Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Blue Green and In Between

"Can you sing with all the voices of the mountains
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind"

Pocahontas (Walt Disney Pictures), 1995

In the south-eastern corner of my residence, we happen to have a balcony. It is said that a house gives shelter to people but a home offers solace to the heart, and when we first moved in to this residence five-and-a-half years back, I think this south-eastern corner contained the first square foot of area which firmly announced its recognition as "home" in my seventeen-year-old adolescent heart. Of course the rest of the house was soon to follow, but as they say, one never does forget one's first love.

In a sea of monotonous suffocating yellow sand, a desert wanderer seeks the solace of sweet water in an oasis. A lost seafaring journeyman likewise sees deliverance in the palm frond on a tiny island which breaks an otherwise stifling expanse of unbroken blue. What sanctum, I wonder, should a city dweller seek whose eyes cannot see beyond concrete and whose ears crave for freedom from the sound moving steel makes? My lucky balcony, facing the blue sky in the day and the stars in the night, its view on account of sheer luck left unsullied by civilization, is my sanctuary from concrete and steel.

Picture Courtesy: Saptarshi Chakrabarti
Every year in the month of February, winter announces its departure from my city, and every year without exception the departure seems to arrive far too soon. You can try pleading with the weather gods but they tend to turn a deaf ear to our pleas. While the city sniffs around for the elusive spirit of "spring" whose manifestation is nothing if not ephemeral, I on the other hand remain on the lookout for signals. The day when I first ditch the compulsory lukewarm water for my shower, the evening when I first employ the services of a ceiling fan after a long tiring day, and the night when I first decommission the uses of my blanket or bed cover - these are telltale signs of the season ending. But if I were tasked with pinpointing one particular moment which declares the termination of the cold season to my eccentric mind, it is indubitably the turning of the wind.

Every single day I happen to spend some time standing at the corner of the balcony in the south-east, which may range from a couple of minutes to a good two hours at a stretch. When I stick my head out in winter, the season reminds me of its presence by a sharp cool wind which strikes my face from up north. Meteorologists would undoubtedly be able to explain this phenomenon better, but every year I find a date on the calendar when for the first time in three to four months I find a new wind brushing past and saying hello. This wind does not pinch me in the face; it instead ruffles the back of the shirt I'm wearing and my ears detect a soft whoosh. It is not the unremitting cold which only faintly reminds of the mountains up north, but the mellow fresh breeze sweet on the skin from the seas down south. I raise my arms sideways; if the wind is strong enough, the traffic is quiet enough and my mood is fanciful enough, I imagine I am flying.

 Picture Courtesy: Mitrayan Hazra
If Man and Nature were to meet on a balance sheet, we would be neck deep in liabilities. True, we ourselves are a part of nature and her creations, but even trying to compare what we have got from her to what we have actually succeeded in giving back sounds ridiculously absurd. We take and take and then take for granted. Creating categories and classifications is something I enjoy doing, so I will now indulge myself by making two. The exponents of nature around us come chiefly under two classes. The living "sentient" beings include the species who act think locomote and procreate willingly for themselves, while the non-living entities are the elements of nature cardinal to the planet like the rivers, forests, the wind and the ocean. Of course, every tree in a forest is a living being, but the broader entity of a forest like the bulk of a seemingly unending ocean derives awe from its invariability and solid lifeless immobility. Basically, the inert insentient world has put itself at the service of the living animate world to transfigure and modify it as per convenience. The living world follows this directive in different ways. An earthworm digs itself a hole in the ground, a pigeon gathers an assortment of twigs to build a nest, and a human creates a pool of frozen concrete and polished steel where originally a forest used to thrive. The intent of all three, interestingly, is the same.

Picture Courtesy: Aniket Pal
Nature is not confined within a week's trip to Manali or a short weekender at Goa. Neither can Henrik Jeppesen, a 28-year-old Dane who has travelled to every country in the world and has surely seen a lot of it, claim monopoly over it. Nature is exceedingly personalized and has a different palette to offer to each one of us. Reality is not always attractive and charming and neither is nature, but what the two have in common is the absolute undeniable state of being. Through ups and downs, menacing twists, frenzies of action and periods of indolence, life has the habit of marching on. Through spellbinding snow-covered mountainsides and rivers sparkling in the sun, to a patch of rocky terrain or an expanse of hot hazy dull green, nature is omnipresent. It is just, there.

If the reader remembers the fairy tales and worlds of make believe from younger days, I urge you to take note of a simple phenomenon. Back when we were young, they would talk to us. These objects, these lifeless inanimate "things", would be depicted with a pair of round eyes and a wide smile by the illustrators while the writer would give them words to speak. More often than not, these fables would be aimed at imbibing certain values within the children whose minds were still soft enough to be moulded. A noble thought, by all means; I for one would love to see some morals around for a change. But even if by some rare occurrence the morals lessons are absorbed, why is it that the whispering wind, the charming river, and the conscientious apple tree who provided a little child with its fruit branches leaves and stem, are all "de-personified" at the guillotine of growing up?

Picture Courtesy: Saptarshi Chakrabarti

Why is it that we stop attributing a personality to nature? Society takes it for granted that a person's character and persona is modelled and structured by the people around him or her, and I unequivocally agree to this sentiment. What is not so widely elaborated is the effect of the inanimate nature surrounding an individual as well in structuring the temperament and disposition. As a friend from a district up north of Bengal had told me, the mountains and the rivers of the districts are absorbed into the bloodstreams of the people, thus turning out generations of fine men and women. My city, on the other hand, has surely given onto me a part of its own character and disposition, but what it has absolutely robbed me off is a chance to mingle freely in nature and learn a few lessons and pick up a few traits there as well.

This was not meant to be a cliched article on nature and its contributions. World Environment Day, which is celebrated on 5th June for those unaware, is still considerably far off so this does not qualify to be sentimental hogwash written out of topical pressure. The 400-word essay I had produced in under 12 minutes while writing my Bengali paper during my matriculation exams was on the oh-so-enlightening topic of "Nature and Pollution", so I probably know a thing or two about writing cliches. This is merely an effort and an entreaty to give nature and its elements the place it deserves in the scheme of things. The first step to bringing about change is to accept the necessity for the change, and it is time we started giving some thought to it.

To end where I begun, I return to my balcony of the south-east. It is not without reason that it remains the favourite part of my home, because in moments of agony and of unbridled joy here is one part of the house where I can be myself and expression may flow unbound. In communication with nature, you do not require any medium. Today when the first Norwester of the season blew through the city, our communication was at its heightened peak. My eyes reflected every time the lightning spoke. My ears took in the consequent almighty crash and unceasing whoosh of winds. My nose picked up the distinct and inimitable smell rainwater makes when it patters down upon layers of dust. The skin of my hands and face revelled in the coolness and wetness of the small drops which invaded into the balcony.

Picture Courtesy: Saptarshi Chakrabarti

I only wish I were out on the roads, my tongue feeling for a taste of the clouds above.