Through Love’s Great Power

Through love’s great power to be made whole
In mind and body, heart and soul—
Through freedom to find joy, or be
By dint of joy itself set free
In love and in companionhood:
This is the true and natural good.To undo justice, and to seek
To quash the rights that guard the weak—
To sneer at love, and wrench apart
The bonds of body, mind and heart
With specious reason and no rhyme:
This is the true unnatural crime.– Vikram Seth

Tiny bits of stardust

You and me, we are all just tiny bits of stardust. A thousand million years ago, a bunch of stars exploded across the Milky Way into a gazillion little specks. You and me are one of them.

It is easy to forget that sometimes. It is easy to forget how insignificant yet priceless we are as we go through the daily grind of making a living and eking out the bills. And yet sometimes when you stop to listen to the birds chirping in the morning, or to stare at the stars at night, sometimes you feel like you’re part of a grand orchestra playing out in the middle of nowhere.

Sometimes you remember that they put you on earth for a reason: to create something of value that will outlast your tiny insignificant lifespan. It could be anything – maybe you successfully defended a PhD and added a tiny speck to the world’s repository of knowledge. Maybe you taught a raggle taggle bunch of kids to reach for the stars, or you built or drew or envisioned something that people could use and admire. Maybe you raised honest and strong-willed boys and girls who will someday do their own great things. Maybe you wrote a song or a book or a poem, and changed someone’s life forever through it.

And what if you didn’t do any of that? What if you passed through the performance sitting tightly on stage, never lifting your trombone to your lips, never playing a note? No one would notice, of course, the orchestra is too loud and magnificent and everyone is doing pretty much what they damn please. No one would notice but you.

Tiny bits of stardust exploding across the Milky Way, you came from great places. It took a million little iterations in time and a thousand million chance occurrences for you to exist in this moment as a sentient being. Make it count.

(In picture: Infrared view of star formation region Messier 8, often called the Lagoon Nebula, captured by the VISTA telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. Source: ESO/VVV)

To imperfection

In the ideal world there are no 2 a.m. dinners.

In the ideal world you eat three meals in a day which magically appear at the table, before you set off for your awesome six-figure paying job.  Of course, life being what it is, you probably had to cook them yourself, but by now you’re an expert at this game and can dish out a chicken biriyani and a Fish Moilee at the drop of a hat.

In the ideal world you fall in love at 21, get married by 27, have your first kid before 30. You probably own a car and your in-laws think you are the epitome of perfection.

Back in the real world, your bed still looks like it was hit by a tornado. Food is coffee and a sandwich and uppittu at the office canteen. But you have people who love you, and some days you do manage to get most of the things on your checklist done. And even if you fall asleep on the couch and wake up at midnight craving for hot food, you can roll up your sleeves and make yourself a mean dinner.

And some days you get to do work that you feel proud of, or to make someone happy through a simple word or action, and it seems like all this is temporary: one day, all the loose ends will tie up to form a gorgeous ball of sunshine.

Meanwhile, the mother of two whose settledness you envy stays up till 2 until everbody sleeps, to savour the only moment of solitude she can get in a long day.

She hears in the morning azaan the same calming voice you do – memories of a simpler time.

No one would sleep that night, of course

No one would sleep that night.

Live & Learn

stars

“Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would create new religions overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.”

Paul Hawken


Credits: Photograph – NatGeo first place Best Travel Picture Winner in 2011. Ben Canales sprawls in the snow under the starry sky above Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. Quote: Thepoetoaster.com


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Parasports: going beyond limitations

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Photo: Prashanth Muniraju

Until Roger Bannister ran a mile under a minute in 1954, it was thought impossible for humans to run that fast. Today most international runners can meet the target. If sport is about overcoming limitations, para athletes are some of the greatest mindbenders: for instance, how does a knee amputee play badminton, or a visually impaired person remember all the game positions in chess?

ASTHA, an NGO working for persons with disabilities, organised a sports meet for persons with and without physical disabilities st Devanahalli in the outskirts of Bengaluru on Tuesday. Close to 70 people participated in blind chess, wheelchair tennis, para badminton and para table tennis.

Sunil Jain, a wheelchair athlete and the brains behind the event, feels sport can empower the differently abled. “Think of how a person without hands would do archery,” he says.

