At the end of a rainbow

Lucy found her diamond sky

The journey of re-enchantment

“Bael?” My ears pricked up when I heard the word, my thoughts flooding with memories of Dadu cracking open the fruit, and removing the orange fibrous pulp to make a delicious drink later. It had been years since I had tasted the fruit, but somewhere, the memory had been patiently waiting for me to relive the experience.

This has been happening to me frequently. In the past 7 years, or so, since I have deliberately decided to distance myself from the rush of “bigger, faster, better”, the slow, complex, symphony of relationships, of both human and more than human beckon me. As political theorist Jane Bennett describes, the world can open up in unexpected and delightful ways if we’re willing to be enchanted by it. After all, didn’t we all once live in enchanted places, when we spoke the language of stones and trees, rivers and hills?  Only when I slow down, can I see the wild growth of cherry tomatoes by a busy roadside, or hear the distinct sounds of different leaves fluttering in the wind, or spot the native green vegetables that many people have abandoned in the favour of exotic, expensive options… each time, I feel like I am gathering ancient wisdom, while also travelling down a familiar path with a new sense of gratitude. I ask my mother for recipes of vegetables that might cease to exist if we forget how to eat them. Food has become that thread of connection, weaving its way through my sense of identity and purpose. How easy it is to break the long line of culture and knowledge? Just by forgetting an ingredient of a meal. But then, the remembering is also a way to restore, and revive the lost voices; Of the birds, animals, trees, rivers, and our ancestors.

It is a humble beginning, but when I see my students, all excited to munch on raw Ambadi leaves they have just plucked from their own farm, I believe it is a good start. An ethics based on care and generosity must begin with a sense of wonder and respect. As they begin to care for their beloved sour-tasting plant, spending their time peering into its pink calyx, admiring the shape of the leaves, they are drawn into a world of reciprocity and dialogue. Now, when the plants speak to them, they slow down to hear it murmur.


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For the love of the earth

Though my ears were still ringing as I got off the patent rickety state transport bus of Maharashtra, it didn’t miss the crackle of dry leaves carpeting the dirt road. I have grown up amidst the crowded lanes of Delhi, and as a result was the typical urban millennial until a series of experiences convinced me that restoring our relationship with the land that sustains us lies at the foundation of healing our abused bodies, minds and the surrounding environment. Nowhere is the interdependency manifested as vividly as in the act of farming, where the reciprocity of food, nourishment, and care goes all the way down to the sweet-smelling soil teeming with micro-organisms. However, there is much that our generation has forgotten. As botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer explains, the restoration depends on re-story-ation. What are the narratives we can rewrite for ourselves and others? The stories we choose to believe and enact have adaptive consequences; perhaps now is the right time to change the dominant narrative. In some small part, I have tried to do so by exploring multiple alternative threads of city life in the form of urban farming. The past few years in Mumbai have been spent in learning the intricacies and miracles of soil, only to realise we don’t know much about it. We can, nevertheless, share an intimate relationship with it by growing plants and watch life take roots.

My journey has also connected me to kindred spirits who like me, share an abiding love and awe for the complex web of natural processes. One such person is the SundayFarmer (SF), whose endearing blog about his experiences at an acre of a farm owned by him caught my eye. Though he calls himself a weekend farmer and generously credits his Man-Friday, Mangal for a lot of the leg-work, it was easy to see that he would prefer to spend much more time ‘far from the madding crowd’ if circumstances allowed. We got in touch and decided that I could visit the farm whenever he went next, except that I didn’t know that my decision was jinxed. A series of unfortunate and unexpected events ensured that I had to wait for almost a year-and-half before I finally made the trip on Christmas Eve. My uncle, a retired forest officer decided to accompany me at the last minute, and as a result, had his first rendezvous with the crowd of Mumbai local trains. I must admit, he was pretty game about the experience though.

