The calendar year has changed, 2022 has ascended or descended to 2023, depending on whether you see it as a cardinal or an ordinal number. This is not a change in value or position, merely, that would be too clever to be meaningful. It is a change in our choices and approach, a transformation of perspective and character. A change that will lead us to a world envisioned in the poem shared below. A wish that I share with the entire human and non-human fraternity: May we make it come true, so that peace can truly rest on our brow.
Where shade covers And fruits fall Where roots grow From trees tall
Water runs, In underground streams A course long and free Through undivided geography.
Carrying nutriment That rises from beneath To transform In the rays of the sun.
All are fed, Equally so. Seven billion A small count amongst more.
Moistened and soft, As must be Giving to give Receiving what is Land does as nature deems.
With peace on brow, We lay down, Unburdened and unrushed.
We let greed out We bid it goodbye In gladness we exhale.
A beautiful occurrence An effort well made No happenstance it is.
The last full moon of the calendar year 2022, rose on December 7th and 8th, contingent on the location and time zone of the country. As I looked up the date of the recent full moon, I came across some interesting information.
In the Northern Hemisphere the December full moon is called Long Night Moon or Cold Moon, amongst other names in cultures across regions in the higher latitudes.
In the Southern Hemisphere, the same moon is called Strawberry Moon or Honey Moon.
I wondered what we in the middle latitudes could call it? So close to the equator we are that our relationship to the sun is more pronounced and discussed, but the moon is an essential part of our rhythm—circadian and ecological—it brings us relief from enervating heat.
I began conjuring up names for the December full moon, shortlisting Early Dusk Moon or the Seed Bearing Moon, the latter because I noticed many flowers bearing seeds at this time.
However, when I went for a walk on full moon night, and gazed at the moon, awareness about another aspect of the moon and its relationship with Earth arose. What came to be seen is shared below in verse. Not just the December full moon but the full moon across months and seasons is etched now in my mind as the Tree Moon.
Some with barks laden mid to top Some barren and brown No leaves, no branches, except a green crown.
Crooked are some At angles they grow And they grow perpendicular to the ground.
Dark outlines of leaves and fronds Branches like extended arms Shade the moon, full and complete Reveal its beauty, in contrast.
Alone the moon an orb of light In a barren sky Looks glorious when seen behind Tree tops that rise high.
With wonder I gaze At this unusual pair One situated in the sky The other rooted in earth.
Tree sap rises, I am told On the night the full moon glows With joy, my heart exclaims Nothing is beautiful on its own.
Reuse, please. Photo courtesy: Reshma Jain, Paul Rodrigues
I am standing at the post office, second in line. I have two sets of books in hand, packed in old newspaper with a page from an outdated diary as a label. The customer ahead of me moves to fix his packaging, and I push my books through the little booking window.
On the other side, I notice a disgruntled expression with furrowed brow. ‘Repack the books in envelops. This packaging won’t work.’
‘I have used this packaging to ship books from your post office before.’
‘Impossible, we would never accept such packaging.’
‘But…there was another person at this window earlier and he accepted it.’
The disgruntlement, no longer restricted to rearranged facial muscles, finds articulation in speech—I hear the dissatisfaction that the face reflects.
‘Did we ever accept any package wrapped like this?’ Asks the voice to the woman at the adjacent window.
‘Never!’ She says emphatically.
‘She’s been here for fifteen years and she says never.’
‘Maybe she didn’t notice me or the package, and the last time I came was nearly eight months back. Perhaps she recalls my father coming with such packaging. He’s older and therefore more striking.’
‘We can’t accept this.’
‘Please understand, the book inside is made of recycled cotton waste. I did this to save trees. The point is lost if I use new packaging.’
Before I finish my sentence, I hear an impatient, ‘We can’t accept this, right?’
The question is directed at a person in the back of the room. He walks out from behind his desk to come examine my package, ‘Sorry madam, you will blame us if the contents in your package get ruined.’ Out loud for all to hear, he says ‘Once a lady sent goods worth 15,000 (Indian Rupees) and the packaging was flimsy, she insisted it was our fault that her goods were damaged in transit.’
‘They won’t get damaged. I have used this packaging to send books outside of Bombay, while these shipments are to locations within the city.’
‘From our post office?’
‘That’s not possible.’
‘Why would I lie?’
‘You must have sent it from another post office.’
‘No, from here.’
‘Packages are dumped together in a sack that is roughly handled. The packaging you have used may tear.’
