The Corn Field

I wonder whether you have asked folks for directions in the rural areas – you know, the kind of places where you wait to take the mid afternoon bus to get to the village market for groceries. Nestled deep in nature as they are, the directions will almost always contain some landmark of man-made proportions. There is a large statue by the village square: opposite that is a post office and from there, you can wait for an hour for the local bus to take to you to the nearest town. Like that. Most times, of course, the man-made landmark is also hideous to see, but that is not said out aloud, for folks are usually proud of their landmarks for one; and for another, they are probably the work of some artist who is the relative of the local postman’s nephew.

Urban folk that we are, in our local little suburb, our landmarks tend to embrace nature I find. We refer to the single patch of nature in our midst as our crowning glory. That is our landmark. The field where ravens caw, chats chitter and frolic among the resplendent sunflowers and the corn. It is simply known as The Corn Field, though the resourceful farmer there also grows squashes, pumpkins, tomatoes and bright, neat rows of flowers.

Many a time, we tell one another, ‘I am going to walk down to The Corn Field.’ Yes, we are proud of it, and I have expressed gratitude for having this son of the soil tend it so marvelously for us. How else would our children know about the beauty of growing and consuming healthy food? Many have been the evenings when the son and I have stood mesmerized by the work on the field. The farmer there has offered the little fellow a ride on his tractor as he bumps along sowing seeds and getting it ready for the next harvest. This field, is one of the most fascinating things in our semi-city/suburban life. We get to relive the magic of life through the kind farmer’s efforts, and he knows it.

As I set off one evening to The Corn Field, my heart was filled with longing. I’d had a rather long day and I was waiting to see the bright sunflowers in bloom.

Sunflowers in Bloom
Sunflowers in Bloom

I wanted to just watch the sun go down over the field and sigh at the beauty in that small patch of land. As I approached, there was something off and I was filled with a deep sense of foreboding. For one, the farmer had left the patch without re-cultivating corn for a bit longer than is usual. For another, I saw a signboard there. I knew that little thing. It means another spot of nature has been sacrificed on our relentless march to civilize and inhabit the world. “No no please not this one too!”, I cried as I half ran to the signboard. Right enough, there was a sign board indicating that the land was going to be used for building another 800 flats and I gasped.

So many times, I had enjoyed explaining to our children about the farm, sharing with them my half baked knowledge about crop rotation, tilling and watering. What would happen to the ravens, sparrows and numerous birds who visited the place? Would we lose the sweet sound of birds twittering too? There would be no need for the hideous scarecrow that does a pretty poor job of scaring away the birds anyway.

Beauty of Life
Beauty of Life

Everything would be gone for another set of buildings closely clustered together. Could we not leave this one patch as an Ode to Nature?

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Buddha in a Lotus

International Yoga Day is approaching and consequently there was an intense discussion amongst our diverse group, that involved yours truly foraging in the murky forests of my Indian-not-at-all-devout-Hindu upbringing and serving up dubious explanations. As we leaped and scoured the real and mythical worlds alike, the venerated Vanars would have been proud to see us. We started with lofty enough topics, but ended up – well, see for yourself where we ended up.

International Yoga Day
International Yoga Day

The discussion started with Yoga-in-the-park for International Yoga Day. Why must it be so early? said a colleague and I sympathized. Regular readers of this blog know that I am not at my brightest in the mornings. I am best left alone to peek out from behind my coffee and quickly pull myself back into the cup, peek from the c., pull back in, and then slowly, like a snail, venture out into the world.

I deplored the state of affairs in India and how we deify the early-riser and leave the poor late-risers feeling somewhat inferior and catching up with the early-risers for the rest of the day. We traipsed around early morning rituals and temples and why meditation in the first place.

Just as I was patting my back on the spiritual plane the discussion could reach from the lofty stepping stone of Yoga,  it slid straight down the slide to idlis, dosas & sambhar. It was like playing Snakes & Ladders in the thick Madhuban forests, I tell you. From the spices of the foods, it was but a natural stop at yogurt.