So, here I was, trudging on the dirt track after nearly 3 hours of travel, to finally set foot on the SF’s weekend farm. You don’t have to be a nature enthusiast to observe the stark difference between his patch of earth and the nearby plots; the latter forced into artificial rows of identical trees or crops, surrounded by trimmed grass. His one-acre patch on the other hand, blooms with diversity. What may seem like a disorienting sight for anyone accustomed to the uniformity and monotony of industrial culture, is actually a model for resilience. Diversity ensures that a single pest doesn’t damage the entire farm; it ensures that a ‘pest’ doesn’t become one in the first place because there would be a suitable habitat for its predator. ‘Weeds’ don’t become a nightmare because they have their own role to play in the ecosystem as live mulch or nitrogen-fixing properties and co-exist with desired plants. Termites scuttle around in hordes slowly decomposing the abundant leaf litter, creating conducive conditions for plants to grow. Everything thrives and dies, only to be born again. SF introduced us to each plant and tree on the farm as if introducing a relative, with a warmth independent of their ‘productivity’ in terms of bearing fruits. After all, they are family. Over the years, he has experimented with growing a variety of plants, and has had his share of failures. His recent attempt of bee-keeping also ran into a number of issues, though “each time there has been a different problem, so I learnt something new” he commented with a wry grin. Years of decomposed leaf-litter made the ground soft to walk on. So, it was difficult to imagine that the area is actually a very rocky terrain. “I bought this place because it near the river, then I realised that everywhere I dug there are stones to be unearthed!” he chuckled, pointing towards heaps of stones found on the farm. “But it is ok, the plants manage, and we are also learning how to grow different crops in such a terrain”, he continued. We walked through the banana grove, and were generously blessed by its giant leaves trickling cold morning dew on our heads. We stopped to admire the fragrant flowers of gandha-raj, the giant bamboo groves, the abundant papayas, the beautiful flowers of rose-apple tree, the bare branches of a tree that he has nick-named as silver oak, and a kaleidoscope of butterflies among the many others sensuous attributes of the farm. Be quiet enough and one can hear the flow of the stream and walk towards it. I was delighted to dip my finger and watch tiny fishes gathering around it like a curious bunch of school children.

As we parted, he gifted me some seeds, a raw papaya, and some banana stems. Kimmerer writes, “The essence of the gift is that it creates a set of relationships. The currency of a gift economy is, at its root, reciprocity.” How rich would we be to enjoy more of such relationships rather than empty transactions of plastic money signifying nothing except the symbolic power of greed. My uncle, though appreciative of the place, later whispered into my ear, “Wouldn’t it be better to build a room in some corner and open this up for tourists to spend some time etc., they can see the farm, enjoy the river and he would earn a lot!” I whispered back, “Yes, but that’s not love.”

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Amidst charred ruins, a seed takes root.
Flags hang in shame, for the carnage in their name.
Generals stripped of their arrogance, what can clothe them now?
Maybe a common embrace, and the shared pain of loss.
The astronaut still finds the Earth draped in light,
even as the night wears on.
Sunlight doesn’t flinch from touching the scarred skin,
Perhaps there is a right for every wrong.


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A cycle of revolution

Since earliest recorded times, humans have been known to make tools to interact with the environment. Tools constitute technology, and today technology constitutes the society. Technical devices have come to engender ways of ‘knowing’ the world and play a key role in embedding cultural practices, as much as shaping them simultaneously. So, the instrumentality of a ‘tool’ has long extended itself into an extension of one’s ‘being’. Political theorist Langdon Winner offers a profound yet simple example by imagining a scene of two people traveling down a street in the same direction. One of them, however, is walking down the road, while the other is a car. The ‘world’ offered to both them radically changes by virtue of a technological device possessed by one of them. While the pedestrian is slower, s/he has the flexibility to gaze at windows of different shops, stop for a small chat and so on. On the other hand, the motorist is faster given that s/he can avoid ‘obstacles’ on the road and focus on the road ahead. Things that invite a pedestrian’s attention turn into distractions for the motorist.

In the words of Winner, “Individual habits, perceptions, concepts of self, ideas of space and time, social relationships, and moral and political boundaries have all been powerfully restructured in the course of modern technological development. What is fascinating about this process is that societies involved in it have quickly altered some of the fundamental terms of human life without appearing to do so. Vast transformations in the structure of our common world have been undertaken with little attention to what those alterations mean.”