‘I understand your concern, but the packaging has two layers.’
‘We will accept it this time, madam, but at your risk.’
The person behind the window shakes his head in disagreement, ‘Look how loose the sealed edges are.’
‘Seal it with more tape,’ saying so, the man who had examined my package returns to his desk.
‘Seal it,’ instructs the voice as the books are pushed back out the window.
The customer who had been ahead of me in line and had gone to fix his packaging, gently extends his hand to offer me an adhesive tape roll and a duct tape roll; no words spoken.
‘If we all reused packaging, Bombay would have more trees,’ I mumble, gratefully taking the adhesive tape and refusing the duct tape.
‘May I get a scissor please?’ I ask the person behind the window.
‘Can you give her a scissor?’ says the person to the woman who has worked at the post office for fifteen years.
I take the scissor and look at the customer who thoughtfully shared his adhesive tape roll, ‘I wish I had an extra book to give you.’
A gentle smile but no words spoken in reply.
Loose edges sealed, I hand over the books with a mental note that next time I must use gum arabic, because adhesive tapes cannot be recycled unless they are made of paper.
As I walk home, it strikes me that the person behind the window did not once look into my eyes while we spoke.
At night, a thought emerges in the mind: I must take copies of the book for the people at the post office so that they know what’s gone into it. I imagine myself at the post office, showing them the book and suggesting they gift it to a child who enjoys reading stories.
Feeling that this gesture would complete the interaction, instead of leaving it sullied by the stain of incongruence, I go to the post office with three copies of the book—for the man behind the window, the woman who never saw me once in fifteen years, and the person behind the desk—but none for the customer who had done me a kindness and whose whereabouts I knew little about, except for the knowledge that his office was across from a department store a few blocks away.
I also have with me a photograph of the packaging that I had requested one of the recipients to take and a message from the other recipient that the package had arrived intact.
Perhaps the postal trio would warm up to the idea of reused packaging as a comparable and reliable alternative to new packaging, or in the least a friendly end note would leave us all a little less ruffled.
Peeping in from the door of the post office, I find unfamiliar faces behind the window and at the desk. I leave without entering. The books sit on my coffee table, a reminder, of the relational interplay between resistance, acceptance, patience, and friendship that shape all occurrences, and of a delivery that is in our hands to make.
Written in a moment of inspiration, this blog post contains four anecdotes about my nieces and nephews. It will be lovely if you can take a few minutes to live the innocence in these incidents. The language and syntax is simple so that you can read it to children and help them understand a few abstract words that are important values in actuality; they become graspable and relatable when explained in context. The best learnings happen when a grownup learns with children.
Learning, Imagination with Shaurya, Thoughtfulness with Isabel, Acceptance with Vidur, Gratitude with Maya.
A little boy came running into the veranda where I was watching the wonder of the skies. Thunder and lightning followed a rainbow that had coloured an otherwise grey evening. He had in his hands a bucket filled with sea creatures.
They were fake; they were not actually real and so I wasn’t afraid. I would have been had they come from the sea and not from a toy shop, because in the bucket were fish much larger and stronger than I—a shark and a blue whale. There was also a creature bulkier than I—a walrus, and another resident of the sea that I wasn’t afraid of, a dolphin. I had seen one breach, it had jumped out of the water and dived back in, a delightful sight indeed.
Oh, do look up these sea creatures and ask your papa or mama, or your dad and mom, to tell you about how big they are and about what they eat, and where they live in the oceans and seas of our wonderful Planet Earth.
The little boy, whose name is Shaurya, told me that the blue whale was in his bathtub. And I said, “The largest creature on the whole planet is in your bathtub, wow!” His eyes gleamed at the thought. This is what is called imagination.
A little girl and I walked on the beach. She swung her arm back and forth, and with her arm moved mine, because our fingers were intertwined. Our bare feet sank gladly in the soft sand, feeling the coolness of the night and the early winter morning in the tiny sand particles that slipped off our feet, and the few that remained on our skin.
Up to the waterline we went, where others were collecting garbage that people had thrown into the sea. The others there gave us each a pair of gloves and we began to collect garbage too. The little girl, Isabel is her name, with small hands tucked inside large gloves, picked what she could and put it on the garbage pile that was starting to look like a hill.
