Hello! I am writing to let you know that I have started a new blog on wordpress. Head over there to rid yourselves of the diorganized silliness of this page: at The Inner Wilderness on WordPress. Hope to find you there!
I remember one glorious summer afternoon when I went for a walk in the locality with my brother since home was being sprayed with mosquito medicine as a prevention measure for the epidemic that gripped the city. What I had expected and what I encountered are two images too surprising in my fading memory to be reconciled. The sun, it seemed, had blanched the ground on which I stood (and everything else), in a park, as if the colour was intrinsic to its character rather than being caused by an external influence. Patches of sunlight falling onto the low shrubbery along the walls cast the surrounding ground in a mysterious gloom. It was a dazzling sight, with the white blazing over the green and purple of the plant limbs. Swarms of dragonflies hovered over regions where the grass had grown too long and wild due to prolonged neglect: fauna teetered precariously over the edge of the urban demarcation, threatening to spill over. Appartments loomed on the horizon. A forlorn volleyball net occupied a large portion of the park, flanked by lamp posts on both sides. It was a sun-kissed landscape embracing the ramparts of decay.
The only thing running through my mind then, as I endeavoured to articulate this fairytale experience that I have since lost, was this passage from Rebecca Solnit’s book that I have come to love completely:
“What is a ruin, after all? It is a human construction abandoned to nature, and one of the allures of ruins in the city is that of the wilderness: a place full of the promise of the unknown with all its epiphanies and dangers. Cities are built by men (and to a lesser extent, women), but they decay by nature, from earthquakes and hurricanes to the icremental processes of rot, erosion, rust, the microbial breakdown of concrete, stone, wood, and brick, the return of plants and animals making their own complex order that further dismantles the simple order of men.”
Needless to say I was in a daze as I basked in the sounds of that quaint June afternoon last year. It stands as testimony that I still am.
Previously, a reflection on the sickly appearance of the capital’s trees: On the Trees of this City
The barren glory of this city’s trees have become both an eerily pleasurable sight against the diffusing skies as summer prepares to take over, as well as an alarming reminder of the deteriorating state of its collective health, were we to think of the city as living and breathing entity in biological terms.
For like a terminal malady that invades the body’s system with forces unseen gaining impetus under the surface, their presence detected only in the subtle symptoms that manifest externally: the drastic weight loss, the sagging skin, the thinning hair, the weakening defenses… the transition from flesh to near bones. The disease makes its presence known in the skin. And what is the diagnosis for an ill and failing city?
Its dying trees.
Here is a reading of the beautiful poem I stumbled upon via Poetry Foundation by Pakistani born London-based poet Momina Mela. My interpretation of it was that it is also about our follies as a race, the shallow promises and our procrastinating assumption of time, denial of crises and our inability to respond to it in due time—what Carl Sagan called our inability to accept that help will not come from elsewhere to save us. Something that religion once held about poets, as said in the podcast, that poets “preach what they do not follow”, and something which is the essence of this blog post. In that context, we are all poets leaning on the slim promise of mustaqbil.
Poetry is prayer too.
Hi, there. So to compensate for my long absence would be a herculean feat considering the deteriorating state of this venture I started in 2013. I hope to make many changes around here, metamorphose, if you will, but it would indubitably be achieved at an incredibly crawling pace. I also realize I have been defensive in the past as to my identity. No more of that now, fellow bloggers who have freshly encountered this raw and disorganized blog space, and to those who have stuck—I am happy that you have. Have a good day.
The photographs are from Karkardooma, New Delhi as I captured them on March 25, 2017.
From an entry dated December 17, 2015:
It is surprising how naturally a person can thrive, unfold themselves progressively, a single layer of beauty at a time, like the blossoming of a bud to the stimulus of sunlight, peeping through the cracks of the concrete structure that asphyxiated their natural self. That is exactly what the idea of them, in the minds of the people around them can do to their freedom of creative, healthy void: like a forced urban planning that annihilates the vast, enriched landscape it replaces. The landscape, the void, that infinity of space within which a person can swim that grand stretch of pearly blue waters which project their cores outwards like an ancient pinhole camera—only, it is as alive as the day is long.
