Tag Archives: nature

The Venus Flytrap: Wishes For Well-Being

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I write from a place where I manufacture hope for myself – and for the world – out of nothing but with all of me, the way a silkworm spins a cocoon from its body, or the way the sunlight-catching gossamer that a spider weaves from itself becomes at once its home and its art.

May you find in this time of constraint that you have more will and more heart than you usually have recourse to. May you draw from old wells of strength, and may they show you how you have been here before, and how you lived through it. The circumstances may be amplified, but the feelings are familiar. You have felt helpless before. You have known isolation. May you receive this while bolstered by that memory, just as I send it to you from a place of periodic equanimity, gained by experience and with the sense that all the world has slid now to the level of disquiet I always live with. And having lived that way, I can tell you that you can too. If you have the bare minimum to stay alive in this adversity, you can still find or make mirth, romance, creativity, comfort.

I know that somewhere in this city, the boughs of mango trees must be ladening with ripening fruit. The season for them has surely arrived, as seasons do, even out of turn in this time when ecospheres evolve. Soon, the rare jacarandas – you may know where amidst these many streets suddenly empty of our urgencies and our vanities they are rooted – will prosper in purple. Have you noticed how many words in the English language for this colour borrow from the names of flowers that carry it? Lilac, lavender, violet, periwinkle. Jacaranda is not one among them, both tree and tint. How beautiful to think of them all: summer’s bounty – the flowering trees, the fruit-bearing boughs, the weeds, a wild luxuriance. They will loom radiant in their posts whether we can see them, or touch them, or take from them or not. I write from a place with no foliage in my sight, for the first time in over a dozen years. It’s enough for me to know it thrives out there, away from our plucking hands and our polluting vehicles. Remember that nature has its own rhythms, and that you can conjure them up in thought. They susurrate within you. They are you.

May this find you in a place where your water, your electricity, your subsistence and your Wi-Fi are blessedly stocked. May you have enough. May you know that your coffer of courage, your vault of ingenuity, your repository of goodwill, and your larder of intuition are renewable resources. You do not have to fill them as we did before, using the ways we took for granted. There are other ways: gentler, simpler, more generous, more connected from afar. May you know that you are precious, and so is each life. May you know that if you are lucky, it is disgraceful – as in, incognizant of the universe’s grace – if you do not use your survival to make the world a better place.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on March 26th 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: Natural Boundaries

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The sea at Timbulsloko, Indonesia, didn’t just sweep in by itself, eroding the coast by miles. This gradual inundation was caused by human choices. Mangroves had shielded the land since time immemorial, allowing agriculture to flourish. But once people started to cut them, the sea began to reshape the coast, even washing away villages. Now, brushwood and bamboo structures have been set up to slow the tides, encourage sediment build-up, which will hopefully lead to the eventual formation of new mangroves.

The thriving, natural boundary that is the mangrove – lush, salt-saturated, interlocked grace, often the habitat of creatures of the sky and sea – has something to teach us. So does the restoration undertaken by the people of Timbulsloko. Sometimes we blunder. We think our boundaries aren’t important, and then we suffer. But we can correct this, provided we understand their necessity.

Another beautiful assertion of natural boundaries is how, in parts of the world including Kerala, Sri Lanka and Tanzania, marauding elephants have been kept from entering crop fields not through electric fences, but through a border of beehives. Not only are elephants frightened away (peacefully), but the devastation the planet will experience with the coming extinction of bees is averted just a little.

When it comes to interpersonal boundaries, many perceive them as restrictions only the unkind would impose. But the opposite is true. In order to have real goodness, one must have a clear sense of respect towards self and other. Healthy boundaries protect and nurture. Like cacti, palmyra and other organic fences used in rural homes, they are lovely to have, and hurt no one except those who intend to trespass.

Pondicherry’s French Quarter escaped the impact of the 2004 tsunami because of a 300-year old colonial stone seawall which was frequently reinforced. But the barrier had never had the larger population in mind, and hundreds of fisherpeople who lived and worked beyond its length were killed. Sometimes old protection mechanisms become insufficient, and we must find meaningful, updated methods. This can happen especially to those who are usually very good with maintaining boundaries. We fail to account for unexpected breaches.

