Wednesday, 25 June 2014


Winter, Cottonwood

Winter, Cottonwood

Summer, Cottonwood

Were you once arrows
fallen from the blue?
What terrible warriors
cast you down? The stars?

   Your music springs from the soul of birds,
from the eyes of God,
from perfect passion.
Will your tough roots know
my heart in the soil?
– Federico, Garcia Lorca, Trees (translated by Catherine Brown)

Monday, 23 June 2014

In Parable Land

“Many complain that the words of the wise are always merely parables and of no use in daily life, which is the only life we have. When the sage says: "Go over," he does not mean that we should cross over to some actual place, which we could do anyhow if the labor were worth it; he means some fabulous yonder, something unknown to us, something too that he cannot designate more precisely, and therefore cannot help us here in the very least. All these parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible, and we know that already. But the cares we have to struggle with every day: that is a different matter.

Concerning this a man once said: Why such reluctance? If you only followed the parables you yourselves would become parables and with that rid yourself of all your daily cares.

Another said: I bet that is also a parable.

The first said: You have won.

The second said: But unfortunately only in parable.

The first said: No, in reality: in parable you have lost.”
Franz Kafka On Parables

Though in all probability both of them have lost. Such is life in parable land.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Paradise Lost

“The true paradises are the paradises that one has lost.”
Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

In South Delhi, close to a popular multiplex and an elite school, are two old houses inhabited by two lone matriarchs. In a lane where most old houses have been replaced by apartment complexes, there is a small patch of wilderness amidst which these two houses stand. The Parijat flowers (night flowering Jasmine) carpet the gateway. Other attractions include a huge Bel (Indian Quince) tree, a Shatoot (Mulberry) tree, a row of Ashoka trees, an old Mango tree, three Lime trees, old Bougainvilleas with gnarled branches, many creeping vines and shrubs– Madhu Malti (Rangoon creeper), Peeli Kaner (Yellow Oleander), Hibiscus etc.

A yard once planted with care left to grow as it pleases. The plants well established took on a life of their own and birds*, bees, butterflies, squirrels, and mongoose moved in creating an urban paradise.

But life was far from ideal. The ladies often had unwelcome visitors. While walking in the garden or coming back from grocery shopping, men would come up and introduce themselves as estate agents and without wiping the smile from their faces accuse the ladies of causing ‘national wastage’– living alone in houses that could be replaced by two four storied buildings with16 flats each; every bit of the land had been blueprinted. Did the women know the value of the land? Then an offer would be made. Ending with ‘think it over, there’s no hurry’. The ladies persevered, surrounding themselves with tenants and watchmen. But sleeping with an extra lock on their door.

Unaware of the hint of violence that underlies the ways of men and the world of their making, the plants and birds thrived. And so, every morning the red-vented bulbul called, the house sparrows created a ruckus, the purple sunbirds hovered among the creepers, the robin minded his quiet ways, the squirrels chattered in the mulberry tree, the spotted doves cooed, while the mongoose bustled among the shrubs. A paradise, but like all others, counting down to its ultimate fall.

*In an old diary I found a list of 25 species of birds spotted in one year– numbers swelled when the trees were fruiting. The houses and the accompanying wilderness were still standing when last checked in 2011. 

Monday, 9 June 2014

The Blue House

Hemmed on all four sides by ‘development’ an old blue house.

Three sisters. All senior citizens. Five cats. Dozens of hummingbirds. Cats stalking hummingbirds. Peonies, giant orbs in shades of pink. Lilac and honeysuckle. Summer, rhapsody in blue– blue iris then blue delphinium, blue hydrangea, blue geranium, blue African lilies, blue cornflowers, blue borage, blue salvia– interrupted periodically by yellow and white daffodils, white lilies and always the beautiful peonies nodding on stalks overwhelmed.

A shovel pushed with a foot and then pushed once again. Mulch and manure. Rain, sun, rain and rain. Rhubarb, chard, runner beans, tomato, peppers and corn. White plastic chair. Shucking corn, shelling beans. Spring to summer. Till all the leaves fall down.

The hummingbirds gone far, far south. Lonely cat at the window. Summer slips to memory. Another done. Catalogued by number of years. Or, perhaps fears. But always in shades of blue– the color of summer, the color of joy. The color of eternity.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Nothing Lasts Forever

In the beginning there was nothing. All existence summed up equals to nothing. Nothing lasts forever. Embrace nothing.
Morning, Saturday. There’s silence and then H says that contrary to popular belief the problem is that intelligent people think everyone else is as intelligent as them, when the evidence shows otherwise. (Some hours ago we had been in the company of a very intelligent man.) And that maybe the reason why human civilization is facing such a massive crisis.

There is silence.

We could sit and think for an eternity but the empty cups and the grocery call. So eternity gets disrupted.
The man before me at the express line at the grocery store has forgotten his pin number. As the seconds tick, time seems to stretch till an eternity. He fumbles again. And yet again. And then again. Then in a moment of desperation he mumbles, ‘let me try this’ and in a couple of seconds the ordeal is over for him.

I am in no hurry. Perhaps an eternity ago I had been rushing; grabbing keys and bags, walking at a brisk pace, dumping potatoes and carrots in the basket. Until I came upon this moment: nothing stretching to eternity.
Midday, Saturday. Email from G. Almost four years since we’ve (physically) met– one day same city, the next different continents that sort of thing. But for shared thoughts.

Human thought transcends time and space (and every other human construct). It is the only thing that bridges the void. In five minutes one can encompass eternity and beyond. Or 'see' a friend many miles away.
In the background a guitar has been strumming Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ for the past few minutes. C D Am G D C Am G.

A male House Finch is sitting on the porch railing quietly, taking a breather from his exuberant recital. Is he also listening? Strange notes stirring some ancient memory perhaps.
"The World is not Conclusion
A Species stands beyond–
Invisible, as music–
But positive, as sound–
It beckons, and it baffles–
Philosophy–don't know–
And through a Riddle, at the last
Sagacity, must go–…
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul–"
 – Emily Dickinson
Another sound beckons. The kettle whistles, a positive reminder that I will soon drink mint tea thereby doing something that I don’t need to do, yet I do when I have nothing else to do. 

It is something I do everyday.
Evening, Saturday. Dry air crackles. Lighting and thunder. Rain. The dogs and their walkers are running back. The birds are snuggling in the lilac bushes. The kids are laughing, their skateboards held over their heads. Text from P rescheduling dinner. Even the sunset is cancelled today.

Everything is interrupted, except for the drinking of tea.

In the end, only nothing lasts forever.