Friday, 4 March 2022

What is Love, Anyway?


What if I say that our idea of love is conditioned by the roles we play in our lives – a daughter, a mother, a father, a lover, a husband, a colleague?

What if I say that the roles we play are conditioned by the stories and fables we have grown up with – that we are expected to behave in certain ways if we are to be a perfect wife, a perfect son or a perfect grandson, a good friend?

What if I say that we limit our capacity to love by putting it within definitions – romantic love, motherly love, love for the dog, love for a best friend?

What if I say that real love exists outside these roles and definitions – because love is just simply love, anyway?

What if I say that love is vaster than the realm of the human world – that love pervades the land, animals, trees, Earth and beyond?

What if I say that we are all capable of loving every human, every living soul - be it a tree, an insect, an animal - with as much fierceness as the person you love the most right now?

Can we uncondition ourselves enough to know that what we think of love is just a shadow of the real thing?

Can we uncondition ourselves enough to know that by defining love, we are trying to encompass the universe within a tiny box?

Do we have the courage to open our hearts to the real Love?

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

The Sea and I

Agatti, Lakshadweep

N Ikka points at the stars ahead. There are three big ones vertically aligned. He says we need to head in the stars’ direction. The sky is inky black, thousands of stars strewn across its vastness. The boat jumps along with the waves as we hold on to the plank we are sitting on. The excitement of being on a fishing boat at night dies down eventually and wonder replaces it. Our whispered conversation ebbs, and F and I just sit there in silence.

The faintest of light appears in the eastern sky, and slowly one by one the stars acknowledge the presence of the approaching sun and begin to recede. In the semi-darkness, much before dawn, F nudges me and points to the back of the boat. Under a still bright crescent moon with a shining star above it sat a fisherman on his mat facing west, deep in prayer. Around us is the silence of the vast ocean.  


The sun is high in the sky and beating down unrelenting. The sea is indigo blue. I wonder how the fishermen can see through the dazzle of the noon sun. I am wearing my sunglasses, yet squinting through it. But their gaze is fixed scanning the surface of the sea for signs of tuna shoals around. There seems to be none, as we keep going further out into the sea. The live bait fishing early morning was full of excitement for me. It was routine work for the 11 fishermen on the boat. Though they are not, I feel tired and doze off under the shade near the bait fish tank. MK wakes me up with one word – Dolphins.

In one-tenth of a second, I am at the bow of the boat peering down at the blue water. There, just next to our boat, on both sides, are about twenty or thirty dolphins swimming along. So close, I could have touched them if my arms were a little longer. Sharp and sleek bodies moving as fast as the boat. Suddenly, they all move away together. Just as I am thinking that the show is over, they return jumping and frolicking. I want to jump in, touch them, feel them, swim with them, say a big thank you for being with us humans for so long. A few minutes later, they disappear leaving me wondering if it was all real or just magic.


It’s my last day on the island. I am standing at the edge of the eastern jetty, the deepest blue sea spread ahead of me. There’s something different about the current today. Or so I feel. Small eddies form below the jetty and I can see a shoal of a deepest blue fish. There’s a stillness in the air, a rise in humidity. A sign that a thunderstorm and rains are approaching. I stand there under the afternoon sun in awareness of the ocean that is breathing, ebbing and flowing, in a beautiful dance with the moon. This is where life started, billions of years ago - in the womb of the Earth. I had lived for 12 years in a coastal city, but it is here that I experience her magnanimity and strength. I turn back, forever changed.  