Sometimes a barrier needs to be instated despite how unpleasant it feels to do it. Being reasonable and gentle does not always work. So if the scent of marigolds (known to repel rabbits, mosquitoes and certain insects) won’t do, perhaps the stink of coyote urine needs to be deployed. Coyote urine is used by agriculturalists in the US to deter against smaller pests including deer, skunks, rabbits and raccoons. As for larger predators: there is a point beyond which self-preservation must come first. When someone invades your privacy or space, threatens or disrespects you, demands your attention or drains you, you have every right to cut them out completely. They already have their explanation.

A story, too, can be a boundary. This is how sacred groves have survived around the world, through myths that rendered them inviolable. Long before the word “biodiversity” was coined, a native knowing ensured that what was precious was safe. Sometimes, the entirety of the story is just one powerful word, a word like “Enough”, or “No”.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on May 23rd 2019. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: Poppy-High Parrots

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Silence isn’t usually associated with parrots. But intelligence is, and in the farmlands of Madhya Pradesh, a wickedly intelligent pandemonium of them have learnt the value of keeping watchfully quiet. They wait until a farmer enters the poppy field and cautiously slits a pod to help it ripen, exposing the latex inside. And then they swoop in, diving right for the opium milk – sometimes tearing the stalk off below the pod so they can fly away and feast. Then they perch somewhere and bite into the pods, holding the stalk in one claw like a kid nibbling at candyfloss. They can’t get enough of the high. One opium expert said the parrots enjoy opium like we enjoy caffeine. Except they crash into branches, lie around dazed and evidently take evolutionary leaps in their desire for the next hit. Parrots that don’t squawk? Stoned, surely.

These parrots are addicted, and are causing severe damage to the livelihood of farmers in the Malwa-Mewar belt, where opium cultivation for medicinal purposes is legal, monitored by the International Narcotics Control Board. But illicit smuggling is a problem, licenses are renewed based on production, and the farmers are struggling, just like farmers all over India. Throw in a frenzy of drug-addled parrots and you can see why the pods are cautiously slit. Not because the flowering plant is delicate, but because it becomes liable to immediate plunder. Nilgais, scorpions and snakes are also common pests in poppy fields, attracted to the opium. But the parrots have the advantage of flight. And obsession.

These marauding parrots call to mind ones from classic literature who enjoyed trickery and entertained themselves by distressing people. It’s easy to imagine some of them drug-intoxicated. Take the raunchy one from this poem, translated by Martha Ann Selby, from the medieval Sanskrit anthology Subhasitaratnakosa: “At daybreak, / when the parrot / was bent on mimicking / her cries of passion / in front of her elders, / the doe-eyed girl, / embarrassed, / drowned it out / by jangling / her stacks of bangles, / clapping / as if to make / the children dance in play.” I must confess I was amused when I first saw videos of them guzzling opium. I wondered: how did they escape with their loot without it falling out of their beaks during a triumphant cackle, like a bird in a cautionary folktale?

But this was ignorant. Not long ago, I was upset by a photograph of the corpses of poisoned peacocks – only to learn that they are actually pests in paddy fields. In these cases, parrots and peacocks are to the farmer what pigeons and mosquitoes are to us in cities. For me to find the thought of junkie parrots hilarious was only a few steps removed from those who snatch beloved creatures away from indigenous minorities in the name of animal rights. For us humans who do not really co-exist with undomesticated wildlife in our ordinary lives, our views on fauna will always be lacking. We could learn from those clever parrots, maybe – how to be quiet (and listen) when all we’ve known to do is talk, talk, talk.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on March 7th 2019. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: The Songless Female Of The Species

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It was the length of the tail feathers that caught my eye, and then the statesqueness of the pose, and only lastly those eyes like beads of ruby. I didn’t know what it was, this bird that had sought out a branch of the neem tree that I see more of every day than any other living creature. Only a crow that surely has come to know me as well or as little as I know it roosts there, and sometimes it takes a companion; they bite each others’ beaks (I wonder if they are voyeurs into my life, too). Intrigued, I looked up the plumage colours of this strange new bird and was surprised to learn that this creature so striking that I could not think of it as anything but totemic was in fact something quite ubiquitous. So ubiquitous, in poetry and public imagination, that I couldn’t believed I hadn’t even known that this is what it looked like. It was a female kuyil who had come by, who briefly lingered within the lush enclosure of the branches of the neem tree that is my neighbour, whose leafy heart I look into directly.