After moving to the USA, I like flavored yogurts such as strawberry or apricot yogurt, but I also told them about the slurpilicious plain-yogurt and rice. There was a sticky moment when folks could not see the appeal of plain yogurt against the Apricot yogurt, but I scored a goal by bringing up mango pickles.

When you bring yogurt and rice up to a South Indian at lunch-time, she can’t but help talking of mango pickles. Other colleagues of Asian origin chimed in with durian and jackfruits, and we all sighed collectively at the exotic fruits and tropical vegetables of the East. Some bright person then said something about lotus roots and another said that Buddha sits in a lotus.

Spiritual-plane-wise, we were getting back up from the hard fall into dosa, sambhar and curd rice territory, so I felt I had to wade in.

“For some reason, the lotus holds a special place in Indian Mythology”, I said.

I turned and looked at the awed expressions on my co-conversationalists, and this gave me the confidence to plunge on. It is a knack. When people expect something profound from me, as if they are making up their mind to see whether or not I am intelligent, I say something like this and dash all hopes.

“Most goddesses I know like to sit in one. Although the lotuses I have seen are pretty small – I don’t know how goddesses sit comfortably in them. “

“Really? Goddesses sit in lotus too? I don’t know much – I have seen some pictures of Indian Goddesses, but never saw that – maybe hard to make out from the saree and all, but Buddha I know.” said a colleague who has taken the Myth of the Mystical East to heart.

I summoned up the picture of Saraswathi and Lakshmi in my visual eye. I don’t remember seeing their saree flowing over their lotus seat. I mean, they were caparisoned in beautiful garments and jewelry, but the lotus was apparent too. I have never seen the saree flowing all over the lotus hiding it from view. Have you?

Somewhat befuddled, I prodded on. “No, I am pretty sure the Goddesses sit in lotuses. I do remember seeing some stylistics paintings of Buddha in a lotus, but mostly he is under a Bodhi tree, looking happy, right?”

This must have been interesting to watch, if it wasn’t me, sinking deeper and deeper into the mire. Anyway, neither of us backed down, and both of us were equally sure of our lotus occupants. The birds stopped twittering to watch the great philosophical debate. Apricot yogurt or plain yogurt with rice: Which one would emerge the victor?

Buddha in Lotus?
Buddha in Lotus?

“Really? I don’t know. I have always seen Buddha in Lotus Asana – except for some statues in Pier 1 Imports, of him lying down.” said she.

Wait a minute. I knew what was going on. I observed, deduced and felt that faint feeling of relief and comprehension dawn on me and the birds twittered again. I asked, “You mean the yoga posture Buddha sits in? Lotus Asana?”

“Yes! Isn’t that what you have been talking about? “

“Oh when you said you couldn’t make out the lotus in the Goddesses, you meant, you couldn’t make out whether their legs were truly crossed in Lotus Asana with the saree and all that?”

“Yeah.”

And then, I laughed as I told her that I was talking about the seat in which the goddesses sat, although, I conceded they may have been sitting in lotus asana too.

So, both of us were right. You can have apricot yogurt or plain-old-curd-rice-with-mango-pickle. Yes, in the Lotus Asana, if you like.

Maybe that will remind us to be truly humble while talking of Lotuses or anything else. We are, after all, a fraction of the small blue dot in the Cosmos, like Carl Sagan said.

http://www.brainpickings.org/2012/12/10/pale-blue-dot-motion-graphics/

Now, if you will excuse me,I need to practice my half-lotus position for International Yoga Day.

The Tree’s Spiritual Path

Monday’s heat wave sent a shocking yearning for the milder, cloudier days that we have been enjoying in May. It is wonderful when one gets to enjoy the burst of Spring without the stifling heat that the Californian Springs and Summers crack up the Earth with. It was, therefore, with a whole-hearted mind to enjoy the mild drizzle that I set out on Wed morning.

Rain drops on Flowers
Rain drops on Flowers

I was thinking of the week of the storm about six months ago when it truly rained and brought back memories that I had, in my typical butterfly-wing-ed fashion, jotted down as ‘potential blog material’ and forgotten in the ensuing months of rigor and tedium. So here goes.