Thursday, 19 August 2021

The Speaking Land

This was an attempt at writing prose-poetry for Alpine Fellowship Award. The idea was to try out a different style of writing using the Award as motivation.The topic was civilization and the wild and the post is about my experience with the last standing virgin forests in Chhattisgarh

The land spoke, the children of the land spoke. Only we could not hear, land’s children bred of civilization. 
She throbbed with an energy that no human commune, today, can bring to birth. Deep and ancient, it ran through the veins of the forest, held in the trees’ girth. The trees spoke of times when they grew with a wild freedom, carrying with them centuries of wisdom gathered with patience and groundedness. Were they there when our land was drifting in the great wide oceans, I could only guess. These ancient teachers: so old that my life, here on this land, felt just an exhalation long. So huge, their panoramic canopy I could fathom only lying on the forest floor. So tall, I felt like a grain of sand at the base of a Himalayan mountain. The soft winter sun filtering down threw shadows that reminded of a time when my ancestors roamed the land on all fours, their memories perhaps carried in our cells. It made me long, just long, for what, my heart then couldn’t tell. 
Oh, you speak of a land, imaginary and magical – you would say. Which ancient forest is left now that speak of age-old tales? It’s no fiction, I say, for its there, still there! Right in the heart of my country, a land of forests filled with tigers, elephants, and bears. Where jungle streams gurgle with happiness and flow with ease. Where tribes live among them deeply caring for others, away from things plastic or life filled with disease. 
But young towns nearest to the forests, slowly being fed on adrenaline that is money, were abuzz with the idea of wealth under their feet, forgetting that abundance not wealth lay in the nurturing land and wisdom of grandmother trees. They dreamt of a glitzy life and said rightly – how can you have a forest if you desire a city like Mumbai and a life of ease? 
I was following the trail of coal, Earth’s gift but civilization’s greed. And it led me here, India’s last wilderness untamed. Deep in the forest, peopled with innocence, were villages unaware of what civilization had in store. For hundreds of acres of this primeval land were marked for mining, and the rivers for dams to clean the gouged coal. They did not know that their home and a life of peace were being readied to be handed away to companies who termed mining – “clean and green”. 
Did anyone ask the land, these ancient trees, the people and other children of the forests, if they wanted their home plundered to fuel the lives of the rich? The forests, trees, rivers, and land are all a waste if not for the use of humans. And animals - are they really there or figment of tribal imaginations? The tribes who ‘are so backward’ as to not even know plastic, will be ‘compensated’ with money and given offers of manual labour to ‘improve their livelihood’, they would preach. 
As I stood carrying the weight of consequences, a deep ancient grief as old and huge as the trees, welled up in me. Desperate, I walked inside the forest and looked at the trees. And I whispered, “Sorry for all of humanity’s misdeeds”. In that moment, the forest fell deathly silent, no birds chirped and not a leaf stirred. In that eloquent silence, I understood, without a doubt, that the forest knew what her future held.
I turned away helpless, stricken by the collective loss. But even in that loss, I returned with a gift. For now I know that the land speaks and all children of the land speaks - of magic and wisdom, of non-judgment and compassion, of balance and a future shift. 

Monday, 31 May 2021

In the Land of the Blue-Green Sea

 The east coast was three shades of never-seen-before blue; the west coast a deep green that kept changing with the sun. And I was there, somewhere in the middle, lost in nature’s grandness.

The island of Agatti, like most islands of Lakshadweep, is small and can be covered end-to-end within half an hour, if you are on a motorbike. Which means the sea is always with you wherever you go. The sea’s constant presence, however, did not prevent me from being shocked to momentary stillness every time I caught a glimpse of her colours in the month that I was there. During one thunderstorm that I witnessed, the colours shifted with the mood of the weather – light green, dark green, grey, light blue and dark blue – as if the sea was playing her own grand symphony.            

Placed within a unique geography, Lakshadweep is as beautiful as the tourist brochures want you to believe. Perhaps even more if you get to know the sea. But as life in the island started to reveal itself, it became clear as the water that there is no other place in the country like these islands.    