The female of the species, I read, is rarely seen. (This made me feel better about my ignorance of her beauty). It is not her song we hear, but her mate’s. He doesn’t look like her; indeed, he looks a little closer to the crow in whose nest she stealthily lays her eggs, uninterested in the process of incubation. The female of the species appears when she chooses to heed that call. When the love spell of his beautiful voice has worked, has convinced her.

Between the neem tree and I was one more neighbour: a spider whose home was made of silk spun from her own body. That delicate web often caught the light, and I refused to remove it. But someone who thought it inauspicious jettisoned it with a sweep of their fingers before my eyes. Minutes before I wrote this, and just a little after I had contemplated that little habitat again, admiring the arachnid for its autonomy, its dexterity and its architectural aesthetic. The spider and its home were gone before I could even gasp.

Now I look into that tree’s branches without the filter of a spider web on the window grill. And I wonder if she will come back, that allured and alluring kuyil, with her stippled wings and her receptivity to seduction. I am summoning her, too. I know if she returns, it will only be for the crow’s nest (but there is no nest that I can see, unless the tree has more secrets). Who really summoned her here – a mate or I? Perhaps beyond all other symbolisms – self-contained spider, intelligent crow, bitter and benevolent neem tree, auspiciously fertile female kuyil – it is he who is my true totem for this moment. This male kuyil whose song I have heard but who has not been sighted so far: who opens his heart and unfurls his voice, and unafraid to ask for his deepest desire, calls and calls for his lover to come.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on January 3rd 2019. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: A Neem Tree For A Neighbour

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My closest neighbour is a neem tree, and she rests her lovely-leafed branches on the glass of the window by my reading nook. This is not a forever home, but for the little while that I’m here, it’s where I plan to spend many hours. Sun slanting on the greenery, on my skin, on the pages I’m holding. This, to me, is luxury. And have you noticed over the past year or so how kuyil songs are more frequently heard around the city centre? I hear them all day now. Something is shifting towards kindness and vitality, in a way that maybe will touch us too in our conurbations, our attempted civilisations, our many cages. I hope it touches me in mine, and I strive to reach for it every day – something resembling belonging. Here in this nook, I watch as squirrels run up the branches and along the windowsill. Ours is, I think, an undemanding co-existence.

Of course, I know they are rodents. And certainly, I know that prettiness alone shouldn’t be trusted. After all, one of the most famous squirrels ever (not counting the sabre-toothed Scrat in the Ice Age films) is the vicious Ratatosk, who scampers up and down the span of the great world tree of Norse mythology, Yggdrasil. He tells the dragon chewing at the roots what the eagle in the high branches allegedly said; and then passes another falsehood to the eagle.

But I am lucky: I speak to my neighbour the neem tree directly. And sometimes in the evenings I go downstairs and circle her, caressing low-hanging leaves with my fingertips. I have a feeling that she is a tree who is good at absorbing tears.

I don’t need a squirrel messenger. In fact, I don’t need anything from the squirrels, and so I prefer another tale about them: about how the Indian palm squirrel got its stripes after being gently stroked by Rama in a gesture of gratitude. It’s a small story about tenderness within a large story mostly about the ego, and more than the story itself, it’s the memory of my father’s narration of it in my childhood that I cherish.

I was intrigued to learn that North American cookbooks, including the iconic Joy of Cooking, featured squirrel meat even up to the cusp of the millennium, with dishes such as Brunswick stew and fricassee. As recently as a decade ago, the UK’s The Guardiancalled it the “ultimate ethical” meat, as a free-range, low-fat, locally-sourced and apparently quite tasty alternate to other kinds. Locavores in the West aside, species of squirrels both small (such as the orange-bellied Himalayan squirrel) and large (such as the Malayan giant squirrel) are traditionally eaten in different parts of India. Perhaps this mix of inspirations was what made London-based chef Rakesh Nair come up with a “Rajasthani spiced grey squirrel” for Jamie Oliver.

I’m never eating these squirrels at my window, of course. They give me so much more food for thought than they could give my stomach nourishment. “Hello Aniloo,” I coo (this is my name for all squirrels). “Are you visiting me – or am I visiting you?”