What I mean to say, is that it is amazing how naturally a person can reveal and discover at the same time their inner beauty to us, if only we allow them to. Otherwise, it becomes one of the many beautiful things about our life that regrettably, we don’t get to see, regardless of however immortal we could possibly conjure up becoming.
The little things about them: a fond memory, a personal joke, the memorabilia of something or someone attached to them—all these that remind them of happiness…that if you allow them, if you are an observer, a listener quiet enough so that you can hear the creaking of the non-lubricated parts of them being resuscitated under the removal of the influence of pressurizing, judging scrutiny; you might just find them quietly laughing with the chirping birds in the branches of the trees as you walk alongside them on a sunlit pavement. All of this can happen, even though you might be walking in the middle of a busy urban street. We are our best, most truest self when we think nobody is watching, or even if somebody just happens to, ever so silently( perhaps like an ornithologist that sees through his binoculars painted storks playing in the distance) we let them watch without hesitation or unease—like you sit quietly with a frightened animal long enough, unimposing, they come to see you as their friend.
That is the reason why people with whom you are everyday, the little alterations we all undergo with time, we don’t notice them immediately; but if we don’t see them long enough, it is funny how we never cease to be taken aback by the series of beautiful transformations they go through, despite the obvious changes in their physical appearance: the little crinkle by their eyes when they laugh(an experience more added to their memory) and the more open they are around you since you last encountered them, because they might have just discovered that healthy void for themselves.
You see, time is a mysterious thing. And what being still, unassuming and unimposing can do will amaze you—what simply listening can lo, like Mary Oliver urged in her words:
“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
You can listen to her reading of this wonderful poem from which the above lines have been cited here, on the wonderful brainpickings‘ soundcloud stream:
Frozen hands make for poor writing instruments.
I can hear the chitter-chatter of kids and their mothers outside enjoying the warmth of the sun on a quaint winter afternoon beyond my window, the filtering sunlight from which casts narrow shadows on my fingers. It is not intense enough to warm my hands, but so is our general sense of empathy towards other people, people with lives different than our own.
The sincerity in our everyday conversations gets watered down due to a lack of that willingness to listen. We want to be heard, but do not realize it when we skim over the other person’s words even if unintentionally; when we defy listening.
Instead, a cold breeze quietly weaves around the already wane sunlight filtering through.
Featured image source: Digital Photography School
“This world was realized in the cyanotypes, or blue photographs, of the nineteenth century—cyan means blue, though I always thought the term referred to the cyanide with which the prints were made. In the cyanotypes you arrive in this world where darkness and light are blue and white, where bridges and people and apples are blue as lakes, as though everything were seen through the melancholy atmosphere that here is cyanide.”
-Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost
Here’s a self-composition I imagine in a cyanotype rendition:
So I found myself drowning
in a stream of filtering moonlight
With leaves rustling somewhere overhead
And the woods rustled with them
Around me, and out of sight.
Floating on the light
Trapped inside night’s melody
with an undertone of sharp octaves
Matching a frightened pulse
A cyanotype of captured tragedy.
I saw a deer from behind my eyelids
Looking at me from a curtain of ferns
Two orbs of innocence glaring
In my direction in night’s ephemeral theater
With me standing underneath the light
When the seats in front of me are deserted
Helpless, I can’t see beyond
Even though out of dark’s reach I am riveted.
About Anna Atkins and Cyanotypes:
“Anna Atkins was an English botanist and photographer. She is often considered the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographic images. Sir John Herschel, a friend of Atkins and Children, invented the cyanotype(a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print) photographic process in 1842. Within a year, Atkins applied the process to algae (specifically, seaweed) by making cyanotype photograms that were contact printed by placing the unmounted dried-algae original directly on the cyanotype paper.”
“Being still, and doing nothing are two very different things.”
