Friday, June 19, 2020

Faizbaksh Din

I was changing computers and the move threw up the inevitable dust. There were many finds, many things I had not needed in years, but which I have carried on anyway into a new home, in the vague hope that some day, a good cleaning will happen and I will live a light life.

In a folder hardly visited, I found a recording I had made - on some afternoon that my sister remembers better than I do. It was a recital of Faiz's Yad also known as Dasht-e-Tanhai.

I cannot even remember if it was before or after my mother's passing. But I know it was a phase drenched with the syrup of Urdu poetry. In 2011, we took a short course called Tehseen-e-Ghazal - to learn how to appreciate that beautiful form. What a joy it was! I had encountered Faiz before then, but the course served to immerse us, steep us in his luminous words.

Here is the nazm in Devnagri:

दश्त-इ-तन्हाई में ऐ जान-ए-जहां लरज़ाँ है
तेरी आवाज़ के साये तेरे होंठों के सराब
दश्त-ए-तन्हाई में दूरी के ख़स-ओ-ख़ाक़ तले
खिल रहे हैं तेरे पहलू के समन और गुलाब 
उठ रही है कहीं क़ुर्बत से तेरी सांस की आंच
अपनी खुशबू में सुलगती हुई मद्धम मद्धम
दूर उफ्फाक़ पर चमकती हुई क़तरा क़तरा
गिर रही है तेरी दिलदार नज़र की शबनम
इस क़दर प्यार से ऐ जान-ए-जहां रख्खा है
दिल के रुखसार पे इस वक़्त तेरी याद ने हाथ
यूँ गुमां होता है गरचे है अभी सुबह-ए-फ़िराक
ढल गया हिज्र का दिन, आ भी गयी वस्ल की रात 

Transliterated in English:
Dasht-e-tanhai mein ae jaan-e-jahan larzan hai
Teri awaaz ke saaye, tere honton ke saraab
Dasht-e-tanhai mein doori ke khas-o-khaak talé
Khil rahen hain tere pehlu ke saman aur gulaab
Uth rahi hai kahin qurbat se teri saans ki aanch
Apni khushboo mein sulagti hui madham madham
Door uffaq par chamkati hui qatra qatra
Gir rahi hai teri dildaar nazar ki shabnam
Iss qadar pyar se ae jaan-e-jahaan rakhha hai
Dil ke rukhsar pe iss waqt teri yaad ne haath
Yun guman hota hai garche hai abhi subh-e-firaaq
Dhal gaya hijr ka din aa bhi gayi vasl ki raat

And a fine translation by Ayesha Khanna:

In the desert of my solitude, oh love of my life, quiver
the shadows of your voice,
the mirage of your lips
In the desert of my solitude,
beneath the dust and ashes of distance
bloom the jasmines and roses of your proximity
From somewhere very close,
rises the warmth of your breath
smouldering in its own aroma,
slowly, bit by bit.
far away, across the horizon, glistens
drop by drop
the falling dew of your beguiling glance
With such tenderness, O love of my life,
on the cheek of my heart,
has your memory placed its hand right now
that it looks as if
(though it’s still the dawn of adieu)
the sun of separation has set
and the night of union has arrived.

Anyway, now that I have retrieved this recording, I've pumped up the volume a bit, so here it is:

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Class: Insecta

Thanks to the lockdown, this is the longest I've been at the Isha Yoga Center and I've never been here during the summer. I tend to come for Guru Purnima and stay for "the annual fest of the wind", a time when gales from the Velliangiris lash at us at the foothills. On the other side of the year, I come during the winter solstice if my Sadhguru has something special planned (many of the consecrations are conducted around that time), but definitely around Mahashivratri, padding my visit with a few weeks on either side.

I was dreading the summer a bit, but we've had a simply gorgeous one this year. It has been hot, but the really muggy days have been broken by refreshing thunderstorms. Bountiful heat and residual moisture - what more does life on this planet need? The hills are lush green, and life in the ashram is thriving.

For a few weeks, we've been privileged to cicada concerts. All of a sudden, the occupants of one entire tree will set up a loud din, and soon tree after tree takes up the song till it stretches across the expanse.

In other delights, there are the butterflies. There are a variety of species but the most spectacular sighting is the Common Emigrant (Catopsilia pomona). The ashram must have some millions of them, I should think - and what a sight it is. Along any path or road, we see streams and streams of these pretty yellow gossamers flitting along some mysterious but cohesive route.

One akka signaled furiously to us the other day as we strolled along to brunch. We peered through the foliage to see where she pointed. By the stream were hundreds of butterflies puddling in the mudflat, moving their wings restlessly in the golden sunlight. A pied wagtail hung about, making darts into the kaleidoscope for an easy meal. Soon a few of us had gathered, including Viji akka, with her handy camera.