Isabel asked, “Why is there so much garbage in the sea.” I replied that we buy many things and they come in boxes and bags that we do not use, we then throw these boxes and bags that are sometimes burned, sometimes buried, and sometimes tossed in the sea. Then she asked, “Should we buy less things so that there is less garbage in the sea, because the sea creatures must find it yucky?” I smiled, “We must buy only what we really need and what we need is not too much. Next time, you can choose which toys to buy and not ask for every toy that looks nice.” She nodded and said, “That’s what I will do.” This is what is called thoughtfulness.
Another little boy, by the name Vidur, had large, crocodile tears, rolling down his tanned cheeks. His eyes were sad as we sat to eat his favourite thin-crust Pizza Margherita and large, gooey, chocolate-chip cookies. I asked him why, but he said not a word. His sister then whispered that he wanted a race track that he was told he could not have. We finished our dinner without much talk and returned home.
Next day, it was my turn to say not a word. I took Vidur to the toy shop, Hamleys they call it. I said we were there to buy a present for another little boy. He smiled sweetly and we began our search for a present. He didn’t once ask for the race track. But little did he know what was coming his way, a surprise that his sister and I had planned.
While Vidur and I searched for a nice present, his sister went and brought the race track to the cash counter. With Vidur’s hand in mine, I led him to where she was. We paid for the race track and I gave it to Vidur and said, “Take care of it and don’t lose the parts, so that you can gift it to someone else when you are done playing with it. Think about who you could give it to.” He nodded and said, “Thank you. I will give it to Raghav, before I go back home (to California).” This is what is called acceptance.
There’s one more little girl that I must tell you about. A long time back, fifteen years to be precise, sat Maya in her chair that was shaped like a bear. That’s right, a big brown bear and she sat in its lap, snug and cosy while watching her favourite cartoon. I walked in and kneeled beside her. A pack of stickers in my hand, I said, “Here Maya, this is for you.”
Maya loved to make art but she was too little to draw the many things she saw, so she would fill her art book with beautiful stickers. She looked at the stars and the moon and the butterflies and flowers in the pack of stickers, and with gleeful eyes and a wide smile said, “This is for me! Thank you, thank you so much.” This is what is called gratitude.
When you use your thoughts to create a great story, where all creatures together come, know that imagination is doing good stuff in your head. When you observe and wonder, and do things that make others comfortable without making yourself too uncomfortable, know that thoughtfulness is teaching you to care. When you are sad and you cry, but then you let go and move on, know that acceptance is showing you the way to happiness. When your heart smiles and says thank you for the smallest of things, know that joy has arrived,andjoy and gratitude move together as one.
Thank you to all children for being such wonderful teachers and learners.
‘No way, that’s spoilt,’ was my immediate reaction to a brown coconut that had a small, white something growing within. My homeowner had laboriously de-husked a coconut, which had been gifted to me by friends at the food forest (natureWORKS). Watching what is required to de-husk the large outer shell of the coconut made me reflect on how this sweet nut is a tough one to crack. The hardest metals if dropped from the crown of a coconut palm will dent, but not a coconut, adapted to float through stormy seas on long voyages till it reaches sandy shores where it can find place to sprout.
My homeowner picked on the small, white something, and popped a piece in his mouth, without hesitation. ‘Really?’ I asked, ‘Are you sure?’ ‘We had it as children,’ was his response. His expression gave me the courage to pick on it. Gosh, was it relishable. I had been buying coconut for years, cracking them for a couple, yet this was the first time I had set sight on the little, white something.
At the food forest, I mentioned the delicious discovery to M&M. They too had eaten this something, not just as children, but also in recent years. ‘It is the embryo of the coconut,’ they informed. ‘No way,’ this time I uttered in incredulity. They went on to explain: ‘The water in the coconut begins to dry and slowly the embryo forms, relying on the coconut meat for its remaining nutrition, this embryo is what sprouts and becomes a coconut tree. It’s called Moran, in Konkani (one of the languages spoken in Goa). I sat there fascinated, soaking in the information with delight. How could I grate coconut meat again without being grateful, recognising that the coconut was sustaining my life instead of its own.
Image credits: Image 1 of coconuts on the tree, coconut-fruit.com; image 2 and 3 copyleft attribution, natureWORKS, Goa
In the early hours, prior to tasting the coconut embryo or Moran and the ensuing learning about the embryo’s existence, I had to take initiative to have a difficult conversation with someone who assumed I would do them a monetary favour, without first inquiring about my convenience. The assumption was made by the spouse of the lady who helps me with home chores. This was a new relationship, I had engaged with them for a month only. The monetary favour they required was, for air travel from their hometown to Goa where we all lived, for an amount that I doubted they could repay without planning and inconvenience.