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on September 27th 2018. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: A Pre-Existing, Even Permanent, Love

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 In the darkest year of my life, I met a man who seemed to be simple, creative and fearless – one thing I am not, one thing that I am, and one thing that I am always mistaken to be except by those who know that courage is not the absence of fear. I asked him how he was the way that he was, which is to say – I asked him how I could be more like him. “It’s just one thing,” he told me. “Everywhere I go, I think – everybody loves me. And everywhere I go, I also think – I love everybody.”
I was dismayed by this answer, for I knew the first of those things to be patently untrue. I could not go anywhere – let alone everywhere – with such certitude. With such denial.
As for the second thing, even in callow moments when it has been true, when it has felt as though my heart was an ever-expanding galaxy, that feeling too has sometimes proved irretrievable. Although I will concede that to love is never for nought, not entirely.
Many years since that conversation, as I packed once more to go to several somewheres with neither of the two expectations I was advised to always carry, it suddenly hit me: maybe it had only been his phrasing that I had not been able to relate to. When all along, the deeper truth of his statement was not so elusive. Because what I know to be true is this: only in the presence of a specific kind of love, self-love, does the self-aware person seek to be loved by another. And in the absence of self-love, the self-aware person knows better – sometimes through conscious empathy, and sometimes through instinct – than to inflict their need on another.
Therefore, perhaps what that advice had really meant was this: “I love myself, and so I am certain that this will be unchanged no matter who I encounter. I greet them as if we love each other already, because there is no risk.” At least, that is my interpretation, now, for that strange answer. That its application fundamentally rests on a prerequisite: pre-existing, even permanent, love for oneself.
Now that, no one has ever taught me how to have.
But I have spent my whole adult life trying to teach myself, going over lessons again and again like a student held back year after year.
My capacity for love has greatly diminished, but my enquiry into it is stronger than ever. I write to you from high on a mountain,  surrounded by verdure, but my thoughts are on a potted hibiscus that may not be watered in my absence. This plant suffered a fungal infection, after which I’d left it for dead, but without the will to uproot it. Left untended for a week, in the absence of hope and nourishment, it suddenly began to sprout the tiniest green leaves.
This is how I last saw it: tenacious even if not thriving. But I went into and will come down from the mountains with no expectations at all, only to learn a little more – from anything that will teach me.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on March 8th 2018. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: Crown Shyness

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You lay on your back on the leaf-layered earth and see the sky rivered blue between patchworks of green. Crown shyness: the reluctance of certain species of trees to touch at their heights, so the canopy is a really a configuration of boundaries. The limit at which something is withheld. We don’t know why those trees do it any more than we know why we behave in our own mysterious ways, at odds with our natures. What’s the worst thing that can happen if your fronds or your fingers linked? What abrasion could be so injurious that what you will lose in the wind anyway cannot be risked? What larvae more fearsome than the way regret eats at you from the inside?

It is not difficult to go so long, crown-shy, tracing but not trespassing borders. It is more difficult by far to begin to make the reach again, to remember how to unfurl into a close but forbidden expanse.

There’s a reason why it hasn’t happened for you in so long,” she says. “And that is because you have forgotten how to want it in a way that forgets all else but the wanting.”

Forgets self-preservation. Forgets uprooting and decay. Forgets the sky itself.

Somewhere, on a farther continent, is a wolf tree, disorderly in its bearing, thriving on too much sunlight and too much space. The wolf tree is the one that was the last one standing, the one left for pity or prettiness while around it axes made way for pastoral land, the one that survived fire or pestilence. Without restriction, its branches shoot forward, devouring all available nutrients: light, moisture, soil, air. It is no longer necessary to reach only toward the sky, hemmed in by the needs of other foliage. So it throws its wooden limbs forth like some form of medieval punishment, protuberant boughs in too many directions at once. They grow horizontally, low on the ground, forking like snake-tongues or strikes of lightning, which have splintered it often. Its crown too is wide, ever-increasing – and un-neighboured, never-encroaching.

A century can pass. Around it, fresh verdure finds cultivation, flourishing just beyond its shade. And then the wolf tree begins to recede – no longer as abundantly nourished, a plethora of resources at its personal disposal. It does not die, but looks like it will, or – if a being as venerable as a tree can be assigned so shamefully human a trait – that it wants to. It isn’t so easy now, to be so crowded in, to be so damn obvious a testament to having withstood the damage of many seasons of solitude. Gnarled into glory. What can anything be, anew, having already been the only thing it will be known or remembered to ever have been?

