Arms open wide
Soaring high towards the sky
Far from the beauteous
Verdant and bountiful
Bereft of colour
Barren of sweetness
Yet full of life
Watchful and carefree
Sanguine till the very end
Abandoned by all
No bird to nestle
No kite to cuddle
No sun to hide
No moon to kiss
No care to cherish
No love to mourn
Ever the odd one
You had, but none
Waiting, forever waiting
For the sun to bestow
One beaming ray to play with
For the moon to plant
One fleeting kiss to remember by
For one lost bird
To nest it’s young
For one adrift kite
To teach you flight
Alone and apart
Windswept and weary
Withered and forlorn
Stripped of all
Nothing to receive
No one to bequeath
Solitary and friendless
We were one in our hopes
Prayer and solitude
Know this, my comrade
I tasted your tears
And wore your smiles
Your bosom, my refuge
Your boughs, my flight
Your barrenness, my light
Your height, my might
In life I cared
In death I mourned
In my musings, you live
In my pictures, you shine
In my paintings, you glow
In my dreams, you breathe
With wispy memories
Of a shared transitory life
Rare sacred kinship
Unspoken fearless love
In my thus far, turbulent and drifting life if there is one thing that’s been constant and stable; it’s my attraction and affinity with trees. Green, Brown, tall, short, old, young. I love them all. But the old, dry, withering ones tug my heart-strings in a singular way that is unrivaled. I connect with the cold blood running through their veins. I caress their barks and listen to their myriad stories. They are the surrogates for the children I will never have. The men I lack the courage to fall in love with. The dogs I will never pet and that lovely grey cat that abandoned me in my childhood.
I share a bond with trees that I am incapable of creating with humans and other living breathing beings. Every place I travel to, I discover new species of them, new patterns of leaves, new designs on their barks, new silhouettes of their shadows, new colours in their flowers, new tastes in their fruits and new aroma in their wood which renews my faith in Nature and its all-encompassing Creator.
I find it unbelievable that I did not wake up to this reality of mine earlier. My eyes well up at the lost chances. I could have become a botanist if I had only known earlier that I would come to love and form a kinship with these lovely creations of God so passionately. Alas! Some regrets in life are lasting!
No trip of mine is ever complete without a visit to the nearest botanical garden or a tree park and any place that comes recommended with the brightest spots of green to feast my eyes upon!
I rarely ever wear green or brown but strangely these are my most favoured colours when I sit to paint. Every painting of mine has trees. In some form. Of every conceivable size and shape. Of every imaginary hue.
Why do I favour the withering ones? I might never know. But they appeal to that part of me that’s fearless and pure and ever hopeful.
Some people say that our words, choice of colours and the things we love and connect with is a direct reflection of who we are at our core. Our essence. And I like dead trees. Dying trees. Their odd-shaped boughs. Bereft of life. Barren of green. In different shades of Brown and tints of Grey. The colours of the earth. Of Ash. What does it say about me? Do I like the mystery of death more than life itself? Do I favor the melancholy? Perhaps yes.
The poem that I began the blog post with is an ode to a nameless tree of unknown origin in the busy Minister road in Begumpet, Hyderabad.
It was my closest friend since the year 1999. All through my college years and my work as an intern to a popular designer and later as a store owner, I commuted by public transport and this tree was a constant companion on the long monotonous hours spent on the road. I passed by it every single day from my gawky teenage years till the last few days of its life. It was a long happy fun-filled journey filled with our musings, conversations, smiles, tears, fears, triumphs and failures.
The few stolen moments from my typically tired and busy days, I shared with this comrade of mine was the time I looked forward to with earnestness. Be it cloud filled, rain pouring, sun lit hot days or cold wintry nights,it was ever-present and always listening to my banter with the same inquisitive eyes for more than 17 long years.
In the meantime; covertly,away from my peripheral vision my city grew up. The landscape of my city changed from an ebullient child to an incorrigible teenager.
Unrecognizable. Tantrum throwing. And beyond any sense of understanding and responsibility. With increasing power in its hands, it rewrote the fates of all that rested on its soil. In ways that pummeled the lives of mute beings that were the reason for its fame and identity.
