It has been raining.
This year, summer was a nightmare. Summers in Kerala always remind me of the struggle involved in accomplishing simple things. The household chores turn into a nightmare. Survival in itself turns into a mammoth struggle. The exhaustion sometimes translates into a lack of motivation. There were times I would feel that I couldn’t endure this struggle anymore. After all, every minute couldn’t be lived under the comfort of an AC. I remember afternoons that I spent walking in the sun, desperately seeking the shade of a tree. The umbrella was not of much help at that hour. In the heat of the afternoon sun, it was a miracle that I didn’t end up with a sun stroke. This battle with climate alone was sufficient to expose my vulnerability on many occasions.
I waver between vulnerability and strength. In my moments of vulnerability, I cry, cursing my fate. At what moment had my parents chosen to move to Kerala? At such times, I despise everything about this state- its climate and its people. I brood over the loneliness and seclusion that I experience here from time to time. I abhor the conservatism, the ego-centrism and the superfluousness that I see in society here. My vulnerability exposes the denial that I harbour deep within to many events in my life:
Denial towards the fact that I am no longer a child living in the protected world of my parents.
Denial towards our move from Bangalore- from all that was familiar and comfortable.
Denial towards the responsibilities that characterize my life now.
Denial towards moving away from the warmth and intimacy that characterized my friendships in Bangalore.
Denial towards the events surrounding my father’s death.
Denial towards my brother’s rational perspective of life.
It appears that I am in denial of every change that occurred in my life! It is as if I resist change strongly.
But, when my vulnerability is at bay, I feel quite the opposite. I love my life in Kerala for it gives me meaning. Where else could I feel this joy of being right at the heart of nature? Nature awakens in me aspects that I knew not existed within me. Here in Kerala, I have learnt to develop a kinship with nature that instills in me a deep sense of purpose.
I suppose it is in the silent companionship of the universe that one is able to hear one’s inner voices clearly- the instincts that lie dormant within us.
In the evenings, I sit in the courtyard and gaze at the sky. Like someone wrote, it is so instinctual for us to gaze up at the sky when we wish to communicate with our own selves. I have tucked away infinite perceptions and memories into the canvas of the sky. It is as if the sky holds them all.
I share a similar kinship with animals. The cows and calves in the neighbourhood look up in anticipation when they hear the sound of my car. Stray cats and dogs take respite in the premises of my house in the hot summer. They know instinctively that this is an animal-friendly house. The birds are busy splashing about in the bird-baths we put out. The pigeons wait patiently on the roof for us to put out grains. When I water the plants, the Magpie Robin accompanies me. I am amused by its relative lack of fear. I talk to all the birds and animals. I like to believe that they understand me. And I like to believe that I understand them. The other day, the labourer who helps us occasionally with the garden work, spotted a jambakka (wax apple) plant that had sprouted on its own.
‘Perhaps a bird deposited the seed as a token of gratitude for the water you provide‘, he joked.
I like to believe that. It reminds me of the stories I read as a child. In my mind, I am a little girl, thrilled at discovering the jambakka plant, unaware of where it came from. A bird, sitting on a tree, smiles at its little secret.
I love my garden. It is not exotic, but it is a universe of its own, with endless possibilities. There are times when I take great pains to plant something, but meet with failure. Either the seed fails to sprout or the plant withers away or it grows, but fails to flower or fruit. But simultaneously, something erupts spontaneously in my garden.
And thus, my garden teaches me life. To see hope in despair and to anticipate despair in hope.
Being a part of the journey of a plant or tree is analogous to motherhood. This year, my mango tree bore fruits for the first time. Of the tiny mangoes that erupted, only three made it to ripening. Every morning, I would inspect the mangoes. I would rejoice when I saw them gradually growing in size and changing in color. In the evenings, I would make sure they were still up there. The tree is now tall enough to bring in a little shade into the yard that is set ablaze by the sun. I can’t wait for it to grow taller. I look at the tree with fondness for I have witnessed the story of its life- its struggle through adversity. I have watched it realize its potential. The tree seems to smile back at me.
