WHAT ONE FRAMES THROUGH ONE'S VIEWFINDER  

 

 

I  Trysts with the Thar

 

To the unaccustomed, Thar, the great Indian desert, is a region of death

All the unacquainted folk agree that Maroostali is a perfect name for it

 

For all they see is a barren, depleted, lifeless, famine-prone desertscape

Fit only to feed its sterile lineages, past, present and future, to the vultures

 

Their eyes, to whom they listen, show them a dusty, dehydrated terrain

Where the wild and everyday spaces come together under a tyrannical sun

 

A territory where angry, gravelly sand hills chase one another

Where long, parallel lines of sand shape-shift into assailing fabrics of turbulence

 

Where craggy ridges reflect the region’s extremities, its uncertainties

Where compacted salt lake bottoms show up waterlessness as a way of life

 

Mythology, ancestors and local legends, all say the Thar was a well-watered land

And its residents insist its biotic resources and locational advantage are unmatched

 

That magic happens as plants yield on arid sands, rocks and salt water depressions

Through its bountiful, nutritive grasses, sand-binding trees and water-holding scrubs

 

Through the wizardly of their plants that wither into dust-like seeds

But burst into carpets of flowers in first shower, ephemeral yet luminescent

 

Sewan, khair, khejri, thor, guggal...is it any wonder they their chant flora names?

Thar, our Thar, they chorus, storehouse of our vegetation, nursery of folk medicine!

 

The people of the Thar move from a life on the edge to self-sufficiency

Through their orans, sacred groves, that forbid grazing and loping to teach frugality

 

Through their banis, deity domains, that stem the over-use of their greens

Yet teach them abundantly of belongingness, sharing and compassion

 

They have found a balance between their worlds: the ones inside and outside

They are able to put their eye, head, heart and soul on the same axis

 

II  In a Flux of Floods and Fallacies

 

The complicated futility of ignorance

That’s what taming the Bagmati River is, say the people of Sitamarhi district of Bihar

 

Don’t be fooled by its mild flow during summer, one infused with yogic calm

Or its restfulness in winter, say dwellers of the birthplace of Sita

 

Sita knew, as we know, that our Mithila waterscape goes rouge during monsoons

Cutting paths, changing course, conniving with its tributaries to overflow

 

That the Bagmati’s speeding torrents gather people, livestock and crops

Tossing, buffeting and drowning everyone’s only known world

 

That death, destitution and dislocation is what it leaves behind

As it does fields bloated with silt and the certainty of uncertainty

 

That sand-and-earth embankments on both of its sides and canals

The way of engineers and that of the contractors is no way to contain the Bagmati

 

It is only a requiem for the river, a requiem for the people

That the only way is the people’s way, one of ancient wisdom, almost mythic

 

In their saying ‘let the flood come’, in their belief ‘we will build better as we bond’

In their allowing of the flood waters to disperse and drain over time

 

In their marking of floods as a distinct season called barh

In their acceptance of its destruction as much as its enrichment through silt deposits

 

In keeping of their faith in the river as they do in their temples

As in their sacred land and their goddess Sita, who sprang to life from an earthen pot

 

III  Where Contrarieties Fuse

 

A lenient, liquid sun

A pale yellow fan of light

 

A translucent cover of impish clouds

For the aloft, snow-capped Himalayan ranges

 

Bleached sunbeams, marshmallow clouds

A floating sky and the village Satoli

 

Tucked in the Kumaon hills of Uttarakhand

It keeps much of its story in the shadows

 

Yet its lichen-covered forests is the doorway to an unseen world

Its glistening pine, chestnut, rhododendron and oak trees oblique roadmaps

 

As one walks deeper into the Satoli forest

Into its green gradient, it leads one into its liminal corners

 

Into its inner-most forestscape

Removed from everyday realities

 

Where the vegetation takes on a measured hue

And the air a stillness

 

The birdsong gets fainter

The quiet and darkness deeper

 

The silence and gloom are not easy

They are sullen, predator-poised

 

Audible above

Are the clicks of cicadas, the chittering of woodworks, the scrapings of aphids

 

A pause in time

A peculiar force is now at work, an energy that is yielding as it is congenial

 

An unbearable expectancy

Then a vividness where I am present to myself, wholly, both my good and evil parts

 

In this balance of contrarieties

A falling away of duality

 

Between me and the forest

Between the parts of myself

 

 

Chitra Gopalakrishnan is a New Delhi-based journalist and a social development communications consultant. She uses her ardour for writing, wing to wing, to break firewalls between nonfiction and fiction, narratology and psychoanalysis, marginalia and manuscript and tree-ism and capitalism. www.chitragopalakrishnan.com