I found myself facing a dilemma—the relationship was new and the recent inconsistency in income-generating projects did not endow me with much of a disposable income, yet I was inclined to helpfulness and trust. I could say, ‘No, I don’t have the money.’ This though would not be entirely true, because I did have the money, I only chose to use it more judiciously. The hesitation, I realised, did not have to do with money, it came from lack of trust.
I decided that instead of building a fence of outright refusal or excuses, I needed to explain my reality and the present situation. However, having a personal conversation with someone we barely know is not easy, especially when it involves an inability to coalesce or unite because of incompatible realities. We may expect from a relationship what the other cannot offer, and often the one who cannot offer has to take the more generous stand of explaining their situation. Rare are relationships in which give and take recede in the presence of mutual appreciation and support.
What was to be my generous stand? Would I be nurturing a healthy relationship were I to deny recognition to the lack of trust that lurked in my mind and the practical reality that I was currently living? I chose to appreciate the truth of my reality, and I noticed that my mind was released from the tension that fences create (State borders are a palpable example of this dissonance).
I left a voice note for my house help, because its easier to speak honestly and completely when the other is listening silently, albeit at a later time. I explained about my recent choices in projects and how I was using my savings carefully to fund part of my experience at the food forest. I requested that they ask her husband’s longtime employer to fulfil their requirement, if support was not extended and they had the provision to pay me back upon their return then I would purchase the air tickets.
Next morning, I received a call from her husband to say they had booked their travel on a train and were calling to inform me about their arrival date. I was grateful that the acknowledgement of my reality and the willingness to respectfully explain it had protected both them and me, and therefore the relationship. This however may not always be the outcome, but explaining truthfully, without grudging the other for expecting, is an approach that bridges gaps in understanding. In new relationships this is required and in old relationships it is imperative.
As I sat in quiet observation and sipped my morning coffee, an act not merely of leisure but of reconnecting with my surroundings, the mind linked the recent two experiences with the coconut and with communicating respectfully. Both regeneration and communication depend on one process, the process of cohesion—where one particle joins another to form a whole. The first is natural cohesion and the second social cohesion. In both continuity is created intentionally, by design.
I walked eagerly to the backyard, looking forward to pulling a sprig of Moringa leaves toward me. I relished these leaves daily till about a month back, when I travelled to Bombay from Goa for a family reunion. Bombay, where high-rises hide the sky; Goa, where you still see soil and sky in communion (a kinship under threat). Bombay, the consumer’s dream; Goa, the escapist’s sanctuary. I fit broadly both descriptions, of consumer and escapist—perhaps, we all do. The consumer takes materially, the escapist takes mentally, seemingly opposed yet one in the act of taking.
The happy middle is where the mind of the recipient rests. To learn to receive is to move away from a consumer’s anxious taking and from an escapist’s illusion of not taking.
Where stood the Moringa tree, with its delicate leaves and slender stems, stands now a stump. My heart ached or rather sank—curious that we call it heartache, when the feeling itself originates not in the heart but somewhere else. It seems to occur in an organ buried deeper than the heart, a place that our medical devices cannot access. And it’s more a sink than an ache.
The hacked tree stood as a reminder of a broken humanity: how can we think of ourselves as intact and intelligent, when we amputate a healthy arm that carries food to our starving mouth? The analogy, be told, is appropriate, because Moringa is known as a miracle tree, every part is health-giving. It’s by far, The Giving Tree that Shel Silverstein wrote about in his picture book.
With no sprig in hand, I returned to my door left wide open to welcome the morning light. A tiny green leaf caught my eye. It was at my doorstep. I picked it up. Wiping it gently with my fingers, I took a bite—I should know a leaf that I plucked and ate every day for two months, yet I erred on the side of caution and hesitantly chewed. Moringa indeed!
I looked up and saw that the neighbour’s Moringa tree had grown during the rains, and its branches were hanging delicately over my homeowner’s compound. The breeze had carried one of its tiny leaves to my doorstep. As the taste buds registered that the leaf was from a Moringa tree, the sinking feeling transformed into joy and a moment of realisation: When we believe in coincidences, we are robbed of experiencing life’s benevolence. A tiny leaf at my doorstep from one Moringa tree while my mind distressed over the felling of another, brought me back to a “higher love.”