For an isolated self-sustaining, tiny biological environment under observation, if one could somehow contract the span of time it would take a young bud to unfurl itself into a radiant leaf in said system, the aesthetic pleasure derived from that observation would be equivalent to silently observing from a distance, the magnanimous beasts that metropolitans are, teeming with life at night. Not intervening, not imposing yourself on this dynamic system, but simply, letting the flow of a mechanized rhythm take its place with an ear poised to listen to the gentlest rustle.
Such a thriving mechanism fills the observer with endless fascination. As we drive by the highway at night, heading to return to the land of the subconscious as guided by our primeval biological clocks, it seems as if the internal clock that authorizes the working of these giant beings that are the metropolitans runs opposite to our own. For when we slumber, it keeps vigil over the night skies with its glittering, watchful eyes.
Over a similar experience, once I saw a hooded figure blur past my window on a lane shadowed by the night but glowing ghostly under the pale street lamps while frequently, headlights flashed past us as we turned on an exit to enter the main flow of traffic traversing its gravel plane. I remember thinking, on spotting the hooded figure of the shadows jogging in the night, that there were many, many aspects of the city life one can never truly grasp the complexity of.
Simultaneously, a million activities are taking place, millions of incidents unfolding themselves as if our microscopic human bubble was as sophisticated and mystifying as, when compared with the macroscopic cosmos itself. It breathes into one’s perception the idea that time is an enigma that the more we try to grasp at it, the more it distances itself from us.
A metaphysical concept, the evasiveness of which confounds as much the ordinary person as physicists, paleontologists, and geologists in all its relativity of passage, the artistically trained hand with which it gives shape to sea and land; the insurmountable power with which it turns rock and bone to sand.
Did we devise its existence, that as we grew accustomed to the rapid frequency of change all around us, those changes required a measurable quantity against it to render it quantifiable as well? Perhaps it was the other way around.
What is it in a windswept rock’s tendency to be still and surrender itself to the elements that result in such a drastic change, through decay, for it to emerge at one with the earth years after ?
Does time pass for a star when the star collapses?
Somewhere, the silent scream of agony shatters the window-panes of a troubled mind. And if time is something gauged from the frequency of change, so for that scream that sees no end to its suffering, does time visit it?
To the meditative mind, being still and doing nothing indeed are two very different things. When we are idle, the time that visits is a dumb passage, however, when we are still, the time that stops by is an experience full of meaning.
Time passes when the waves are still, it passes when the waves are tumultuous. What state does it assign this elusive concept then: is it still, or does it simply do nothing?
As I write, and try to put into words my perception of it, I find myself confounded over a thought: whether time is relative to motion and motion not to time, or the other way around the loop.
There is a sweet little dog that sits close to my house everyday. In the beginning, he used to sit there only for as much, such as it was simply a random stop during his journey that was constantly on the move, but with time, he became a regular visitor to our lives that are so stagnant, unlike his. I have never had the experience of a company that had such communicative eyes in his knowing silence, meaning I had never had a pet—he is as close as I have ever got to having one.
I started by handing out something to him to eat occasionally, when this ritual grew to the point that whenever any individual of our permanent residence returns from outside, and if he happens to encounter us on our way, he runs along the steps up to the entrance—with us or ahead of us—all the while expectantly wagging his tail, obviously anticipating nourishment for his empty stomach. I always wave to him, when he is there on my return from school, and insist on calling him “little doggie” whenever I do so. Even if it was simply because we had fed him sometimes, I always felt delighted at the sight of this insightful animal’s reflective eyes looking at me curiously, and particularly when he stuck his tongue out over his canines and wagged his tail endearingly. I call him little, even though I sense that he must be an old man in our world, by standards of the disciplinarian clock that marks the span of his doggy years, for he seems wise and knowing to me when he sits by those same steps on the afternoons, looking out onto the world continuing on with its daily commute. I felt honored whenever he gratefully ate the cookies or drank the milk I gave him, and disappointed when he did not. He is a traveller, and yet he let one of his roots tie itself to the barren ground of my world longing for meaning. When he continued to run along to us enthusiastically, it was always gladdening that he did.