As an enthusiastic cyclist, the clash of ‘worlds’ on the perennially busy roads of Mumbai take a very literal turn. The effort put in climbing an uphill contour can’t be felt by a motorist who are literally transported in vehicles rather than using it. They can also be blissfully unaware of most topographical nightmares provided by badly maintained roads, as well as other sights and smells that any urban place is endowed with (Mumbai is especially rich in the latter). As a technology, the automobile, and the velocipede perhaps occupies opposite ends of a spectrum in terms of involvement and agency. As poet Christopher Morley writes, “In a car, you are carried; on a bike you go.” Many car enthusiasts describe a feeling of exhilaration while driving at top speeds across highways, but it seems to me the feeling can hardly be embodied in the way a cyclist feels the wind resisting the raw force pedaled into action by every muscle in the body. The speed achieved on a cycle does not rob one of the time needed to immerse oneself in the changing landscape. A cycle rides only as fast as it is pedaled, barring the downward slopes for occasional fits of giddy excitement. Even then, a balance ensues when one has to wrestle the way up again. Indeed a cyclical harmony. How can any car provide a similar sense of agency, when it uses what never belonged to us in the form of fuel, gas or electricity? It is energy devoid of feeling, and can thus only perpetuate movement without purpose. This is not to insult motorists, but to invite imagining the structure of a society in physical, and cultural dimensions if cycling were the predominant means of transport. Sue Macy describes how cycles became tools for the emancipation of women in the 19th century. Perhaps, now we need to be freed from the Faustian bargain made with automobiles and reclaim our bodies once more.



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Chai Hojaaye

Probably the earliest pleasurable memories of home are associated with the familiar aroma of tea and melodious clanking of spoons hitting the teacup as my mother would announce, “Chai chai garam chai …” Blame it on the Bengali genes of “adda” but tea-time has its special place in my life as it would be full of latest home-affairs, esoteric discussions, future plans and unplanned arguments; a tea-cup has it all. I realised my love for family tea-time only when I was deprived of it. Sitting alone at work and sipping the watery ghost of tea inspires new found love for family I never knew I had. The nonsensical chit-chats that mean the world to you when you miss them; the luxury of mock haggling over rationed pieces of biscuits, the act of coming together for the family ritual even as everyone had to go their own way… It is unquestionably a special time of the day. Even our most recent addition to the family in terms of our dog, Button got the hang of the daily dose pretty soon. The faintest sound of tea cups rattling on the tray brings her from any obscure corner of the house right onto the middle of the bed as the self proclaimed guest-of-honour. Then we try juggle between biscuits and tea while steeling our nerves as we resist her “melt-your-heart” looks that actually mean “put-the biscuit-in-my-mouth-for-best-results”. The talks invariably oscillate between serious philosophical musings usually initiated by brother to avoid the more difficult question of   his future career, a million dollar question according to my dad (who thinks that’s what it will cost him if my brother decides to spend the rest of his life as a Tolkien fan). Talks linger on various other topics till the dregs of the tea remind us to get our butts back into business. So we quietly get on the move except for Button, who can have the luxury to laze around and watch us leave. .. Well, not forever; We go our own ways but never fail to find our way back to the familiar cups of chai , the quintessential joy of life.