All appeared beautiful again and my eyes gazed thankfully at my green surroundings. They came to rest attentively at the banana plant outside my front door. Bearing fruit and a beautiful purple flower, the plant was working hard to create nourishment for other living beings. When ripe the fruit will be harvested and the plant will perish, leaving behind a few spurs or spurring new shoots that will grow and nourish like the mother plant—benevolence, isn’t it? And it’s also an example of carrying forward inheritance, from mother to child and plant to spur or shoot.
All that I gave the plant was kitchen waste, peels, leaves, used coffee grind, overripe coconut, and a bad batch of kombucha. And what was it giving in return? You give me waste, I give you food: Can we hope to replicate a cycle of giving so untainted? Not if we continue to squander our inheritance. The sinking feeling is not an ache but a reminder that we are wasting what we have been given—the inheritance of love.
Two nights prior to the full moon in May, I learned to weave a coconut frond, from my friend at the food forest (natureWORKS). I prefer for her a word used centuries back in India, that is mostly forgotten and in disuse today–kalyanmitra (friend in well-being).
I was both grateful and filled with joy by my experience. The act of making a Mol’lam (a woven coconut frond) brought forth to mind many images and much inspiration.
As an ode to all early crafters, who have helped establish the human experience of solidarity and contentment, and opened our hearts to receive with humility, and to Goa’s very own Makers of Mol’lam , including the two in the first photo, I dedicate this inspired verse.
Thank you note: I had originally used the word Mollan, which was accepted by all who read the post. However, a friend and journalist, writer from Goa, corrected me and pointed to the original spelling Mol’lam (guessing it is phonetic). I have made the edit.
Image courtesy: natureWORKS, Pilerne, Goa. All images are licensed under Copyleft
Makers of Mol’lam You weave a frond That the breeze once moved
A wave, a swish, a sway In greeting For those who took the time To look.
How did you imagine A frond you could weave What made you braid This divided leaf?
Did you lay on it first Or use it as a fence Did the gaps show you That a weave and a knot would Help serve your end?
Through your hand, to your heart Did the veins carry inspiration Not a moment of genius But of attention?
You tried and you tried again Till the gaps were closed And the frond, Once a leaf, now a Mol’lam Came to be known.
Beauty unchanged Imperfection remains The drying leaf, its brittle ends In colours that have shades Our palettes do not contain.
Makers of Mol’lam Don’t you stop Let the fingers feel Let me kneel In humility For I do not craft, I make not beauty, nor art.
Inspiration flows, It carries on. To those who receive It belongs When a moment of attention Calls it forth.
Oh, makers of Mol’lam Please don’t stop For our hands must continue To use what is given And is received.
To take there is no need Plenty is ours We must know how to kneel Not with heads bowed down But with hearts open.
If our hands don’t remember to make Our hearts slowly will forget That beauty is as it is Imperfect.
Makers of Mol’lam Mothers, fathers Ancestors, and elders Through you inspiration flows.
I call it forth With folded legs, bent at the knees While hands they weave Do not close in prayer Open they are to receive.
Reverent in humility As I watch the leaf respond For it is not I that craft I make not beauty, nor art.
Around two weeks ago, I went to bed with the thought of spending the next day at ‘Bean Me Up’, a vegan restaurant with a delicious menu and an inviting tree cover.
I wanted fresh, nourishing food to be given to me, so that my hours were free to reflect, read, and write. I imagined myself under a canopy of trees, staring leisurely at the sky and gazing at the shrubs and climbers in shades of brown, green, and yellow, while the mind carefully assembled and made sense of recent experiences and observations.
I awoke with the imagined visual in my head, and with something else—a feeling that hadn’t been there when I went to bed. I felt a longing for stillness.
Like a sweet birdsong in a woody enclave, stillness called me to stay. My mind combined this call with the feeling of care and love for the planet: We need to slow down and stop burning fossil fuel at the current rapid rate.
I arrived at a decision to stay home, but not quite that smoothly. My mind tried initially to negotiate a way out of cooking. It longed for free hours and so it chose intermittent fasting as an alternative to the restaurant. But hunger pangs, the habit of drinking coffee, and the taste for freshly roasted coffee with equally fresh non-dairy milk played havoc on the mind. Book turned over, I found myself in the kitchen using precious time to cook, while I yearned to read and write.
This may seem like an unnecessary struggle to a pragmatist. But to me it is an interplay of mind and matter. Love and care is not pragmatic, and neither is it blind. It just strums the strings, if we permit it.