As I rack my brain for an answer, he explains, “In the last two minutes, you’ve thought outside your body and its limitations. This is what a person with disability does every time they pick up a sport.” His goal is to offer differently abled athletes opportunities to train and hone their skills.

Sheryl, an M.Sc. Biology student, played badminton for the first time at the event after losing her leg in an accident in January. “I used to play for fun earlier, but now I’m thinking of playing professionally,” she says. As she and other players pick up the racquet, the game is slower than usual, they pause to bend and pick the cork when it hits the floor, or stop when the shot is too far to attempt. But a few minutes into the game, the prosthetics seem to  disappear: there are only a bunch of players giving their best on court.

In the chess room, a group of visually impaired persons from Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled in HSR Layout blitz through the chess board as they feel and move their pieces. Playing against sighted players makes no difference to their game. It’s not just chess, Basavaraj, Prashant and Thimmaiah also play blind cricket, and being differently-abled has done little to quell their sense of humour. “He’s the Dhoni of our group,” says Prashant, pointing to a friend, “maybe you can join his fan club!”

Although the winners were announced in the evening, every participant wears a look of accomplishment, from the wheelchair athletes playing lawn tennis to the visually impaired swimmers, many of whom were trained to swim for the first time on Tuesday by international para swimmer Sharath M. Gaikwad.
And to answer the question posed in the beginning: one archer Sunil knows grips the bow between his legs and pulls the arrow with his lips. Because few things are unattainable if you put your mind to it, and every para athlete can testify to that.
(An edited version of this article appeared here in The Hindu)

Under Bengaluru’s trees

Did you know the tamarind tree came from Ethiopia two thousand years ago? Or that the vast majority of Bengaluru’s avenue trees are native to South America? In fact, so many commonly-used plants have come from that continent, the famous botanist and Kannada writer B.G.L. Swamy wrote a book called Namme Hotteyalli South America (South America in our stomach).

If you’ve ever stopped tree.jpgin the middle of the road to admire a gorgeous Pink Shower tree in bloom, a tree walk is right up your alley. The tree walk I dropped in for took place at Rest
House Park on Museum Road. We were led by our guide Arun, who, while not tree hugging or bird watching, runs a restaurant near Brigade Road. As for the tree walkers, they were an eclectic bunch, ranging from an editor of an e-magazine on sustainable living, an architect with a keen interest in permaculture farming, and a Ph.D. researcher from Los Angeles.

The walk nearly did not happen, because just as our guide began with a brief history on Bengaluru’s gardens, a security guard took umbrage to our “meeting”. After we convinced him of our harmless intentions, he reluctantly agreed. And then we set off.

“This here is the rain tree,” our guide began airily. The rain tree is a native of South America, its name possibly a shortened form of rainforest tree. It was once a popular avenue tree due to its leafy canopy, but of late municipal authorities have stopped planting it as its branches fall during heavy rains. It is a fast growing tree, says Arun, its soft timber a perfect choice for nesting barbets.

All the way from Madagascar

Next in line is the Gulmohar, a native of Madagascar; the mast tree (also called the False Ashoka!) with its tall, skinny frame and drooping leaves, and the Cassia Javanica or the Pink Shower Tree.

There are old favourites, the east India almond tree, the soap nut tree, the cannon ball tree. Fruit trees: mango, jackfruit, avocado and fig. Thin reed-like golden bamboo and stately silver oaks and mahogany trees. There are gorgeous flowering specimens like the flaming-red African tulip and the purple Jacaranda, waiting for spring to burst out in colour. It is astonishing that a space so concise can host more than 22 different species of trees.

Arun also identified a staggering variety of birds in the area, sometimes by just their call. Green enclaves are like magnets that draw the birds in, he stresses. The talk veers to current conservation methods, and how for various reasons, trees the city was known for are no longer being planted. Fast-growing trees are often adopted in sapling drives as they make for “good figures.”

We come to the end of our walk, each lingering in their own thoughts. There is a deep satisfaction in learning the names of trees and birds, it’s almost a feeling of groundedness. We talk about the altercation with the guard, about how ‘public’ our public spaces truly are. Someone fondly recalls the trees from their childhood, and reminisce how their beloved city is fast losing something that defined it for decades.

“It’s easy to learn about trees,” says our guide, before parting. “They aren’t going anywhere soon.”

Now that’s definitely a thought to take home.

(This piece first appeared in The Hindu Metroplus)