Agatti: Photo - Bipasha M

Almost the entire population follows Islam as its religion with a floating population of ‘outsiders’ largely in Kavaratti, its capital. Though some anthropologists have mentioned Wahabi and Sunni as the main sects here, one can find many traces of Sufism in their rituals and ancient healing traditions. Socio-culturally, they carry the lineage of their Kerala ancestry. They are a matrilineal society, the only other being Meghalaya, where the property passes from mothers to daughters. Unlike Meghalaya, here the husbands do not stay with the wives but visit them from time to time and have to pay money (similar to dowry) to the wives’ family during marriage negotiations. Apart from the island of Minicoy where social mobility of women is known to be higher, the rest of the islands have patriarchal value system where the men take most of the family and financial decisions. As such, participation of women in community level decision making seemed less, with them functioning mostly in the background. Gender segregation at the society level is high, with free interaction between girls and boys being almost non-existent. All across the island I saw young boys and fishermen largely occupying public spaces including tea-stalls, beaches, markets, and jetties, while groups of women and young girls would mostly chill out at the beach during sunset. This segregation also finds its manifestation in one of the simplest yet most obvious aspect of island life, where girls and women don’t know how to swim and are prone to major sea-sickness while travelling on sea.   

These aspects might make the place seem similar to that of north India’s many highly patriarchal and aggressively ‘male’ cities and villages. But this is where things get fascinating. These islanders are one of the warmest, friendliest, and most hospitable communities I have ever come across in the country. People are ready for some conversation and chai at any point in time. Despite gender segregation, there is high level of dignity and respect for each other, something which I find sorely missing in the plains. After I dropped my ‘mainland’ guard, I walked, sat, cycled freely without any fear or looks over the shoulder, even during times when electricity went off pitching the whole island in absolute darkness. The community operates under an invisible cloak of cooperation and collaboration even when ideologies and ideas did not match, for they know that all are dependent on each other in the small space that is their home. One can easily understand why crime rate is almost nil and incidences of domestic violence limited; I did not hear any raised voice or arguments in the month that I was there. With education a priority for all, marriage and child bearing are much delayed with women getting married after the age of 22 or 23 years and men after 25 years, trends that are in stark contrast to those in the mainland.             

It was sublime, the first day of Ramzan as the island slowed down and time reversed and people hurried to the call to prayers. In the days that followed, I would wake up early every day while the island slept and spend a couple of hours walking from the blue sea to the green one, observing life in the tidal pools, lying down on coconut fronds and watching clouds glide across the blue sky, or sitting quietly listening to the sea and the wind.   

Agatti: Photo - Bipasha M

I had to make a hurried exit from the island due to the covid resurgence across the country and the tightening rules there. As the flight made a turn towards the mainland, the island came into full view from above. A tranquil piece of white and green against a vast backdrop of blue appearing as if in a dream, for I couldn’t make out where the ocean ended and the sky began.

Indigenous earth-based traditions regard water as transformative. Living with a beautiful community in the midst of a world of water, I came back a changed person.      

Thursday, 31 December 2020

Lockdown Reflections


Image by: Bipasha M

She comes and sits quietly at her usual perch. Sometimes she caws loudly to let me know that she’s there. But most often, she waits silently. I don’t know how or when our friendship started. But one day I noticed this crow sitting a foot away from me as I kept the food on balcony ledge. She started coming closer and would eat the food as soon as I would keep it. Then came a time when she would wait for me to make balls of cooked rice and place it only for her. Few days ago, she accepted food straight from my hand. She took it very gently to ensure that she didn’t hurt me with her beak. Unlike the bulbul, mynah, and the squirrel family, she doesn’t come every day and that’s okay with me.

I started actively feeding the birds since the lockdown. Initially, I would leave rice grains and forget about it. Slowly, I began noticing the birds that came at different times to either eat the food or take a dip in the water bowl. Now I have a family of mynah, a pair of bulbuls whose little one has flown the nest, some 15 odd crows, and two families of squirrels that I consciously leave food out for. When they allow me near them, I feel accepted and trusted. It’s a feeling that I have never felt before with fellow human beings.         

At the end of the year, I can say without an iota of doubt that this has been the most precious gift the year has given me. If the year hadn’t slowed us down, I wouldn’t have known my non-human friends so intimately or seen migratory birds fly right over my terrace or watch an exquisite delicate turquoise damselfly hover over the orange flowers.

