Thursday, 31 December 2009

A thought

A Thought went up my mind today —
That I have had before —
But did not finish — some way back —
I could not fix the Year —

Nor where it went — nor why it came
The second time to me —
Nor definitely, what it was —
Have I the Art to say —

But somewhere — in my Soul — I know —
I've met the Thing before —
It just reminded me — 'twas all —
And came my way no more —

(Emily Dickinson)

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

In my mother's garden

(All photographs by Anvita Lakhera.)
Just a few minutes away from the glitzy towers and the decadent malls of Gurgaon is my mother's garden. A few square feet of plants and trees that is home to what seems like a million birds, especially when one is nursing a bad jet lag. Ah! The joy of waking up with the sun and watching them sing their hearts out.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Ode to Bird Watching

(All photographs by Anvita Lakhera.)
to look for birds!
The high iron branches
in the forest,
the dense
fecundity of the soil,
the whole world
is wet,
rain or dew
shines, a tiny
in the leaves:
in the early morning
mother earth is cool,
the air
is like a river
that shakes
the silence,
it smells of rosemary,
of space
and roots.
a wild song,
a waterfall,
it's a bird.
from a throat
smaller than a finger
can the waters
of this song fall?
Luminous grace!
of music
in the leaves,
sacred conversation!

Clean, washed, cool
is this day,
like a green zither,
I bury my shoes
in the mud,
I leap over springs,
a thorn
nips me and a gust
of air like a crystal
separates on my chest.
are the birds?
Was that one, maybe,
whispering in the foliage
or that fugitive ball
of gray velvet
or that sudden shift
of perfume? That leaf
which the cinnamon tree let go,
was it a bird? That dust
from the irritated magnolia
or that fruit
which fell resounding,
was that a flight?
O invisible little cretins,
fiendish birds,
to hell
with your twittering,
with your useless feathers!
I just wanted
to stroke them,
to see them glisten,
I don't want
to see their lightning embalmed
in a showcase,
I want to see them alive,
I want to touch their gloves
of genuine leather,
which they never forget in the branches,
and to talk with them
on my shoulders
even if they leave me like certain statues
undeservedly whitened.

They can't be touched,
they can be heard
like a heavenly
whisper or movement,
they talk
their observations,
about whatever they're doing,
on whatever exists,
certain sciences
like hydrography
and know for certain
where all the grains
are being harvested.

Well then,
of the forest, of the woods,
of the pure bower,
birds of the acacia
and of the oak,
crazy, amorous,
astonishing birds,
migratory musicians,
one last
I go back
with wet shoes, thorns
and dry leaves
to my home:
I love you
far from the shotgun and the cage,
this is the way
I love you,
united and sonorous
society of the heights,
of the air,
of smoke,
flyers and singers,
aerial, terrestrial,
sailors of the wind,
of the softest nests,
messengers of pollen,
of the flower, uncles
of the seed,
I love you,
I'm going home,
happy to have lived with you
a moment
in the wind.
- Ode to Birdwatching by Pablo Neruda, translated by Stephen Mitchell

Friday, 27 November 2009

The Sage of East London

Three small pools of water and an occasional foray to the edge of the canal are the places where you can pay obeisance to the sage of East London. There is much to be learnt by the ardent followers of this humble sage. But to partake in that ancient wisdom one must forgo the concept of time and embrace stillness. And then watch as the universe moves.

Or in the words of Kabir,
still the body
still the mind
still the voice inside

in silence
feel the stillness move

this feeling
cannot be imagined

Monday, 23 November 2009

Art thou the bird?

Art thou the bird whom Man loves best,
The pious bird with the scarlet breast,
Our little English Robin;
The bird that comes about our doors
When autumn winds are sobbing?
- Willaim Wordsworth
The Redbreast Chasing the Butterfly

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Why the candle flame gutters

History is full of people who out of fear or ignorance or the lust for power have destroyed treasures of immeasurable value which truly belong to all of us. We must not let it happen again.

Our loyalties are to the species and the planet, we speak for Earth.

Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos ancient and vast from which we spring.

(Cosmos Episode 13: Who Speaks for Earth?)

Skepticism has become the only thought that seems to thrive in this millennium often at the peril of scientific growth and sometimes even reality. Yesterday would have been Carl Sagan’s 75th birthday. It is only fitting to reach back to the advocate of skeptical inquiry and scientific method to look for why the world appears so unreasonable. Or shall we say scared?

I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us- then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.

(The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark)

Why the demons stir and threaten to extinguish all reasonable thoughts and arguments is a result of the way science and technology as a subject are divorced from science and technology as a symbol of development, in our understanding.

We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements- transportation, communication, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting- profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things, so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for awhile, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.

(The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark)

So, while the world around us may quite possibly blow up in our faces in the not so distant future, despite what we may or may not believe in, the fight to save it from an early end is far from over. As Carl Sagan said, “Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.”

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

(Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space)

To read an excerpt from Broca's Brain: Can we know the Universe ? Click here.

Friday, 6 November 2009

A sparrow, a vulture and an evening in Delhi

It is Delhi. Probably end August, maybe September. They are sitting on a stone bench close to a Champa (Frangipani) tree. The tree still has a few post monsoon blooms. They watch the girls, go in and go out. It will soon be dusk. And the main gates will close bringing to end all interactions with the other world. The world inside however, will awaken in the glow of the yellow light bulbs surrounded by the buzz of countless insects.

To keep the interaction alive in the dying minutes, he asks, “Which is your favourite bird?” For they are of that age when favourites matter and likes and dislikes don’t simply point to inherent contradictions. Without hesitation, for she is only seventeen, she replies, “Sparrows.” He is a tad disappointed, even a bit uncertain that maybe his question wasn’t taken seriously. For it is important to get accurate, honest answers to such questions otherwise how will he ever comprehend her? He is only eighteen. He continues, “Ah! That’s not fair. Why sparrows? Why not eagles or bats? My favourite are the vultures.” She only reiterates that she indeed does like sparrows the best of all. Both discuss their choices a bit more in the hope that the other appreciates the reason for the preceding why. And also in the hope that maybe their minds can meet at some convenient point.
In the decades to follow they will realize that their choices weren’t as far apart as they had thought sitting on the stone bench close to the Champa tree. And that both sparrows and vultures, in the years to come, just like the innocence of their interactions, will tether on the brink of extinction in India. And most importantly, they will realize that there are no differences, no matter how far and wide apart, that time and the mere act of continued living can't reconcile. Even obliterate altogether.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

To Autumn

Even if something is left undone,
Everyone must take time to sit still,
and watch the leaves turn.
(Elizabeth Lawrence)

October gave a party;
The leaves by hundreds came-
The Chestnut, Oak and Maples,
And leaves of every name.
The Sunshine spread a carpet,
And everything was grand.
Miss Weather lead the dancing.
And Professor Wind the band.
(George Cooper)

Nature's first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
but only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief.
So dawn goes down today.
Nothing gold can stay.
(Robert Frost)

In memory yet green, in joy still felt,
The scenes of life rise sharply into view.
We triumph; life's disaster are undealt,
And while all else is old, the world is new.
(Issac Asimov)

We cling to our point of view,
as though everything depended on it.
Yet our opinions have no permanence;
like autumn and winter they gradually pass away.
(Chuang Tsu)