“There’s a reason why it hasn’t happened for me in so long,” you say. “And that will not be explained by these metaphors, or by your idea that you can explain it.” You let the shadows envelope you. You know it’s not clear from the outside what has happened: if many crowns have collided, or if only a single canopy blots out the sun.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on August 31st 2017. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

Travel: Little-Known Hill Stations In The Western Ghats

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My story on looking for quiet places to read my new manuscript in the Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, featuring an elephant surprise, is in Condé Nast Traveller India. You can read it here.

The Venus Flytrap: Wild Song

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Sometimes the forest stretches her limbs, lets loose her hair so its tendrils unfurl – a little like territory flags, but those are human contrivances – into the places in our lives where we have forgotten her.

She reminds us. She asks that we watch, and that we listen for her. On certain city roads, there is an even keen of insect sounds that surrounds us for exactly as long as we ride under an arbour of embracing branches. Then we re-enter the sunlight and that forest essence vanishes.

Do you hold your breath under that canopy cover? Do you slow down?

So I both wonder and don’t have to wonder what he’s thinking, the leopard who was caught in a Bengaluru school last week. He was tranquilised and captured, and has since fled his cage again. He is at loose in the Bannerghatta National Park, his habitat, as I write this. It takes only minimal empathy to imagine why he might abhor his cell. Around the city, there other sightings. What could they be: tricks of the eye, wishful mirages, or truly: animals of the wild, wandering?

The forest seeps into civilisation in ways brutal and beautiful. Sometimes, both at once. In Munnar, mountain elephants stumble onto highways, lumber into jeeps and onto people. In the Sundarbans, tigers whose ecosystems are ravaged by natural upheaval seek human meat. Meanwhile, at the BRT Tiger Reserve in Karnataka, where Soligas live alongside them as per longstanding tradition, the tiger population doubled between 2010 and 2014, and no animal-people conflicts occurred. In times of disaster, there are rumours circulated about beasts escaping captivity: about disintegrated walls at Vandalur Zoo during the recent floods, for instance.

Tell me who among these is most brutal: the lost one, the lacking one, or the liar?

So one reads about these leopards, at a safe distance admittedly, and watches and wonders a little more.

Sometimes, I sit with people and sense the sea in them calling. Or the mountains, or the starlight. Or once in a while, in the aura of a particularly battle-weary individual, the desert. Most of all, though, it’s the sea – biologically, our bodies are made almost entirely of water. A sun-kissed beach and a cliff-jagged coast will each offer a different conversation, but it is nourishment just the same.

The forest calls to me often, and even if I no longer chase its song, I know its resonance. Amidst the vehicle horns of the city and its bandage of artificial light, I seek it. And in doing so, invoke it.

I am waiting for April, when a particular jacaranda tree will empurple my daily route. I am waiting for a dark crow taking shelter among tamarind pods on a day of rain. But most of all, I am waiting for escape: for the helix of a montane highway, for the bite of clear cold air, for a place where I can sink my feet into the lush red earth and know it to be a homecoming.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on February 18th. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: A Tribute To Veenapani Chawla

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One night many years ago, I stood in Veenapani Chawla’s kitchen and tried to tell her what it meant for me to be there. So I told her about how in the time since I had first started visiting her home, the Adishakti Theatre outside Auroville, I had been writing poems about my engagement with the space (at once tranquil and terrifyingly charged), my friendships in it, and the Ramayana studies and performances I’d been exposed to there. I remember how, at one moment, she looked me in the eyes and asked if I was happy, and that I weighed myself and said honestly, “Happier.”

As we were speaking, someone came in looking for a knife. VP, as she was known, would not pass it by hand. “I don’t want us to fight”, she said, smilingly. I admired her so deeply, and so simply, that I adopted the superstition immediately.

VP died on November 30th 2014, at 67 years old. She was an artistic pioneer who immersed herself in everything from chhau, kalaripayattu and koodiyattam to western dramaturgy, and dispersed equal energy into developing new work, questing, teaching, and creating and maintaining the magical Adishakti campus. “There is no one like Veenapani Chawla in Indian theatre. There is no other group like her Adishakti – certainly there hasn’t been any since what we call ‘Modern Indian Theatre’ began,” wrote Girish Karnad a few months before her passing. I met many who envied her. But I met so many more who loved her. She was extraordinarily powerful, and equally kind. I had come into her orbit by chance, and stayed in it because of her generosity.

