The summer light shimmies through scrunched up leaves under our feet. It is the ‘shedding’ season making way for the new and along with budding leaves we too look for new beginnings…a Covid free world. ‘Yippee….we have the Vaccine …and all is well with the World.’
Flashback: 2020 was confined to luggage holds, of hibernation, revamping and resetting lifestyles, thinking patterns and priorities. We learnt to be homogenous in our wants, to accept people and situations as homes metamorphosed into offices and social activity confined to Web interactions. A crucial lesson learnt was acknowledging the role of home makers…. wives, partners, families, helpers. Households came to a standstill when maids trudged back to their villages or stayed in lockdown.
The country was going through its own tribulations..migrants forced to walk miles to reach hometowns, loss of jobs and livelihood, the virus spreading unhindered through cities, towns, villages, housing complexes and slums with hospitals and health services stretched to limits. Slowly the collective wisdom prevailed and instead of indulging in blame games and conspiracy theories, authorities stepped in to work on vaccines. India was slightly better off than more advanced nations. There is much to be grateful for.
I hopped onto the DIY bandwagon polishing my hidden resilient resources and managing a fairly liveable house. But within three months my patience deserted me and the pressure cooker and the rolling pin mutated into monstrous muggers. My continuous cribbing prompted my four year old granddaughter to comment, “But we too cook ourselves”. “Child, this is not Canada”…. but I realised her rationale and lumbered on for another month. Finally, decided to call in our cleaning help, who too was floundering in financial uncertainty with husband laid off work and five mouths to feed. We were both glad to be there for each other.
March 8, 2021……waiting in queue for our turn for the ‘Jab’. Jostling seniors, pre-booked and walk-ins, excited about their anticipated freedom of travel and social connect. Doctors and support staff were there to support and it was a seamless process considering the numbers in ‘me first’ mode..
Two months of self quarantine on return from Pune (December 2020) and post-jab I was ready to step out. My first outing, March 10, 2021, was a walk-a-thon in the Aravali Bio Diversity Park, Gurugram (Gurgaon) a park I had last visited in 2016.
A fresh invigorating morning breeze waved us through the main gate, on MG Road, towards the walking trails. “Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference” (Robert Frost). We take the easy trail, not too many loops and fellow walkers. The straight concrete path cuts through shrubs, trees, rocky terrain of Aravalli mountains, past the open-air spacious Amphitheater on our left. Pre Covid it was the venue for dance and music shows. Now it is locked and shrouded in trees and shrubs.
Somewhere amidst the enveloping foliage we hear Peacocks, copulatory calls, as it is mating season (from March extending till August). Other bird sounds from Peafowls, Parakeets, Mynahs, the tiny chirping sparrow hopping around, are music to the senses. The Park attracts nearly 120 species of birds from the Oriental Magpie Robin, Rufous-fronted Prinia, Common Tailorbird, Rufous Treepie, Long-tailed Shrike, Purple Sunbird, Common Babbler etc. I click pictures to identify the birds later. A profusion of trees, flowering plants, varieties I know nothing about, some familiar, and I savour the earthy fragrances.
A side path and bang opposite we see the peacocks in all their regal splendour, strutting around in seclusion of the ravine. We perch on a tree stump, gazing at them, hoping for a ‘mating’ dance, unfurling of jewelled feathers. Their calls pierce through the serene surroundings of this nature reserve in the heart of the city. We wait, following every nimble step, clicking pictures from every angle. The waiting game is on, waiting for the humans to move on.
We take another loop and a different route for the exit. By now it is warming up. Summer is not the best season, except early mornings or late evenings (before 7 pm) as the heat gets unbearable. Monsoon or Rainy season is ideal, winters too, when lush green is the color of nature’s canvas. The Park in the heart of Gurugram reminds me of Central Park in New York City, but, the similarity ends there. The Bio Diversity park has acres to cross before it reaches CP level. An NGO, I AM GURGAON, has been working tirelessly towards preserving the natural diversity of this Park and according to friends and well wishers they have worked wonders in the past few years.( https://iamgurgaon.org ).