The Hyderabad that I landed in from Castle Rock in 1990, known for its culture and heritage and for having a big and open heart filled with unhurried, good-natured people got lost in this haphazard surge for development. The city known for being green come rain or shine is now a maze with flyovers and metro tracks everywhere. In some places all you see in the line of vision is concrete. Layers of it. A concrete metro rail track over a concrete flyover over a pothole riddled concrete road. With no sense of planning. Like a child’s careless drawing.
Those little nameless beauteous plants and flowers and the mature avenue of trees that shaded the city from toxicity were crushed and bulldozed into oblivion. And replaced with potted plants, placed in areas filled with most noxious of fumes from the ever-growing pile of vehicles. None lived to see the sun or the rain.
My comrade in green was never blessed with either beauty or bounty. It was a strange shaped creation. Incomplete. Imperfect. Which is what attracted my attention to it in the first place. I fell in love with its odd-shaped fruits which resembled dried leaves and wide open branches like playful arms calling out for a hug. I never saw a bird’s nest on it or a kite trapped on its branches. Always swaying with mirth. With sweet joy and gay abandon. It was the only one in the entire stretch of a busy road bustling with traffic throughout the day. And night.
For 17 years we were friends. And when its last leaf fell, with a growing uneasy sense of doom I waited for that unfortunate but inevitable day. It took the city a while to cast its glance on the lone warrior. But it did happen. On a week that I was travelling, the city sounded the death knell and then it was gone. Wiped of its existence. Without any trace. What are left now are the stories written in my heart. Of its life. Of our love. Of its untimely death.
I never got the chance to say goodbye. Even if I had been given a chance I would not have had the courage to say goodbye.
How do you say goodbye to one who was always with you, for you?
How do you ever come to terms with a friend’s gnawing absence?
How do you reconcile with the fact that your gross misconception of a beloved’s immortality was nothing but childish at best?
With growing impatience, I am slowly losing my love for my city. I am unable to adore the city that took away everything I loved and shared my life and blood with. Those sacred threads of bonds formed over the years partaking its culture and respecting its heritage remain forever broken.
All I ever see today is the mounting conceit. In the people who govern. And the people governed. When someone I meet during my travels ask me about my city, I find myself suddenly cornered in an unlikely dark place. It makes me uncomfortable to ply lies. ‘Cause what I loved and prided the most in the city is no more.
The little café in Madina junction which served the best Irani chai in the city. Gone!
The little hotel in Paradise junction known for those amazing tiny cabbage filled samosas which even the legendary M.F.Hussain frequented. Gone!
The little restaurant in Sainikpuri aptly named Little India which served delicious buffet meals on Sundays for a measly 99 rupees. Gone!
Those hooded trees near St.Francis College behind who couples stole a kiss from their beloved. Gone!
The little book store in Tarnaka which sold the 6B Apsara pencils I needed for sketching class. Gone!
The shop tucked behind Ganesh temple in Secunderabad where I used to restock my paints and canvasses. Gone!
That fruit seller under a flyover near Aradhana theatre who sold plums in summer. Gone!
The little cinema theatre in Sangeet crossroads which catered to a small community of English film lovers. Gone!
The pigeon sized restaurant that was famous for authentic Chinese food in Patny Circle. Gone!
Those lovely rock formations in Jubilee Hills. Gone!
Those cool lakes in Gandipet. Gone!
The man from Bengal who sold the most beautiful tie-dye stoles in a footpath in Habsiguda. Gone!
The kid from Bihar who sold ice lollies outside college. Gone!
Evidence of a merry childhood and merrier teenage life gone without a trace.
All signs of comrades like mine axed.
All traces of a life lived well destroyed.
The slate wiped clean.
All that is left behind is toxic fumes and arid air.
All that falls in my line of vision is new. Built by zombies with cold precision. Bereft of emotion. Barren of kinship. In hues of grey.
On an otherwise beautiful and crisp morning, suddenly on waking up, caught unawares I find myself alone and lonely, old and dying, withering away in a landscape written in glass and concrete. All the way to the horizon and beyond.