I like the slow pace. Of life. Of work. Of my thoughts. And of my body. I don’t feel the regular restlessness that tends to creep in despite being at home for three-fourth of the year. In its place I feel a deep groundedness. My work is as much impacted as others, but I am not anxious about the future. I am enjoying the way my body has slowed downed with the onset of winter. I am happy when my periods coincide with either the full moon or the new moon, as if my body is trying to realign and find its way back to the moon. I want to play the flute, not learn how to play, because I feel the wind wants to speak to me. I am slowly learning to extend the concepts of consent and reciprocity to soil, land, Earth and the plants in my balcony garden. When I grow, it’s with the consent of the seeds and soil. When I take something, I leave a bit of my hair in return.

I do feel a different kind of restlessness though. A restlessness of presenting myself in the new world, of stepping into my true potential, of being my wild self, and of establishing a new narrative. There’s a world out there where people deeply trust each other, collaborate and cooperate, and only follow the language of the heart. I have seen glimpses of this world and felt its breathing growing presence.        

This year taught me for certain that the only true reality is being grounded to our beautiful home, Earth and being inherently connected with all beings nature. That when things fall apart all around you, when you fall apart, She is the only one, who is and will be there for you. And bring you home.

Sunday, 13 September 2020

Lockdown Dairies:

There’s a sublime quality to the time in the hour before dawn-break. If there’s a slight breeze during that time, it has the capacity to transport you to a different realm. I tried to keep up with my routine of getting up before dawn, but have slipped back into a post dawn schedule. Autumn is right around the corner, and the nights are getting longer. Soon dawn and my waking up time will coincide once again. 

Mornings have become a packed time for me, a time which is solely for me and my care. A time for noticing new growths in my balcony garden and working on soil and compost with my hands, feeding the birds and squirrels on the terrace and refilling their water bowls, doing my rounds of walks around the terrace bare feet, lying down on a mat, sometimes in the sun, to just look up at the vast blue skies and clouds as they pass by at their own pace, slipping into a deeply meditative space, doing yoga, meditation, going for weekly morning walks, and making breakfast. 

Who is my body? What role do I play as a female of the human species? As a unique person like all else, what can I offer to the world? In what ways do I connect deeper with Earth and nature within a restricted environment? These are the questions arising in me since the time of the lockdown. The world is in turmoil which has now gone beyond the pandemic, and people are suffering deeply, especially the poor. But nothing changes without a crisis. You do not transform into your best selves until you go through a test of fire, a personal or collective ‘dark night of the soul’. Each one of us has contributed in some ways to the situation we are in today, and each of us has to do our bit to steer all of us out of it in future. Like many indigenous tribes say, either we look at a crisis with joy and as an opportunity, or we get bogged down and entangled in a web of fear and mayhem. 

My life right now is limited to my terrace and within one kilometer radius of my neighborhood. But then it gives me a chance to observe nature that much closely. It gives me time to observe over 30 species of birds and many more that I can hear but not yet identify, numerous dragon and damsel flies, bugs, spiders, house flies, bees, and butterflies. It gives me time to watch the male koel distract the crow while the female lays her egg in the crow’s nest and over months watch the juvenile koel hop around in the sesham tree as the mother crow shrieks her head off protectively if I even glance in her ‘baby’s’ direction. It gives me time to watch butterflies and bees flock the flowering sesham and mast trees and the arrival of bats as fruits begin to appear. It gives me the time to befriend a few crows and mynahs who sit very close to me when I put food out for them, catalog the never-similar sunsets and cloudscapes as spring turned to summer and subsequently the arrival and departure of monsoon clouds, and experience intimately the joys of sudden thunderstorms, lightning strikes, light breeze, intense heat, numerous rainbows and double rainbows, heavy rain, and brilliant full moons. And it also gives me the time to learn about wild plants that grow in my pots, parks, and sidewalks and include them in my diet and life with a lot of gratitude.

Cloudscape from my terrace

All my scattered energies are finally coming back into my body, helping me tune in to its own wisdom and deep-diving into its healing with food. I am trying to understand what I did to my body and spirit all this while by not accepting my periods as something intimate and wonderful but rather viewing it as a roadblock to my freedom and adventure. 