To me, the tree is as alive as a human being. It is capable of understanding love.
The bougainvillea is a beauty. It had once been uprooted by a strong wind, but we planted it again and it survived. The tree with yellow flowers invites many hummingbirds that fill my garden with their musical tweets. I had bought the sapling from a nursery in Mangalore and I was heartbroken when my mother had accidentally stepped on it and its stem had been damaged. But it survived and today, it is a tree.
My garden is something I like to constantly carry in my mind. Every day, I am eager to inspect it, tend to it, mend its wounds, and nurture it. Quite like the character of Sudhakaran Nair in Udyanapalakan. I am indebted to Lohithadas for illuminating this deep meaning one is capable of deriving from one’s kinship with gardens.
I now understand that beauty lies not in a solitary flower, but in its kinship with the mother plant. In turn, the plant is very much an inseparable part of the garden it belongs to. And the gardener is very much a part of the garden he tends to. The gardener must understand that he derives meaning from tending to the garden and sustaining its integrity, not from disrupting its integrity.
There is something that the garden attempts to become. It is for the gardener to be able to feel this creative impulse of the garden and facilitate its evolution through his own creativity. Thus, the gardener’s integrity lies in facilitating the integrity of his garden. In doing so, he discovers the meaning in his own life.
Thus, the beauty of a garden (and the world as a whole) lies in its integrity. An integrity that is not to be disturbed. The world is one big garden. We are all the gardeners. Our happiness therefore lies in sustaining the integrity of this garden through our creative impulses. It is in the expression of these creative impulses that our potential is realized.
This kinship spills not just into my garden, but into the trees and rivers that greet me as I travel to work, the mountains and forests I seek when I wish to break free from the routine of life, and into all elements of nature. How then can I claim that I am lonely in Kerala, when in reality, I have the companionship of a universe?
As for the people of this land, I have met some of the most inspirational personalities here in Kerala. The most resilient and creative souls. That does not surprise me anymore. For it is this resilience and creativity that makes survival possible in this conservative society. To them, it comes naturally. But to me, that resilience is an effort. I feel scared to admit this to them.But there is much for me to learn from them. The quality they bring into interactions has a richness that contrasts with the lightheartedness of life in the city.
In Kerala, there is no room for lightheartedness. Even festivals and celebrations are a serious affair. But if one can overlook this seriousness, then one can see the intellectual richness of this society. The true essence of life lies in these rural characters who demonstrate a deep engagement with their natural environment and are distant from the comforts and pleasures that alienate man from such ability. For they are moulded by their experiences and by their kinship with nature-
Nature that has taught them all the lessons of resilience. Nature that has taught them life and the art of survival.
This ode to Kerala would be incomplete without a mention of Malayalam cinema. Perhaps, if you could open up my mind and probe into it, you would discover Malayalam cinema there. Cinema that taught me life. Cinema that taught me to see the worth in my own stories of vulnerability. Cinema that taught me to accommodate difference, deviation, eccentricity, adversity, unfairness and all that threatened to shatter the integrity of my world. For someone who breathes Malayalam cinema, the opportunity to give back something as a tribute to all the legends who created art that sustained my very soul, is exhilarating. I shall never forget the 4th of June, 2016. I suppose I have to wait for my exhilaration to abate before I can write about that day.
And thus, I feel myself bonded inseparably to this land that has mentored me and contributed immensely in my spiritual journey. I now understand that life is a collage of people, places and experiences that seem to bear no connection to each other in the scheme of our life on conventional terms. And yet, when one looks at it from a spiritual perspective, one realizes that each element of that collage represents a direction in this journey towards spiritual enlightenment.
Kerala has thus taught me acceptance to life. It has taught me to accept he volatility of my spirit- its inability to ground and stay at a place. Stability has always attracted me, but I now know that man’s spirituality is rooted in his inability to define permanence. It is this constant unrest that motivates man towards an insatiable quest for knowledge and thus towards higher levels of functioning. Writing is born out of such unrest. And so, I have learnt to embrace this unrest for it is this unrest that leads me to all the pearls I have discovered in life!