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