Spoonful of love for truckloads of trouble

Those doleful eyes had fooled us the first time and they still do. She came into our tiny home all packed in a cardboard box and of course it took us just about a second to peek into the contents and we proudly adopted the “rescued puppy” as mom puts it. The “oh! So cuuuute” moment lasted only till the puppy assured to be “toilet trained” began peeing over every piece of newspaper she could lay her eyes on. Now, began the real hassles of owning a live stuff toy. She had to be fed, made to sleep by one’s side, cuddled and pampered in every way a child could be. I renewed my determination of adopting kids of age 2 rather than spending sleepless nights trying to get them to sleep! Slowly, Button, as her previous owners had christened her became a part and parcel of our daily life. However, just as our love for her would threaten to break records she would pull down the emotions a peg or two by peeing on the bed as sign of rebellion or happily chew away some of mom’s favourite chappals. Human nature however is quite resilient and my crazy family still found it quite easy to fall for those “puss-in-the-boots” looks which had the same evil intent in mind. All this was fine except for the dreaded walks which were equally loathed by me and my brother. We are generally quite involved in our own thoughts to fall prey to envy but this dog had managed to invoke more bestial qualities in us. We would be flying after Button in all directions possible while others would saunter around with their dogs with greatest ease. If this wasn’t enough, our darling would also manage to pee over other well-bred dogs if they ventured too close as her token of love and excitement. I would try to mask my horrified expression with nonchalance and end up looking plain constipated. As if these outside stunts weren’t enough she would gain a sudden manic frenzy by the clock in the evenings and instantly make the house look like a war ravaged zone. Our pleas, cajoles, threats and dad’s occasional corporal punishment consisting of some Jackie Chan moves with a paper roll only evoked what we termed doggy laughter. So clear the grin seemed to be on her face that mom began calling her the “Happy Dog”. Needless to say, she will always remain the child that needs utmost care and brings along with her a baggage of trouble. However, no matter how many times we think that we just brought a bag of problems with four legs and a tail, she wags it with the trust and happiness of a new-born. For all the other tantrums she might throw, there is perhaps nothing better than knowing that someone is always waiting behind the doors of home with the sole purpose of licking you all over with pure joy and fondness. It might be just a spoonful of love compared to the trouble she manages to create, but in a world so rife with hatred who wouldn’t want that precious ounce of unadulterated affection?

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A plucked rose

It was her paradise. Her sacred space simply called by others a garden. Every day she would spend precious time of dialogue with life inherent in the leaves that uncurled with the warm sunshine as if stretching out to embrace the earth. The wet earth reminded her of some sweet unknown past. Even the dried leaves graciously fluttered down on ground as if they knew, “ Dust Thou Art, and Unto Dust Shalt Thou Return..”. She felt the fine tendrils of the creeper entwine against the trunk of the tree, the tiny snails trudging along the branches and the lovely blossoms bursting with vitality. Passing strangers could not help steal a curious glance at the shabbily dressed girl smiling serenely at her plants. “Freak…” they would murmur and walk away. Yet for all their disparaging looks they could not resist admiring the scarlet red roses blooming in her garden. She would not pluck any of the flowers for in her eyes it seemed as heinous a crime as molesting a child. The buds swayed gently in the wind as if affirming her thoughts. The next day however her rose was not smiling back at her. It had been nipped by some vile creature and the branches as if hung their heads in sorrow and shame. She fought back her tears and went to water the plants as usual. She mourned not for the plucked rose but for the person who was heartless enough to end a life before it could bloom.

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Growing up

I have nightmares, I tell you, believe me
of the time when butterflies stop dancing around trees.
When the sun won’t sparkle on the distant sea,
When play-time won’t scrape my knees.
When birds won’t give their secret wink,
When dragons and fairies become forgotten tales,
When the baby mouse won’t look so pink,
When I would stop looking for a trail of snails,
When the flying saucers become an ordinary cup,
I’ll forget I was sad about growing up.


Slipper Stories

Picture taken at Feroz Shah Kotla, New Delhi, India.An old man’s abode in dilapidated shrines as a care taker. The faith sustains his mind while his slippers will remain to tell a story when his feeble body gives up.

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Away We Go!

I call it the Murdoch effect … In the pink skies, beyond the blue moon, where dreams come true, I dream of you.

Wait- By Alexi Murdoch

Feel I’m on the verge of some great truth
Where I’m finally in my place
But I’m fumbling still for proof
And it’s cluttering my space
Casting shadows on my face
I know I have a strength to move ahead
I can hardly leave my room
So I’ll sit perfectly still
And I’ll listen for a tune
When the mind is on the moon

And if I stumble
And if I stall
And if I slip now
And if I should fall
And if I can’t be all that I could be
Will you, will you wait for me

Cause everywhere I seem to be
I am only passing through
I dream these days about the sea
I always wake up feeling blue
Wishing I could dream of you

So if I stumble
And if I fall
And if I slip now
And lose it all
And if I can’t be all that I could be
Will you, will you wait for me

P.S I had liked the movie and and its poster 🙂

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