I discovered that hunger, restlessness, longing are part of the strum, as is patience, ever so soft that it is almost inaudible. My eyes grew restful and the mind less agitated. I looked with a quieter gaze at the fairly green setting of my rented home in Goa.
It occurred to me that I am much closer to my food source now than I had previously been: A tree or a plant, benevolent neighbours, and a local village woman, named Dadi (Grandmother), the title by which she introduces herself.
Image courtesy, kyobi.blog – From trees to me, through the benevolence of friends and neighbours: a heartfelt thank you to all and to Dadi.
The coconuts I receive from my homeowner and from M&M (friends at the food forest where I spend part of my day) taste sweeter than those transported over kilometres or miles. Bananas and chikoos/sapotas from my homeowners’ backyard, mangoes from a neighbour’s tree, and bananas and papayas from natureWORKS (the food forest) are juicy and relishable, and the leafy veggies, cucurbits, beans, and parboiled rice from the village market and local farmers deserve a second helping.
I soak and ferment, using the help of microbes to cook wholesome meals of stir fried or curried veggies with a generous sprinkle of fresh and dried herbs for seasoning, accompanied by a single grain, either millet, rice, or roti/Indian flatbread. Most greens I pluck and eat raw—why cook what need not be cooked? It takes me an hour or 90-minutes to get food on my plate, and what is prepared for lunch serves as dinner. Then why did I make cooking an impediment to my mental pursuit?
The strum continued and tuned up with the ambient ‘tymballing’ of cicadas (tymbals are membranes that male cicadas vibrate to create rather a loud sound).
Restlessness ebbed slowly, giving me an unobstructed view of what really troubles me about cooking. Wastage of water tops the list—mechanised methods that draw water from rivers, lakes, and aquifers to pump it up through pipes into tanks, only to bring it down again into taps or faucets to drain into sewers, make little sense.
Our replica of the natural water cycle may have missed considering three important points:
Evaporation is when water is pulled up naturally, and this is agradual process 2. Evaporated water is not contaminated but isin fact enriched with atmospheric particles (depending of course on what’s circulating in the atmosphere). 3. Water, when it drops from the clouds onto soil, replenishes and regenerates. It does not need to be treated, chlorinated, and depleted of its life-giving attribute.
Thereon the list consists of the steps that accompany cooking—cleaning the kitchen counter, doing the dishes, scrubbing grime off the kitchen sink, using inefficient gas or electric stoves that release most of the heat they generate into the atmosphere, and moving or standing throughout the process at the kitchen counter, while blood courses through the veins, burning more effectively than the inefficient stove. Cooking is an act of creating. To create is joyful; it brings about regeneration of energy and not dilated blood vessels!
Again I imagine, this time an inspired response to my days at the food forest (natureWORKS in Goa) and to reading, ‘Road Back to Nature,’ by Masanobu Fukuoka, agricultural scientist, philosopher, farmer, and writer.
A process designed for regeneration is designed for wellbeing. They go together, because energy that is applied, produces energy. The form can change but energy remains—it regenerates.
When we apply energy to clean and scrub, it’s not regenerating. We are using up energy reserves given to us by the food we cooked. We are expending our energy. The solution is not a dishwasher or a housekeeping robot; they are conveniences that use energy without regenerating, and therefore are not designed for wellbeing.
Must we continue being bearers, creators, and enthusiasts of a non-regenerative design? Perhaps, we need to acknowledge the flaws to reimagine how we can dwell in wellbeing.
I begin by shifting my perspective to include a principle that Fukuoka explored: ‘Nothing, no matter what it is, has value in and of itself. I understand that the value of food is in the energy it regenerates. That’s why a small seed grain or a vegetable carrying the combined energy of the sun, earth, and living water (untreated, and not pumped and carried over long distances) is more valuable to mankind than food that is over-processed or dead.
What about the kitchen counter and kitchen sink, where lies its value? Perhaps in a design that converts blood coursing to blood circulation. Sitting cross-legged to cut vegetables, clean produce, and knead dough, and building a raised platform closer to the floor so that we can squat and cook is realistic and achievable with effort. As for our replica of the water cycle, most of us cannot reengineer drainage and water systems, but we can try and create some value. With the support of family, we can reduce the flow of water used, rinse and reuse dishes till the end of the day, avoid using flowing water to rinse, cook once a day, eat the same meal twice, and use non-toxic soaps made of organic material that is biodegradable.
