Having been wary of the yellow funnel-like flowers of Cascabela Thevetia since 2003, the tree was looking radiant in the full strength of its lime-green and honey-yellow on the 53rd day of lockdown. During those days of summer’s arrival, purple sunbirds would frequent the neighborhood and around 5:30 p.m. a small black color would dash into the heavily flowered tree of Kaner, in a fast and direct way of flight, getting lost inside yellow oleander flowers, as the flight rested on one of its petals, and relayed high metallic calls of chwing, chwing, chwing… Upon seeing the sun behind the tree at 6:45 p.m. I would finally detect their companions already nearby, on one of the trees that has now become habitual of residents looking with ‘what a waste of space’ as they tell their evening walker mates: “Why haven’t they cut this dried-up Mango Tree yet.”
The sunbird may have even brought summer, guarding it against the month of May.
On Day 63, I went for a walk.
Before stepping out, I changed into jeans and kurta, put on my socks and shoes, a blue mask, and pocketed a phone with no balance. The roads were quiet but not silent on the walk. There was a ‘crunching’ sound permeating from roadsides. Frontline workers came with their sweeps and swept roads with fresh spring. Brown leaves deserted trees from the sky above were still petioles away from making food in the world when they were dropped down.
In such dense thoughts, there are times when the walk becomes an adjective to life that day. Like, look how a leaf just dashed away from Peepal, from old brown to new green, refurnishing some caterpillars below. There was a certain softness in the world when I got out for a walk. No talks. No conversations. No thoughts. Ok, some thoughts. But it all flutters. As if a tube light is learning to engage with sparks at the end of electricity produced by Tehri Dam in our drawing rooms. If the world could have learnt to walk, we wouldn’t even be here. At this time in the evening, the sky is a revolving door. There is light all around. There is a smell of grass. There is a smell of crows nearby. If trees could walk, they would have stayed.
Apart from noticing nature and basic movements—jerk of arm, buzz of jhingur, clasp of myna, bounciness in air, trees growing up—it is always the growing up that is hard for me to see. Parakeet-green of parks is changing, grease-black of roads is altering. It is always the change that really throws me off. Sameness never had a better nemesis.
These days when I cycle, I stop after a few rounds. Then I walk back home. Although I miss the freedom of my hands to relax at the sight of a squirrel, there is still quite a gumption for slowness that never fails to show up while walking. My senses are heightened. It is as if I could just put one foot after another and reach my place. Possibly because I am familiar with movements. My body has developed a memory of these senses and the intensity for the green in grasses.
Walking saves time.
There are so many things happening—writers writing with brilliance, children discovering yellow funnel-like flowers, people getting laid off, mothers reading Feluda for the first time, students watching potassium permanganate titration online, the internet becoming a commodity, Yamuna getting the toxic froth back, clouds returning water to oceans, dust crumbling on my porridge—that, in all this, certainty has a new name—Walking. I am not even a regular walker, but I think about outside a lot when I am inside. Even in those thoughts, I am always walking. I am never bound on trains, flights or buses. I might have reached the destination by one of those, but when I imagine myself outside, it is always walking. There are so many things happening in a moment. Walking makes me walk with those moments. Then I do not feel casually hit by a year that was out on the back of a comet, which dropped by to catch a climate breakdown experiencing the earth. This comet still remembers the visuals of multi-story apartments wasting water. It does not put houses behind bars for not installing rainwater harvesting structures underground, which were once in course books of class 4, and every child had to make a model about it. This comet dreams and explodes.
I walk and walk because that is what slows me down. To walk is to move at a regular pace by lifting and setting down each foot in turn, never having both feet off the ground at once. There is much rhythm in walking, so much so that all my poems land on the ground first. The words find the crack between black tar and stare at the gap with curiosity, like crows at the passing bulldozers. Hope is a thing with feathers – Walking is a rhythm of memory, a pulse with which my memory practices hope, I think.
When on Day 63, I passed by the main gate of the colony, I also rounded around a giant green dustbin, big old Peepal tree, newly shaded Neem tree, spread out Ashoka tree. Walking has become an exercise in remembering nature as it was, as it is, and as it could be.
So, on Day 65, I entered the colony park again to take five rounds, only to slip on a remarkable image—Mynahs crackling near a hose pipe in the center of the park. A rotten smell hung near the roots of old trees. Mynahs sniffed grass. Squirrels, skipping around the red brick boundary wall of the park, were retreating from roots that were receiving the untreated water from the pipe. At the entrance of this NDMC park is a board whose bullet point 5. reads: No Outsiders Allowed.
For the park, who is an outsider?
In the next few evenings, a pair of red-wattled lapwing, rosy starling, coppersmith barbet, black-neck stork come to stroll in the empty park. I walk around the park, every time taking those fixed five rounds. But on that day, of day 63, no bird flapped or flew past close to my head. This was quite a bummer to my belief: Outside always surprises. It was then that I heard a bird stepping out.
At 6 p.m., cars were returning from offices. Their tyres splashed dirt around. The upturned noise from engines made a dent at all the ways poems advise you to be quiet when suddenly, for two new minutes, there was complete silence under the bright golden bridge made by sunset and two Peepal trees across the old trees’ path. Squirrels forget caution on such trees and jump from one tree to another.
A crow was pushing its beak into a small depression in the middle of the road. It reminded me of ‘The Thirsty Crow’ and how this crow might be a relative of that story. It picked up a grain of the stone, gazed at a mirage in the distance, and pushed the stone back only to pick another one. And then, just like that, it flew away!
The thinnest laburnum plant of the colony had been flowering lemon yellow. Summer of Delhi in May was being discussed when none of us could see blooming amaltas by our windows. By the time I finished walking that day, I had noticed three laburnums. With this sight memorized, I walked upstairs and rang the bell. One week later, Aarogya Setu had shown cases inside the colony. Later, a thunderstorm busted the night cover of most of my trees in the colony, bringing down branches of Jamun tree and large giant trees that had been walking underground for the last fifty years. The thunder that night reminded me of someone shifting furniture in the clouds above. The cut stump stood a few meters away from our pearl-silver-coloured car.
Somewhere, around Day 86, when a six-year-old was playing with those funnel-shaped-flowers along with his two-year-old brother under the tree, he was transferred a strange fear that comes from tales of caution. Someone had also told the boy to shift away from the tree, saying, “the flowers are poisonous.”
But he had seen the small sunbird dipping its beak inside the yellow flowers on Day 63.