In these terms I think, it is truly the animals that know time’s deepest secrets. For the joy for wonderment that is at the heart of this unassuming dog, a joy that does not age even if times wrinkles his being: why they are so readily able to defy the overpowering gravity of time, is evidence to the knowing look in their communicative silence that they have unraveled the mysterious equations that govern its workings. Shouldn’t my gracious visitor be hoarding something behind the dark pools of his eyes?
I look at the empty spot where he sat minutes ago, highlighted by a cylindrical shaft of sunlight.
It has been an underlying theme in much of the paintings that I have amateurishly tried to create, this distant observation of the landscape exposing all its beauty to the curious eye of the dark figure watching from among the haven of shadows. Deep down perhaps, we all have this intrinsic wonderment for the elusive concept of time. Like the ‘blue of distance’ that is our longing for the faraway, and finding beauty in the faraway, that Solnit wrote so captivatingly about, we chase after it in the shimmering fascination of the shops, cafes and restaurants flashing dazzling luminescence at night as we watch from the distance, hung aloof, knowing that the separation between this enigma and us is a distant contingency from being easily traversed, our gravity holding nothing over time’s mightier one.
The more willing of us then, surrender to quietly listening.
Homo bulla: a Latin metaphor translating “man as a beautiful but exquisitely delicate and transient bubble”.
He bought a new radio in place
Of his grandfather’s ancient one
And sometimes, when it’s quiet
He can hear its lingering echo:
Another day passes
Confusion and dilemma
A painful repetition
Remembering— a disappointment
The following verse is a courtesy of a dear friend written some years ago and shared with me on a whim who, contrary to me, does not think highly of it :
The terror in the moonlight
Did hide itself in the sour lake
Which hated itself for being sweet
And missed the chance of being noticed
I now believe in living
But that too seems horrifying
With tales of my past fading away in front of me
I am forgetting myself
I wish I could come out
With the hope of living
That will surely be short
Panicking at the failed attempt to grasp onto a has-been version of your present self is an emotion all too familiar to people on a soul searching quest for belonging—the terror in the moonlight that hides itself in the sour lake, a lake whose depths go on stretching with the passage of time; with those recurring bouts of frustration at being incapable of emerging different and better equipped than that younger self running parallel to the hysteria. Two parallel lines bending under the pressure of an undesired lack of change only to meet at their point of intersection called hopelessness. While to many, emerging from past experiences, building from the bottom of the pit might be a phase that serves as a closure to their individual experiences, there are greater still who find themselves stuck in this horrible loop of deterioration with no visible end: infinitesimally small to the world, but to their persons a gigantic experience altogether, the analogy extending to a falling drop of rain on our bodies to that of an ant’s.
The anthology of a photography series Looking at the Past by Paulo Canabarro bring to attention precisely what this transition from past into the present means; of how invisible that change can seem over the fading years in our forgetful minds, against how stark a contrast it actually holds when beheld as a disillusionment of the inaccuracy of our fallible human memory. Writers of yore have marveled incessantly at this deception that time plays over all things subject to its cunning, whose ravages are inclusive of the highest snow covered peaks of the Himalayas to the tiny deceased nautilus’s symmetrical shell buried under the sea bed.
In hiding ourselves in the lake of our insecurities, we miss the chance of being noticed by ourselves and by the world at large. The latter lines of the verse describe flawlessly the dilemma of choosing between holding onto the past that threatens to fade away.
The horrifying feeling of being lost, and not the getting lost which Rebecca Solnit talks about in her book which is a voluntary action, a choice we make despite all things considered: when we forget ourselves, forget who we were; something which indirectly shapes who we will be.
I had once found five times more than a score of photographs I had clicked on a digital camera now in ruins by courtesy of my younger brother, when I must have been twelve years old and we had gone to visit during one summer the beautiful and tranquil hillside of Nainital in Uttrakhand, a valley harboring the vast stretch of a lake surrounded by the mountains, which had formerly been a British hill station. It was on those shimmering waters when we had gone boating on a warm, sunny morning that, as I was sitting there on one end of the ferry staring at the golden surface of the lake in the sunlight, my father had insisted on clicking my picture after I had been through with clicking more than one of him and my brother sitting on the other end. Naturally—in view of how my camera conscious tendencies go—I had severely pleaded with him not to do so, although he refused to listen and quietly snapped a remarkably memorable photograph of me sitting there wrapped in an over-sized flotation jacket with one hand awkwardly placed on its hem while I obediently frowned at the camera lens pointed at me, at my loudly protesting subconscious’ cordial request. And that is one trait I carried with me into my younger self’s future and my present, along with an overpowering wonderment of nature
Sometimes we can trust our inertial tendencies to resist change; sometimes they are the ones we are succumbed to grieving.
