Wednesday, 23 May 2012

A season by another name...but just as sweet

In another corner of the earth it is monsoon that ushers in the season of flowers and you feel like whistling even though your shoe is full of slush.* After the May flowers are done with their fiery display a cloud chased by another and then another comes bursting through the sky. And the forecast promises rain. And more rain. Days upon days of rain. As buckets of rain begin to fall, the children start dancing in the street their faces uplifted to the sky.

In another part of the city a different kind of celebration is underway.  Every walk through overgrown, dense vegetation bustling with life is too put it blandly an adventure. And if, like me, you have an irrational fear of snakes often a heart stopping one. But the raindrops come falling and flowers, some only half awake, nod in tandem. From high up in the trees the koel (cuckoo) sings a– in part melancholy, in part joyous– tune; much like the monsoon state of mind.

Thus in another hemisphere, in another era, a poet puts his pen on paper in praise of the darkening skies and clouds bulging with the promise of rain.

Wildflowers in order of appearance:
Celosia argentea (known as cockscomb in the gardens).
Argeya nervosa or woolly morning glory or elephant creeper (leaves look like elephant's ears), native to India. Known in Hindi as ghav bel (gugguli).
Forest turmeric (wild haldi– the first flowers of the monsoon).
Hibiscus tertaphyllus (wild bhindi/lady finger/okra).
Commelina or dayflowers.
Costus speciosus (crape ginger, known as keukand in Hindi).
Smilax fruit. The plant is known as kumarika in Hindi.
Trichosanthes (belongs to cucumber family; same family as gourd and pumpkin).
Red Java tea a medicinal plant native to India.

All flowers identified with help from Flowers of India and SGNP flickr group.

*Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush. – Doug Larson

Friday, 18 May 2012

She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways

So it begins again. A walk in a grassy meadow. A violet by a mossy stone half hidden from the eye*. A handful of pictures. And then hours of poring over field guides and a long world wide web search. First comes resemblance, then a mass of confusion. What's the difference between a harebell and a bluebell? If you had been paying attention you'd know by now that the knapweed is nothing like the melancholy thistle. The Astragalus genus (common name milk-vetch) has about 3000 species. And the Asteraceae group has more than 22750 species spread across 1620 genera and 12 subfamilies. That includes the aster, daisy, marigolds, chrysanthemums, zinnias, dahlias and sunflowers. If that isn't a humbling encounter with biodiversity, then what is? Finally along comes a name and with it an introduction to  the fascinating world of what we call 'wildflowers' affording us a tiny glimpse into the other far more enduring and enthralling world wide web. The one where Lucy and a violet by a mossy stone not only share a common ground but also a common fate. Or as Shakespeare wrote, one touch of nature makes the whole world kin*.

Wildflowers in order of appearance: scabious (rare to picture without a butterfly or a moth feasting on its rich nectar), early marsh orchid, mountain buttercup, bladder campion, harebell, hawkweed, Astragalus monspessulanus(?), Cat's ear (with the background blur composed of red clover, white daisy and yellow kidney vetch).

*She Dwelt Among Untrodden Ways by William Wordsworth a poem that instilled a lifelong search for unappreciated beauty epitomized by wildflowers.
** From Troilus and Cressida

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

How was your day?

The rain makes no sound. The whistle you hear at 4:30 am is not the train but the blackbird. The incessant buzz is not the bee but the traffic. Never ceases. Never ceases to wonder. The city is wide awake. We better go back to bed.

The hours pass. The river holds a mirror up to the sky. Now clear as a slate. White lines chalked by the sails and the seagulls. Come evening it will turn blue. Above the clouds like newly unfurled petals of roses will blush softly pink. The sun will slowly sink behind the Gherkin. But now the clouds gather conspiratorially. The wind tugging at the long black coats. The long black umbrellas marking time.

On Central Line memories distort geography*. In Bethnal Green memory does not abide. Mile End Park mourns the loss. Newspapers report a body was fished out from Regent’s Canal. But that was days ago. Not the tragedy that the robin recalls.

There is no good café on George Street**. Perhaps this isn’t that George Street. Perhaps this isn’t that city. Perhaps it’s the definition of good that is at fault. The server at Prêt a Manger is from France. A mere coincidence? He asks you the name of the little girl in Slumdog Millionaire. You oblige. His face is the perfect representation of ‘unbridled happiness.’ Often described as the sun shining though dark clouds. In the ‘real’ world the sun is occupied otherwise.

This is the Tower of Babel. This is the sea of humanity. This is Oxford Circus. This is why people travel: to queue outside Primark to buy a T-shirt worth 100 pennies.  Bringing us to the pressing question: How many pennies do we need to have pennies enough? We shall ponder tonight as we dine, with the bankers looking down from the windows of their glass and steel towers.

It is late afternoon. Babies and dogs are walking along the marina. I am birdwatching with my eyes closed***. Four hours later the river will turn blue.

* Finding India in Unexpected Places by Sujata Bhat, World Poems on the Underground.

**For A Good Café on George Street by The Rosie Taylor Project a lovely song click here.
***Birdwatching with your eyes closed by Simon Barnes. More on that shortly.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

New York City

 After Leonard Cohen, Famous Blue Raincoat

There’s rain in the morning, the mid of December
I am looking for coffee and someplace to wander
New York is cold, but I like where I am living
The High Line Park is close by and the sparrows there are singing

I hear they’ve built the skyscraper national park* on the tip of an island
They sell tickets to climb them, ‘why should we’ isn’t on record

I came back with a sense of the place, a feel–
No, it wasn’t a Woody Allen film
Or like Sex and the City
Do you see what I mean?

As the rain cleared I saw it looked so much familiar
That highway from Delhi, that street like in London
The flowers on the pavement, the people rushing
Sights and smells from Bombay kept coming back, flooding

The book I had grabbed on my way to catch the flight
‘Invisible Cities’ by Calvino proved a good companion and guide

Well I see you there with the people, the buildings, those streets
One more crowded metropolis
Well I see you’ll, perhaps, disagree–

But know that I liked you, the instant I saw you
Your charm has its own familiar, peculiar sway
What more can I possibly say?
I guess I like living in cities– the energy, the madness–
I am glad we got acquainted that day

*Kurt Vonnegut famously referred to Manhattan as ‘the skyscraper national park’.