And how may we ascertain the value of our effortful acts, which ‘in and of itself’ are pointless? By feeling the strum: if joy is part of the sound then we know that energy is regenerating. If not, then stay still and listen.
Each time I read the word Mother Nature, it makes me pause. I find it bothersome that we personify nature as female, only so we can exploit and abuse it unceremoniously.
We continue to worship Father God but wring out life from the manifestation, Mother Nature: We respect in concept and violate in reality, how can that not be bothersome?
We divide an otherwise unified force into male and female, into thought and action, into belief and disregard, in the way that we divide ourselves into mind and body. A false dichotomy, because when the body needs water, the mind feels the thirst. When the mind feels joyful, the body is light, and there’s a bounce in our step.
A little retuning may teach us a valuable lesson: ‘Don’t trust that which inclines the mind towards dichotomy.’ Black and white are not contrasting colours, they are shades on the grayscale, and earth and sky both have electromagnetic activity. Why then accept Father God and Mother Nature?
In the semi-rural setting of Goa, India, I begin to pay attention to ease, and where it can be experienced in our surroundings. I walk on a floor made of cow-dung and my calf muscles sigh in relief. I sit in the cool shade of a tree canopy in sweltering heat and my heart sings. I read words written on stone with chalk: ‘May our connections grow more loving’ (translated from Bangla, one of the 19,500 mother tongues or dialects spoken in India) and my mind awakens to the purity of thought.
Image courtesy: natureWORKS, Pilerne, Goa (India)
I water plants on a mud path covered with dry leaves and my steps feel light. I eat a papaya ripened on a tree that is growing in soil fed by dry leaves and manure from decomposed human and food waste. Half a papaya makes my body feel nourished and sated and I notice that I feel no hunger or thirst as night sets in and I slip into slumber. I meditate in a veranda surrounded by trees and observe as the mosquitoes buzz in my ears and chew at my flesh. I realise then that the sensation is not as troublesome as the reaction, only to resume reacting till I can relax and return patiently to the ease of realisation.
Ease, I discover, is the plane on which Father God meets Mother Nature. It’s where all that is created unites with all that is being created. The creator is the process of creation—Father God is Mother Nature!
Welcome, Maad (coconut tree in Konkani, the local language of Goa). Pedestal up, like in a movie shot, and what do I see on the plane of ease? Gyrating fronds or leaves of a coconut tree.
The coconut tree when in bloom gives us Neera, a refreshing and sweet drink extracted from the flower clusters of mature trees.
The gyrating fronds weave unresistingly into thread-less mats to sleep on, and they make an airy, privacy fence that doesn’t block the breeze.
The leaves or fronds shade mud roofs and prevent them from cracking in the heat of the tropical sun.
The tree’s fruit pulp is a delicious and revitalising appetite filler.
From the pulp comes coconut cream and milk that is used in many cuisines and desserts.
The water in the fruit is a blessing on a hot day.
Fibre from the outer husk of the coconut can fill our mattresses and be used as a loofah for dishes or to exfoliate the skin on our feet.
Coconut fibre is also good to layer soil. It improves drainage and it retains moisture.
The shells of the coconut make an appealing boundary for plants and prevent precious, well-composted soil from being washed away.
Coconut shells make earthy-looking soap dishes and are handy bowls for our easily acquired, all natural, zero cost, and zero waste, coconut-fibre loofah.
The roots of the tree are medicinal.
The bark (of a tree that has completed its lifespan) can be used to build our shelters and to make furniture.
All this and more from a tree that needs negligible care.
Pedestal down and there you are, and I am, resting blissfully in the shade of the tree: ‘Father God, please meet Mother Nature.’
A little about natureWORKS from the family that lives on the land and is sharing the experience with me: ‘natureWORKS is a sustainable homestead we are creating with mud and alternate architecture, amidst a food forest. We use only recycled and upcycled doors, windows, timber, roof and floor tiles. Also, other second-hand materials, like glass, steel, and aluminium, that would otherwise end up in junkyards or landfills. We aim to keep our carbon footprint as tiny as possible. Most living will be out doors, under the trees with only cooking and sleeping at night done indoors, especially during the rains. Our lifestyle is simple, basic, frugal, and fairly radical. The homestead, for us, our 95 year old mum and our two children, is purely for family use. It’s not really a “Dream Home,” as something to be selfishly attached to, or be house proud of, or show off about. But it definitely is part of a blueprint and roadmap for sustainable living on our planet.’
