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.
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.