The rains had been lashing down with some vigor and I sat next to a man on the train, who behaved like he was a Grade-C Hollywood actor. For one, he pulled out his goggles when there wasn’t a spot of sun. Then, he turned this way and that, with a sort of expectant look on his face. It looked to me like he was hoping to be recognized, but was relieved to not have a line awaiting his autograph all the same and in that state of mind, went to sleep. A sleeping co-passenger is infinitely better than a co-passenger who is catching up with relatives and friends on the phone(A subject for another set of blogs altogether). I sent a silent thanks and sat back to enjoy my book, sending admiring glances out the window every now and then. I am a pluviophile through and through even if the pouring rain can sometimes be an inconvenience like I am about to explain below. A few minutes later, I was jolted out of this euphoria by what sounded like a slurpy trumpet. It turns out that the G.C.H.Actor was also a Grade-A snorer. His snores were audible over the hum of the train and din of the storm, to folks three seats away and they sent me quick smiles of sympathy before turning away. I had not the heart to wake him for he seemed to be flying over the clouds happily and smiled in his sleep. A dream probably.

I, however, was on Earth’s solid surface and was left listening to a static crackle that precedes a service announcement. These trains have many advisories: station service advisories, service advisories to name a few. The announcements are meant to help commuters with service announcements that impact all riders for more than 10 minutes.  All other announcements are left to the discretion of the train operator. (I will have to write about that one day).  I was especially attentive at the time, for rains can mean delays. So, every time it crackled, I sat up and listened attentively.

But I need not have worried for I heard notifications such as:

This is a service advisory from the Bart Operations Control Center. All elevators in the Bart system are now functioning. Thank you.

This simple message is delivered with static in a sort of dead metallic voice.  But really now – is it an announcement when all elevators in the Bart system are functional? As though reading my thoughts, there was another one about non-functioning ones:

This is a Bart Station Advisory. The elevator in the 19th Street station is out of service. Thank you.

To me, this announcement was as useless as the one that said every one of them was functioning. What were people to do on the 19th Street station?

Incidentally, there is never an announcement about escalators being off, which is quite another thing that folks are interested in. There are about 200 steps to climb from deep down in the bowels of the city to the surface. The escalators are hypochondriacs and put their hands to their heads dramatically every alternate day and sulk. It is never a pretty sight. I cannot tell you the number of times I see people groaning as they make their way up 200 steps. It feels like 2000 and the gratification is minimal. It is not like there is a temple up there or that you will have gained an inch towards your spiritual journey as these hilltop temples proclaim.

Will escalator malfunction help attain Moksha?
Will escalator malfunction help attain Moksha?

Where was I? Temples, stairs, elevators..oh yes, service announcements, storm. Right. During this time, the service advisories were busy static senders. Elevators are working. Elevators are not working. Mind you, through it all, my co-passenger snored, and I dutifully re-directed my attention from my reading to listen for any potential delays.

Then, with little warning, the train stopped at a station about mid-way to my destination and it fell to the train operator to announce something and get us all out of the train: Something-something,  then something about a tree, and the storm,  and some other thing and then apologize for delay and then some mumble-tumble.  The whole thing caused a bunch of folk to look at each other and say, “What-didde-say?”

“What? No – you didn’t hear either?”

Oh well. Then the train sent a collective shrug and set about doing whatever-it-is people do on the train.

A few incoherent announcements later, we pieced things together and realized that we were going to have to leg it home, for a tree had fallen strategically across the tracks.

The shock is deep I tell you. I mean, for a person, who sets aside everything she is doing every time to see whether anything useful comes out of the announcements, there was nothing preparing me for this. Nothing.

I decided that the time had come to wake my neighbor from his slumber and I climbed the octave ladder with my ‘Excuse Me’s’. Somewhere before I reached Opera-ic frequency, he woke. His eyes opened with a thud and he looked like a tree had just crashed across his path in his dream. I gave him a moment to compose himself and then gently told him that a tree had indeed crashed our path. “Eh?” he said. I told him about the tree that decided to attain the spiritual end to its time on Goddess Earth across the train tracks and the trains were cancelled.

