Every morning, I come to this spot, write a little, and watch the sun come up. A docile Pamba river flows next to me, like somebody who sticks around in case you might need their assistance; but in an inconspicuous way, not wanting to distract you from what you are doing. On the opposite ghats, concealed by tall coconut trees, there is a temple, I think. Every morning I can hear its bells toll and a prayer in a language I do not understand, waft from it and fill the air around me. I presume it is in Malayalam, because I am in a small, ‘off the grid’ place in Kerala. But what I do understand from the way it makes me feel is that tranquillity has no language. It is a vibe, which you can receive sitting by a river you’d never heard of, in a hamlet you could have never reached had it not been for Google Maps’ bulls-eye navigation, listening to a prayer in a language you don’t know, and breathing in fresh oxygen invigorating enough to put Michael Jackson’s hyperbaric chamber to shame. Only your antennas need to be up.
On the ghats on the opposite side of the river, people have started to appear, for bathing and washing their laundry. The rhythmic phat-phat-phat, caused by their arms swinging in a circular motion over their heads, and bringing the clothes to beat it down against a stone in an effort to rid them of all dirt, is pure music. In a few minutes I would be joining the Yoga session on the same platform where I now sit. Now, I have a disclaimer to make, before you read any further. That I am not a Yoga enthusiast; or for that matter fond of physical exercise of any kind. I am, have always been, and will always be, a whole-hearted supporter of unabashed and unapologetic sloth. I staunchly believe it has been wrongly termed as a sin. And I think gluttony doesn’t belong on that list of original sins, either. I mean, come on! If sloth is a sin, why would the technology constantly strive to give us machines aiming to reducing our manual labour, or computers and phones trying to minimize our intellectual labour? Or for that matter, if gluttony is such a depravity, why would fast food be a multi-billion-dollar industry, progressively determined to bring us closer to our clogged arteries and the next ten kilos, as fast as possible, one ‘greasy/sugary/oily-food item-we-don’t-need-but-crave-like-an-addict’, at a time? If all that brilliant science and technological advancement, wants us to lead an obese, unhealthy, ‘die twenty years before schedule' kind of a lifestyle; who are we to disobey?
So in keeping with my belief system, I initially tried to wiggle my way out the Yoga too. Given that I am fasting for Ramadan, and hence not very gung-ho about any additional physical labour, no matter how little it demands; it was my first line of defence. These sessions, however, only entail some simple breathing and relaxation exercises, aimed at maximizing the blood and oxygen flow in our body; not one of those ‘twist your body like a pretzel’ kind of asanas. So my logic fell flat.
I told myself that I cannot find the time, because this would eat into my writing (actually, sleeping) schedule. But then, I saw that the lady on the Yoga mat next to me was Ms. Meera Sanyal (ex CEO of Royal Bank of Scotland and an AAP member). One can’t really crib about not being able to find the time, when she can. Then, I tried telling myself I am too old to start with all this now. (Thirty four, believe, is a very flexible number, that way. You can call it old, or you can call it young, whatever seems to help your cause at the moment.) But I saw, that the delicate old lady in front of me, who is also Ms. Meera Sanyal’s mother, is 82. I tried to hide behind the ruse that my body wasn’t flexible enough to comply with even the simple asanas the Yoga teacher is telling us to do. Then I looked at the lady, three mats to my right, and I flinched with shame. She has MS (Multiple Sclerosis). On some days she needs to be helped by two people in order to walk and even to lie down. Yet, here she is, at the Yoga venue, at least fifteen minutes before the session starts, every single day.
That’s the thing about ‘doing what needs to be done’. You cannot escape it for long, no matter how creative your excuses are.
And so here I am. B-r-e-a-t-h-i-n-g I-n… B-r-e-a-t-h-i-n-g O-u-t. (I must add, the phat-phat-phat, from across the river, proves to be quite an encouraging beat, almost like gym music of a very unusual genre.)
I came to this small town of Malakkara in Kerala looking for answers; although I wasn’t sure, to what questions. But this place seems to know. Because it is offering me those answers, bit by bit, every day.
My family and I are here seeking holistic treatment for a few health-related issues. There isn’t much to do here, all day. So, after the treatment is over in the first half of the day, the staff here encourages everyone to walk about and explore the place, instead of sitting in our room and flip TV channels. It’s quite peaceful, except when sheets of rain fall, loud enough, to even drown the conversations inside your room.
Walking about, one can hear all sorts of birds. The other day we spotted a beautiful bird we had never seen before. We stood there watching it for a while. After a few minutes, as if intending to give us a show worth our time, it flew off; spreading out and giving us a splendid view of the cornucopia of colours it hid layered under its wings. I have a feeling – that sight will stay with me for a very long time.
My husband and my son often get busy plucking mulberries from the trees, or following millipedes and centipedes as they slowly crawl to whatever is their destination. My husband, the Botany-Zoology enthusiast, is often found educating people, sometimes even the old residents of this place, about the exotic flora and fauna that seems to occupy every square inch of this place. He is becoming quite popular here, in fact, for that encyclopaedic knowledge.
I, more often than not, find a quiet corner, which are in abundant supply here, of course, and get working on some article or story. The other day, I was struggling through the night to finish a critical conversation in one of the stories. Driven to the point of frustration, I went out to lie down on one of the hammocks by the river side, to watch the dawn break. In the next thirty minutes as the sun came up, I saw the coconut trees lining the ghats, changing a dozen hues; from a dark, almost a silhouetted green to a sun-kissed orange yellow. The temple and the sounds originating from it, kept me company. The temperate breeze tickled the trees and dislodged some of the dew from its leaves, making it rain on me. Every once in a while, a crane would glide in, cut through the surface of the river, sending long vertical ripples through the water; picking up its breakfast, I suppose. The whole ambience helped. Suddenly, the characters of my story were talking again. I jumped up and rushed to grab my laptop, before this stimulus wore off.
At nights, it gets really dark here; the ‘can’t-even-see-your-own-hands’ kind of dark. Because the thickness of the coconut, palm, banana, jackfruit, papaya and a dozen other trees I don’t even recognize, do not let a lot of moonlight filter through. The urbanite in me is reluctant to step out because that is the time for the insects and reptiles to come out to party. And I yelp and scream like a four-year-old girl. But every now and then, my husband’s persistence works and we find ourselves walking around in the dark, two flashlights being our only defence against something unexpected. A few days ago, our post-dinner wanderings found us back on this same river-side platform. The breeze and the sound of the rustling water, were too inviting to resist. We sat here, in absolutely no hurry to call it a night; our rambling discussion ranging from salads to Scorsese.
That’s when we saw them; little flickering dots flying about in the pitch darkness. It was magical, how much that bunch of fireflies, enchanted us – people living in cities where the lights never go off, because they never sleep. We wanted to show them to our son, who obviously had never seen them. My husband grabbed one and put it in a jar. When we gave that jar to our son, his expression was of someone who was seeing true magic happen with his own eyes, for the very first time. We looked at him, his eyes wide with bewilderment and joy, and then looked at each other. We knew we would have a hard time ever again finding him a gift, which would trump what he felt then, holding that glass jar with a dancing firefly inside.
That’s the other thing, about ‘doing what needs to be done’. It never fails to reward you, with what you need most at the moment. Tranquillity when you don’t even realize how ruffled up you are inside. Inspiration, when your creativity hits a wall. Revitalizing oxygen, knowing that in your haste to eke a living, you haven’t breathed in a long time.
And fireflies, which sparkle up the darkness around you.