This discovery leads me to believe in a thought I arrived at one afternoon as I watched the sunlight playing with the leaves in the roadside trees and closed shops and faces blurring past my window as I rode in the back of the wagon:
We are all products of the past.
Lately I have been indulging myself with documenting very unprofessionally my experience through photography and writing in a journal. I write excessively: if it is a few lines that resonated with me, something I learnt from an article or a longer read, I will write them down in my journal, on stray papers or on the back of the book I found it it. In a nutshell, one could call it taking notes of one’s life—the creative benefits of keeping a diary, which old authors and diarists have always so dearly divulged.
It matters not how much it affects us consciously or unconsciously, but how we incorporate the essence and identity that is a culmination of one past arising from others; like the new cells that arise from previous cells —“Omnis cellula e cellula” into the legacy that is our individual experiences
paperbacks of novels I possess, with the leaves of some rendered golden with time.
We then believe in living, wishing to break free of the shackles of our insecurities and like the moonlight that hides itself in the lake while filled with a hesitant desire to come out and be noticed; we fear the ephemeral length of our lives and so we desperately cling to the hope of living, the yearning to be remembered of a life that is a product of our past…a life which we acknowledge with dread, that we know will surely be short.
The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive.”
—Calvin and Hobbes Creator Bill Watterson
Often, we have all stood alone in a swarming sea of faces familiar and simultaneously strange — alone, in the aesthetic sense when not one of the many faces pauses to engage us, and we are left only with our own company, a Polar Express of thoughts racing against the tick of the next set of feet nearing to go by oblivious, and an unblinking stare in one of the eight cardinal and sub-directions. There would, at one point, arrive the moment we stood there waiting for, say, in the form of a person— family, a friend, a colleague, or a stranger—who would beckon us to step over the demarcation: an abstract, metaphysical boundary, such as a closed system under observation in thermodynamics from whence our thoughts could not be exchanged unless an external stimulus, that is, the person in question, creates a doorway leading back to the present that lies beyond the realm of the intangible. It might seem outlandish to read such an elaborate discussion on the brief duration in which all of this would have actually taken place, but anybody who has ever dared wander in his or her own company more than just once, would accord in solidarity as to the meaning of precisely what these quiet moments hold.
It once happened some months ago, that as I was walking to my institution alongside my brother that one of those many unfamiliar faces somehow became familiar, for however brief a span of time it might have been. We had disembarked our father’s car dropping us off as we neared the school, for there was a long queue of all sorts of vehicles waiting to gain access to wherever it was they were heading. We had got out and jumping over a low railing separating the pedestrian path from the one taken by the motorized-beings— a jump which my brother enjoyed too much—we had walked down the lane a little, when, a middle-aged man on a two-wheeler getting his daughter(easily recognizable in the school uniform) to cross over the pedestrian side like we had, for we would all have been delayed very much by virtue of the traffic jam and never made it out in time. He was dropping her off to school when, apparently, he must have gotten stuck in that crawling line waiting in anticipation and I sensed, was faced with the dilemma of either walking his little daughter to school and leaving behind his transportation, or risk getting her late—in which case all the effort would have been in vain. Though again, I sensed his relief which must have gotten hold of him when, upon spotting me and my brother walking their way, for he stopped us to ask politely if we would let the little girl tag along with us.