Tree-moksh
Tree-moksh

“Whaddowenow?” he said

I practiced my shrug again.

All elevators are now functioning in the Bart system said a service advisory. I smiled. Glad to have that problem sorted out.

P.S: Incidentally, I am just adding to the rich culture of symbolizing trees and spirituality. See here on 800 Years of Visualizing Science, Religion, and Knowledge in Symbolic Diagrams:

The Book of Trees: 800 Years of Visualizing Science, Religion, and Knowledge in Symbolic Diagrams

Truth or Perception of Truth?

I have written about my train rides before. (the first one dated about a decade ago: https://nourishncherish.wordpress.com/2005/10/27/commuter-blues-or-benefits/) They are entertaining, freeing, frustrating and are not entirely the best friends to the olfactory senses, but then, when else do you get to appreciate the fact that you have allergies and a blocked nose that essentially mean that you don’t have to screw up your nose when others do?

The trains are hugely helpful for people like me who don’t enjoy having their noses stuck to a steering wheel: I would much rather stick my long-ish nose into a book. The trains are functional and not at all fancy. They take me to and from work everyday and for the most part are reliable.  I don’t know what it is with casting an evil eye on the most simple things. I typed this line out about 2 weeks ago for another blog, and in the intervening time, there were huge delays on the system causing much inconvenience and noise on social networks multiple times a week. There was one time when the website said, “We have been overwhelmed with the requests on the website, please check Twitter for updates.” Like any other person, I feverishly dug up all mentions of the trains and was greeted with dire warnings. News sites and social media told me that due to delays people have been queuing up on platforms and that the platform was so full that Police were standing near the ticket gates and turning people away.

All most disturbing. I summoned up that crowd instinct nestled in all of us and made for the station. That instinct is one of many things. One, it subtly points our body in the direction we wish to go and the rest is handled by the crowd. Two, it scans the crowd to see possible options and three, it senses danger. Number Three shows the vulnerability of mankind. For all our talk about finding one’s true self and being what you are and all that, one flaming emotion in a large crowd is all it takes for a person to lose their identity to the crowd. It is enough to sway people. To push them from their standard norms of behavior, and thus behave in ways that most of them would not pride themselves in.

I have been in situations where the crowd turns nasty really quickly and they are not memories I set aside for bedtime tales. For instance, there was this boy who worked at the corner grocery store in Bangalore in those days. He had a shy smile that he flashed every time we bought something. One time, I caught him running after chicks and not making a single victory. (Not eve-teasing, this guy had bought some chicks that looked like miniature powder puffs in various colors and had, in an unguarded moment, let them all loose all at once. ).

chasing chicks

Of course, he had imagined himself being seen to better advantage in front of his customers, but there you are. Both of us laughed at that, I bought my packet of milk and was off. A few weeks later, I remember, some riots broke out (somebody had died or somebody said something about somebody’s death – it doesn’t matter), but this hitherto mildly affable boy was transformed. I was alarmed when I saw the slightly mad look in his eyes, when I was hoping to find friendly ones.

I was strangely aware of all this as I made my way through the streets expecting to be pushed out through the escalators back to the street again, only to find that the station was completely empty. My senses jerked. One lone policeman was leaning against the wall and dreaming of his next coffee, so he could have something to do. Some homeless folk were there using the warmth of the underground pathway, a musician whose musical talent seems somewhat misplaced in a subway station, and two dogs. Nothing else.

Say what you will about news channels and social networks – they can make the happiest person court tears in minutes with nothing but a shred of news. Maybe all this real-time-update frenzy has us expecting to be alive and aware in a place, without really being there. That day, I was enormously grateful that the trains had got back on track and got me home, that I had worried for nothing. There were delays, during the day to be fair, it was the milking on that was quite unnecessary.

But it made me think. In this day and age of sharing and over-sharing, are we aggrandizing the mundane? Or worse still paltering with the truth. What is truth when one is flooded by so many perceptions of it, fanned vigorously by viral social networks?

If this had happened, would it have made a difference to what the grocer boy did in a crowd?

chasing chicks social media
chasing chicks social media