(Photos by Viji Ranganath)

Of course, the baddie is around in large numbers, and a host of other crawlies. Well, they're more useful to the planet, so we'll shut up and not complain.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Tu ka Tu

A change in header was long overdue. The winter chill has given way to a rainy, moody summer.

But, of course, there are big things on our minds. The pandemic is going viral and we’ll be remembering this year for a very long time. What will change, how, which industries will stay, which will fall, who will win, who will lose, will humankind recover its conscience, or will this be a blip that only momentarily eclipsed our collective daily grind?

Time will tell, but in the meantime, a haiku by Paul Pfleuger, Jr.

behind the death mask,
this is God, too

My Guru, ever compassionate, held our hands for 43 days, giving us darshans – a glimpse of him and room at his feet every single day. That makes a full mandala – a length of time approximately 40 days in which the human system completes one physiological cycle. When we take up something for one mandala, it gets written into our system like software and functions on a completely different level. Across these days, he spoke about a range of matters including this crisis facing us. How his constant presence has transformed us, I cannot even begin to guess.

During one session, someone asked him what Shiva thought of the virus.

His response reminded me of these verses by Kabir:

Inka bhed bata mere avadhu, acchi karni kar le tu
Dali phool jagat ke mahi, jahan dekhun va tu ka tu

Tell me the secret, Avadhoo, shower your compassion
In all of nature in this whole world, wherever I look, I see you

Hathi mein hathi ban baitho, chinti mein hai chhoto tu
Hoye mahavat upar baithe, hankan vala tu ka tu

Massive you are as an elephant, tiny when as an ant
Also as the mahout you sit, the one riding the elephant is also you

Choro ke sang chori karta, badmashon mein bhedo tu
Chori kar ke tu bhag jaave, pakdan vala tu ka tu

Among thieves you are a thief, you sit among scoundrels too
You are the robber who robs and runs, the one who catches him, also you

Jal thal jeev mein tu hi biraje, jahan dekhoon va tu ka tu
Kahe Kabir suno bhai sadho, guru milaye jyun ka tyun

In water, earth and all life you are present, wherever I look, only you!
Says Kabir, listen Seeker, the Guru shows you the unsullied You!

A version of the song by the awesome Prahlad Singh Tipaniya:

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Living on the Wild Side

One of the exciting things about living on the edge of forests, is the wealth of insects that we share the space with. A variety of ants (in large numbers) are a constant presence and the occasional ant-colony raid can be a massive event, bringing the lizards out in a feeding frenzy. The other day, a mud dauber tried to make a nest on our window shelf outside the mesh door. It was not to be. We ourselves disturbed it a bit halfheartedly in trying to regain territory, and then a treepie decided to peck at the nest and help itself to the larvae. The mother wasp tried to fix the problem but it was an uphill task. She then attempted another effort in the corner behind the balcony door. But that very night alas, it rained in torrents and the mud was swept away.

In another curious affair, Shweta would end up with mysterious bites and scars – painful red blotches or trails that would, over a few days, well up in virulent suppurations. These took more than a week to subside but the scars take months to fade. At first she suspected the spiders. She then examined the problem, applying her Holmesian skills of detection and deduction and having eliminated the spiders, zoomed in on one particular specimen – a black and red bug about a centimetre in length whom she has named (with charming simplicity) ‘Baddie’.

She thought my response to her various injuries a bit lukewarm, and so was very much delighted when I woke up one day to a similar abrasion on my face. Since the wounds are often mirror-image lesions, we concluded that we weren’t being bitten or stung, but in fact, squashing or squeezing these Baddies in our sleep, except of course, when one had clearly walked over us, leaving a trail of burning, corroded skin.

The mystery is now solved – and our attacker is no mean personage. It enjoys many names and has a Wikipedia entry and several scientific papers dedicated to it. Say hello to the Rove Beetles of the genus Paederus aka Nairobi Fly, Acid Fly or Kenya Fly. There have been huge outbreaks of this creature and one paper suggests that at least two of the ten plagues of Egypt mentioned in the Bible were in fact massive breeding of Paederus.

Anyway, these creatures secrete a toxin called pederin, more potent than Latrodectus spider or black widow venom. So... err.. basically YIKES!!!!!!

You don’t discover the contact immediately but as soon the redness appears, washing the area with cold water and soap is a good thing to do. From my own experience, I have found that rubbing a pinch of common salt over the moistened abrasion is helpful. Then I tend to the wound with a thin layer of turmeric mixed with a drop of coconut oil, or aloe vera gel, crushed tulsi juice, sandalwood paste or rose powder paste.

For now, I have a new gash over my shoulder from last night. Here we go again.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

शून्य सन्नाटे टपकते जा रहें हैं...