Aravalli’s Bio Diversity park specifics: Area: 576 acres. Location: DLF Phase 3, Mehrauli Gurgaon Road (MG Road) Activities: – 4-km long cycle track, jogger’s track, 500 seater amphitheatre for social events (have to find out during Covid). Pets : Allowed Park Timings : Closed in the afternoon. Entry Fees : Free Parking : yes Photography : Allowed
Read of the Month: NIGHTS OF THE MOONLESS SKY : A TALE FROM THE VIJAYANAGARA EMPIRE by N.S. VISHWANATH
In Class 11 we were reading about wars and intrigues it was stimulating but remembering the names of kings and their kingdoms was a no-brainer. I was saved by our school proposal of ‘change of subject’ and I immediately switched to Home Science. At least, I would get good grades and in school this was a major concern…. to have a reasonable report card for College admission.
In grade 11, I opted for Ancient Indian History. Wars, intrigues…were interesting but remembering names of kings, courtiers was a no go. So when I was given an option of changing subject I did.
Now, decades later, 2021, our friend NS Vishwanathan asked us to read his creative endeavour set during Vijayanagara period of ancient Indian history. I rued my missed history lectures as NIGHTS OF THE MOONLESS SKY story-lines the turbulent period of the Vijayanagaram Empire (South India) with the personal fortunes of pastoral ‘Madhuvana’ presided over by seventy-year old patriarch Rajanna. The death of Rajanna, or murder by the family priest, creates fissures in family unity when elders decree that the widows of Ranjanna should perform the ancient ritual of sati. The two elder widows, in a lesbian relationship, commit suicide dressed in their wedding finery. Aadarshni, the protagonist, the twenty-two-year-old third wife and mother of Rajanna’s heir, refuses to comply to the family wishes. She conspires with Azam Khan, Rajanna’s trusted bodyguard, to escape the funeral pyre before it is lighted.
From here the plot turns into a thriller with espionage, rape, murder, intrigue…events that thrust Aadarshini to take decisions on her fate and that of her son. Somehow the brave, fierce, strong femme fatale fails to be an inspiration as her name suggests. The reason …One minute she is brimming with angst, a fire burning within her and next she is on the ground, blanked out….Faints when the going gets tough and within minutes is back in control.
For a first work of fiction The Nights of the Moonless Sky is a meticulous presentation of history woven around the familiar. The methodical approach lures the reader in loops and leaps down an evocative, tantalizing path.
The present Vijayanagar or ‘City of Victory’ on the banks of Tungabhadra River, is now partly the village of Hampi in eastern Karnataka State. Hampi is a designated World Heritage site famous for its temples, sculptures and monuments of the Vijayanagar Empire. It is on my must visit places. Hopefully soon.
Footnote: The two Rs …Royalty and Racism have captured the collective Indian imagination. The present British Royal saga is a xerox copy of our Bollywood (Film Industry) presentations that memes are doing the social media rounds.
Racism is a different game altogether. In 2016 travelling to Calgary (Canada) from Hong Kong (was living there ) my flight-read was KOWLOON TONG by Paul Theroux. The story is an illuminating take on the 1997 Hong Kong hand over to China by the British. Betty Mullard is nostalgic, affronted, peeved about the takeover, the loss of her status and possessions and subsequent move back home. She refers to the local Chinese as ‘Chinky Chonks’. Somehow this word stuck on. To cut a long story short …in Calgary our new born grand daughter squinted at me. Spontaneously I uttered ‘Chinky Chonk’ out of affection. Well…my son told me not to use the ‘endearment’ in public unless I want to be sued. It is a racist slur. Lesson learnt.
Human beings do not find their essence through fulfillment or eventual arrival but by staying close to the way they like to travel….,”