I did not have to say anything; I helped him slip the little girl’s tiny school bag over her tiny shoulders, and putting a secure arm around her but at a courteous distance, we resumed walking with my brother strolling behind us. During our short journey, she walked silently beside me, with her wary eyes firmly focused on the road beneath her little feet with which she traversed its length. I kept my pace slow, smiling silently to myself all the while at her polite introversion and obedience — a companionship of traits such a rarity in even many grownups of these days. With myself never being good with strangers (even if the stranger happened to be the sweet, little girl that I met that day), I sympathized with her discomfort in my head; retrieving and putting again alternately my right arm around her, feeling the strong urge to protect the fragile, innocent child while she walked beside me, but I dared not say anything to her for fear of making her more uncomfortable than I knew — from experience all too well —she already might have been. Soon we reached our common destination, and I, asking her if she could get to her classroom alright to which she quietly nodded in response, parted ways with her to head to my own, just in time for the bell to go off.
I do not remember what I did that day during my classes, or of what I did afterwards; I might have recounted the tale to my friend as I am to you recounting thus to you now, however, I do remember thinking, and inadvertently smiling at the memory every time ( as I am now, yet again) that that was an encounter that I would not forget, even as the memory of her face fades away with time in my mind.
image source: Marianne Taylor Photography
She held something of that innocent purity that we all marvel at; she is that unnamed memory that one might not recall the reason as to how one might have acquired it, or when, or how it did, but do in fact remember the feeling it inspired in us then. And that is how when someday unconsciously it resurfaces to the forefront of our mind, we find our mouth pulling up at the corners of its own accord— perhaps, the object of a few questioning stares from that same swarming sea of nameless faces humming with aliveness in its active rhythm, its waters colliding against the shores of your knowing thoughts.
A memory we arrive at in serendipity, but never leave.
How unthoughtful of me, I did not even have the courage to ask my memory her name.
I have been transfixed by the notion of solitude. Of the magic that unfolds when we pause, near a little creek, and listen: listen to the stillness, the silence that envelops the landscape with its gentle, caressing touch as it, slowly, one by one, lays the most lightest hand on every branch and leaf, on every bone and sinew of the woods—a magic spell that generates from the most profound depths of our souls and quickly spreads out over the skies of stillness like gray clouds progressing in on an overcast day—their arrival mixed with the sweet promise of rainfall.
image source: stronglikewater
And when, at nightfall, a similar silence—perhaps more profound—that escapes to confine the world in a grand abyss of blackness: a blackness, which, is not the absence of color, but rather the absorption of it, that the nostalgia ridden sky of the night desires to keep hoarded to itself and never give away, the awe inspiring wonderment of frozen and empty space.
Though, such silence and stillness is not only limited to the woods and the nighttime; it can found on the eerie summer afternoons in a time when the winter breeze approached fast with silent tread to take over the patches of mild, pleasant sunlight being absorbed into one’s skin at all sorts of strange angles. This warmth that was obscured by the overstanding canopies of fading concrete structures basking in it, and as I reveled in it, over the background commotion of voices standing out, I felt myself slowly slip away from that spot showered with the sun’s light where I stood, to somewhere the only consciousness in the back of my mind was the sensation of that warmth on my skin weathered by the winter.
I had felt that similar warmth when I had stood on a bend in one of the mountain roads shaded by the summit of the mountain thinning in vegetation with the height. The bend on which I stood overlooked a valley of coniferous trees as tall as the giants from fairytales, growing out of the earth of the cold mountain in the uphill direction and there, in that shadowed part of the trees, on that bend around me grew some smaller ones that bore a bright orange hued, spherical wild fruit that the others had stopped to observe. As the summit blocked us from the setting sun’s evaporating warmth, providing the cold wind up there with an opportunity to blow my way in triumph with the discovery that it had found me. It blew around me and around the tall trees above and below me, enveloping my vicinity in its inescapable chill. There had been silence on that part of the mountain, there had been stillness; the wind had chased down my shadow along the mountain path to create a ripple in the stillness of the atmosphere hovering above the valley beneath my feet. The ripple was ephemeral, however, the small ones that were created in the chain reaction of colliding disturbance were retained in my bones somewhat longer.
It was as if the cold wanted me to know that I could only evade it so long as the sunlight did not leave me.
image source: Brainpickings by Maria Popova