The first time I went to Adishakti, I stayed for a month. I would take my slippers off and dig my feet into the cool earth as though I could shoot out roots, and weep. It was a primal connection. This was where I came to understand intimately that what society calls a fringe is what the psyche knows as a frontier. It was not until a few years later that I found out that my paternal ancestral temple was only twenty minutes away. It had not been an imagined bond between my blood, my bones, those pepper vines, that soil.

I am not a theatre artist. I was not trained in the pedagogy for which Adishakti is famous, developed over decades of intensive research and dedication, and given away to all who wanted to learn it. I never studied performance under VP. I never even learnt how to swim from her – an offer she made me each time I saw her going for her laps in the huge, mineralised pool built on the campus a few years ago. Most of what I learnt from her, though, was intangible – both in its transmission and its nature. Veenapani Chawla was a singular influence on me. Meeting her permanently changed the trajectory of my life. I am who I am at 30 only because I met her at 23. Why I still live in India, why I never married, why I gravitate toward grace and quietude over militancy and glitz – the answers to all of these questions are linked to having known Adishakti and its founder, and having been indelibly transformed by both.

How could so much transpire on the basis of one soft-spoken woman and her home of red earth and verdure? Simple. Above all, knowing Veenapani Chawla taught me that another way, another paradigm, is possible. That one can live a life with devotion at its core: to art, to divinity, and to community.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on November 30th. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Mondays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: Original Instructions

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In the small town of Gudalur, two and a half hours downhill from Ooty, there is a coalition of NGOs that, through serendipitous circumstances and sound intentions, run a school and a hospital for the tribal community. I’m visiting with my friend the American Badaga, tagging along on an Ooty-Gudalur-Coimbatore-Palani-Perumalmalai-Kodaikanal trip completed over just five nights, sleeping in a different place on each one. We’re there to look into alternative education systems; after the tribal school is an international school in the forest. Mostly, though, I’m there on impulse, just to get away.

The week before, I’d attended a lecture in Chennai by Vandana Shiva, the renowned physicist and activist. Dr. Shiva had spoken about the country’s agricultural crisis, encouraging the audience to “violate the contracts” that gave undue power to governments and organizations that contribute to the deterioration of the environment, and to suffering among the poor.

Yet, sitting by a window overlooking the filthy Cooum river later that rainy afternoon, coming down from the high that listening to an inspiring speaker brings, I was saddened to think that the only phrase that still haunted me was something said in passing as Shiva was introduced. Another world is possible. I so much wanted it to be.

It came to me again in Gudalur. I’d never expected that just a few days after the lecture, I would find myself reading on a rock under a tree on the far west of Tamil Nadu, wet earth under my bare feet, adivasi children singing nearby, a cow to my right and a chicken to my left. My troubles very, very far away.

I’m reading Cait Johnson, who posits that spirituality is essentially rooted in the elements, the same notion that had me head for the hills to hide among trees, and attend Shiva’s lecture. Whenever I lose my connection to my elementals, I seek to replenish them in nature. Johnson writes about “Original Instructions” – intuitive knowledge kept alive by people, like the adivasis, whose ways of life honour the sacred interconnectedness of all life.

Watching the good people of Gudalur – the teacher who speaks openly and without prejudice to a classroom about gay and transgender people, the Ayurvedic doctor seeking to both learn from and better equip traditional healers, the professionals who set up the Ashwini Hospital and Vidyodaya School and gradually ensured that autonomy over them returned to the adivasi community – my heart remembers its own Original Instructions.

Watching them, I remember that there are good people in the world, who do good work for its own sake. I had forgotten.

I have been heartsick for what feels like a long time, but isn’t. I have been disillusioned with my own journey. I have wanted to count to one hundred and bow out, like the poetess in Ana Enriqueta Terán’s mysterious poem. What I did because I thought it was in my blood, I’ve watched others do with a bloodthirst I cannot muster. I have felt time and again that I can barely co-exist in a world so cutthroat, let alone compete.

But this is what I know, after Gudalur: another world, in all the many variations Vandana Shiva may or may not have meant, is possible. In fact, it may already exist. All it takes is to get back there.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.