Time seems to have slowed down considerably, yet time is zipping away at a rate that seems faster than usual. While I live somewhere between these two spaces, I continue to enjoy my time with my work, books, art, long conversations with friends, and deep contemplation. For, when I finally step out into the ‘new’ world, it will be from a space of ‘I’, that is my spirit. For, there is no going back to the ways of an old fear-based world.

Monday, 6 July 2020

Monsoon, The Phenomenon:

As temperature begins to climb after spring is bullied out hurriedly by the approaching summer, thoughts of the monsoon begin to stir somewhere at the recess of the mind. These thoughts are always there, though at a very subconscious level as people go about their daily lives. The countdown to the arrival of the rain bearing clouds begins in earnest when the thermostat moves beyond 40 degrees C in large parts of the country.

India is not defined by its searing summers, as many would think. Rather, the annual seasonal reversal of wind patterns that bring some of the heaviest rains in the world, it’s the power of the monsoon that leaves nobody untouched, connecting all our souls in a strangely sublime way. Despair that it’s too strong or too weak, anguish that it didn’t arrive on time, the jagged anticipation of the dark clouds, the visceral fear of flood or famine, the relief, joy and effervescence, the romance and poetry, the moodiness and constant wetness, the festivities…..the emotions around the monsoon are just as many as the number of people in this country.

Monsoon in Mandu: Image - Bipasha M

During my childhood in Bihar, monsoon meant wearing shin length raincoats and plastic shoes to school which we would deliberately take off while coming home giving us an excuse for getting wet. It also meant wading through stagnant waters to get to the bus stand, making paper boats, and pushing them across these waters to compete whose boat went the farthest. It meant school holidays during days of incessant rains when we would tuck ourselves under covers and read storybooks through the day or sit on the windowsill and day-dream as the rain drizzled outside steadily. On days when the sky would stay dark and rain refused to stop, worry lines would creep in on the faces of our parents and elders. Discussions would veer towards the rising levels of Ganga, and a time when the river breached her banks during the dark of the night drowning people in their sleep and destroying properties.

In the first phase of my stay in Delhi, the crisp autumn and clear blue skies during the peak of winter held sway over my thoughts and emotions. Oh, I did love the rains, but it was in a dramatic, nostalgic, angst-ridden way that younger years tend to elicit, full of longing for things hard to define, and a love for life that can be expressed only when the world around gets washed off all its dreariness. But in all this, for me, the monsoon remained a season which heralded the approach of autumn and winter.

Fourteen years ago, when I landed at Mumbai’s airport, it was a typical grey day with a steady drizzle and sleek wet roads. That was my first brush with the monsoon in the city and which continued to define all the years of my stay there. For this is the land where I understood the glory and the power of the phenomenon, what it means to live for four months with grey skies and continuous wet conditions, of having walls and clothes covered in moss, of carrying a change of clothes every time you stepped outside, of getting totally drenched due to the force of the rain despite all your measures to stay covered. And this is also the place where I understood what unadulterated joy is when the first drops of rain begin to fall after months of heart-numbing and physically-draining mugginess, when this joy is reflected in everybody’s faces around you, when “poush aala” rings out from everywhere, when the city suddenly comes back to life.

Monsoon in Maharashtra coast. Image: Bipasha M

Some of my defining monsoon moments though have been in places outside of Mumbai – at the sea coasts when we watched the rains arrive on darkest clouds across the sea and cover us swiftly, within minutes, with a force that was almost like a physical blow; or amongst the fluorescent green hills of the Western Ghats shrouded in clouds and mist with numerous waterfalls rolling down the mossy rock face. It was during these moments and places that I could intimately witness the magical sway the monsoon has over this country.

Last year, the monsoon made an extremely short and bipolar appearance in Delhi leaving us to deal with a rather sizzling and long summer. This year, post an unprecedented thunderstorms season that lasted most of summer, the monsoon arrived sooner than usual and then weakened. As it continues to gathers strength, and the air here grows thick with heat and heavy moisture, my gaze is fixed eastwards waiting impatiently for the full arrival of the monsoon clouds.