On January 1, 2022, I returned to Mumbai from Goa (coastal state in India known for its fertile soil, beautiful beaches, and susegad or untroubled lifestyle that has been changing rapidly with urbanisation and an influx of urbanites into the state).
In my car was a cake box that had been converted into a tray for three spinach saplings and two herbs—Brahmi (Waterhyssop) and Chirata (Swertia). Alongside sat three recycled plastic bottles, one holding a sapling of Ritha/Reetha or Indian soapberry (Sapindus mukorossi), and the other two carrying a young Kadipatta or Curry tree and a passion fruit plant.
Seeds and cuttings of other beautiful plants, including the favoured butterfly pea with its deep blue (almost purple) flower that colours our tisane and soothes our nerves also made the journey. I had ordered tisane and enjoyed spinach like any good consumer of nourishment, but now my process of maturation had begun. I was soon to become a beneficiary of nature’s benevolence and a participant in its joy.
Every morning, I watched as the butterfly pea and other seeds and saplings continued to grow and thrive, while I contributed by caring for their needs. Sunlight, water, fresh air, and healthy soil are amply present in natural surroundings that haven’t been interfered with, however in an apartment they must be provided for, making my care a mere circumstantial necessity.
I observed that the seeds integrated the nutrients made available to them to become the plants that they were meant to become, and the plants were integrating nutrients, from the atmosphere and the soil, to become nourishment for us: as nature intended.
The butterfly pea sprouted and grew from seed to sapling. It swayed gently in the air and the head of its upper stem turned towards the sun at intervals, like a rotating device atop a lookout tower. One evening, I intuitively grounded a stick in the pot for the slender stem to lean on. The next morning, I found the plant gracefully wrapped around the stick. This plant’s nature is to wrap itself around a more solid structure, from which its fragility gains strength, as soon as the wooden stick was offered it did as nature intended for it to do.
I continued to share my observations with friends and benefactors who had gifted me the seeds and saplings in Goa, and they continued to share what they witnessed of natural cycles in their food forest.
M from the M&M duo shared a beautiful photograph of a mature Ritha/Reetha (Indian soapberry) tree that had shed its leaves to mulch the soil and protect it from being scorched by the summer sun in India. M mentioned that the shedding of leaves followed the fruit-bearing period.
The fruits were drying in the sun, the leaves were protecting the soil, and the tree trunk and branches were preparing to sprout and unfurl new leaves: What had been integrated, had disintegrated to become.
The leaves were becoming nourishment for the soil and its creatures, the fruits were becoming medicine for our wellbeing and a resource for personal hygiene, cleaning, and other household requirements, and the soil was becoming a food source for many plants and trees that sustained life. The tree was disintegrating to integrate and was “becoming to become”: as nature intended.
And we, what are we becoming to become? If at the heart of nature’s cycle is regeneration, then are our tasks all distractions? Those working to empower the subjugated amongst us are likely to think otherwise, because lack of equity is the cause of many problems in human society. However, without the firmament of regeneration, we might merely be helping people to become part of an exploitative system.
As I write, I hear the raucous call of those working on road repairs outside our apartment building. In the heat of 38°C (100.4°F), they exert energy to pull and tug at underground wires and call out loud the command of the leader at the head of a long human chain.
Had they been educated, within the system, they would design and build the machines that ploughed the earth, excavated the soil, and tugged at the wires. They wouldn’t labour with their hands and bodies, they would labour with their brains and mind. Labour they would still remain!
They would not become skilled craftsmen, or talented workers, nor would they become empowered creators who experience and live the joy of participating in a regenerative system: as nature intended.
With this understanding, I explored the feeling of empowerment within me. When is it that I felt most empowered? Therein I sensed lay the answer to the essence of empowerment. Choice, free thought, free speech, financial provision, all of which I have had access to since birth, somehow reminded me of weak clay pots that collapse when exposed to heat—These ideas of empowerment, I realised were incapable of containing its essence.
My exploration brought me closer to the feelings that empowerment evoked or the feelings that evoked empowerment. Joy, wellbeing, harmony, and trust contained my experience of empowerment, they were its essence. How then are we to empower? Where lie these attributes of human experience? Perhaps in a regenerative system, as a solution towards equity for all living beings, where that which integrates disintegrates, and that which disintegrates becomes: as nature intended.