anywhere else. 

I cannot find anymore those perfect autumn days, chilly and mellow; when a breeze would shake the drying yellow leaves and let it fall all around you. In those times when nature became bare, I became the happiest. Or a crisp and sparkly winter afternoon when the biting cold wind made you want to stay outside longer than huddle inside under your blanket. The fun was in wearing multiple layers, and shiver in the bright sunshine because it was then that the laughter was the loudest and the companionship the warmest.

I do not find anymore any tree-lined long avenues to walk past dreamily while it continued to drip water after a sudden shower. Nor can I find a space to stand and catch sun-spots as the leaves danced madly to their own secret tunes. I don’t find a distant horizon with small hills and a vast open sky where the shape-shifting clouds would roll in and out endlessly. It was in that horizon, when you saw the approaching dark days of monsoon that the heart grew strangely restless and wild.

I have not painted for seven years now.

For I paint nature.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Connection:

There was a rustle outside the kitchen door. Then the door pushed open and a lovely brown stray dog peeked his head in.

The kitchen was warm and cozy with a fire burning at the grate. A cat slept next to the fire, so near that I thought it will get singed. I was warned that temperature falls below zero in Pfutsero, but I was hugely disappointed when the late December night turned out to be warmer. It was however cold enough to enjoy the toasty warmth of the kitchen fire.

I looked up from my plate heaped with food and our eyes met. Brownie didn’t bark or sniff, just came and stood next to me wagging his tail. His pupils were opaque. He was blind but he knew exactly where I was sitting. My heart lurched and melted. Every time I called his name, he would look up straight into my eyes. Somebody beat up Brownie badly on the head after which he lost his eyesight. The two girls looking after the lodge took care of him and the cat. I watched Brownie that night as he roamed around the house and the garden. He seemed oblivious to the fact that he could not see and went about his business like a normal dog. More importantly, he still trusted humans.

Just before I went to sleep, I saw him below the stairs looking at me and whining. I called out to him and he came bounding up the stairs, furiously wagging his tail. He understood that I would be leaving the next day. The girls had to force him away from me. They pushed him out into the cold night and shut the door.


I set out the next morning, before the sky had started to clear, leaving behind a small piece of my heart at Pfutsero.