The virus outbreak interfered with my plans to go back to Hyderabad, so here I am, still at the Isha Yoga Center, going with the flow.

When we shut off the premises to visitors (days BEFORE the nation-wide lockdown ordered by the government), it was a very different ambience for us. In my previous post, I had remarked (with some percipience, you’ll admit) that I loved it when we were thin of company. But never had we imagined that we would have this entire beautiful space to ourselves. Adiyogi, who is always thronged by worshippers, admirers and selfie-takers, now reigns over sprawling emptiness.

These pictures are from a walk two weeks ago.


Adiyogi in the distance

Malaivasal, the stunning portal into Isha Yoga Center

It is called Malaivasal because this huge boulder that forms the arch comes from the sacred Annamalai.
Shweta at the side entrance

Looking out at the mountains
...And this is the view

The trishulams and snakes that are a recurring motif at Isha
More detail

Leaving you with this beautiful, goose-bumpy song (written by Prasoon Joshi, sung by Kailash Kher) extolling and entreating Adiyogi.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Isha Yoga Center Diary

Isha Yoga Center has many moods. You’ll hear people describe in many ways. Many will rave about how blissful it is to be here, others find it stunningly beautiful. It is paradoxically the most exciting and yet the most calming of places.

When there is an event or a program, it is bustling – with long queues at the temples, the restaurants and everywhere else. But if you outlast the crowd, like I manage to do sometimes, it is thinly populated with only the residents and a few visiting guests.

But these periods of quiet are nowadays becoming rarer. I went into the Dhyanalinga yesterday hoping for some post-Mahashivratri calm but it was a Sunday and there was such a throng that people were allowed to walk through, only sitting down for a while if they wished. I should explain that there are usually slots at this wonderful Yogic Temple. People can walk in or out only at 15-minute intervals, which are indicated by a bell. You are required to be silent and quiet in all movements, and there is always a hush in the air – only part of which is due to the regulations in place. The real hush emanates from the subtle energy body in the centre – a magnificent linga with all seven chakras at their peak.


People have a lot of questions when they come to the yoga center. They are struck, of course, by the architecture, the unique aesthetic of the place. Then they stare a bit at meditators who have spread out their yoga mats here and there – some slumped over their shoonya meditations, some engaged in pranayama, some finishing off their hatha yoga practices... and they want to know more about the Devi, the Dhyanalinga, the Naga at the Suryakund, the Teerthakunds themselves...

However, there is one other element that very few can pass by without exclaiming or pointing out to their companions. There is a citrus tree within the Dhyanalinga compound that fruits somewhat bountifully – this is the pomelo, a variety of Citrus maxima or Citrus grandis; it is called Bablimaas in Tamil. So profuse and so startlingly large are these greeny-yellow fruit that the security guard who is stationed there is asked a few hundred times a day, “Idu yennadu!?
They say that yoga helps you become calm, and just being in this energy space is transformative. If it has worked for any of us, there can be no better evidence than our team of security personnel. Diligent, unflagging but with an unvarying sweetness of temperament. “Adu bablimaas anga”, “Bablimaas akka”, “Bablimaas anu solluvanga”: they explain over and over.

Photography is not allowed in that area, so I can’t show you that particular tree and have to settle for a picture found online.


It is getting hot here. As my grandfather used to say, the chill seems to cry “Shiva, Shiva!” and leave after the Shivratri. The water tank and pipes in the stay area are exposed to the afternoon sun, and hot water is being dispensed already from the cold water taps. In the open area nearby, a large ostentation of peahens is pecking about, squawking occasionally. Summer is coming.

Sunday, December 29, 2019


I have been home for a while.
My last travel was in October and that was quite a road trip – a trail from Gwalior to Satna through Chanderi, Orchha, Khajuraho, Panna and Rewa. An immersive, intensive experience of northern Madhya Pradesh. Simply fabulous.

Since then, I've just been home, writing up the stories and... simply being home. Domesticity is a never ending job and I find that the concerns of the domestic life are what you might call choranaptyxic in nature – able to grow or shrink in order to fit available (mind)space. They diminish when I have 'bigger' things on my mind, but grow fairly demanding otherwise. I have taken care of a pile of leaves in the corner of the garden, hosed down a termite mound that was predating on the jasmine climber and I have made plans for the beetroot that are a week old and sitting heavily on my conscience. I am ahead of the curve.

Just the time for this quotidian observation from the Lucknow poet Sushma A. Singh.

winter chill
  I press harder
on the rolling pin

A feminine slice of life. 
About the little things. 
A small detail, a small blip in the pattern with an activity that is repeated perhaps every single day.
It is colder. Even if you have mixed the atta with a little tepid water, the dough is hard. Rolling out the rotis calls for a little extra.